DISTRICT 26-6A PREVIEW: Reagan favored to win fifth-straight title

Predicting the District 26-6A race

The top four teams from each district advance to the University Interscholastic League playoffs, which start on Nov. 16. The two schools with the largest enrollments compete in the Division I bracket and the two smaller schools advance to Division II.

(School enrollments are in parentheses.)

1. Reagan (3,340): Four-time defending district champ has a new head coach.

2. Johnson (3,003): Jaguars starting 10th season with high hopes.

3. Churchill (3,038): Chargers coming off first 11-win season since 1996.

4. Madison (3,379): Mavericks breaking in third head coach in four years.

5. MacArthur (2,489): Tyler Vitt one of best quarterbacks in the area.

6. Roosevelt (2,940): Rough Riders must replace quarterback Bryce Carroll.

7. Lee (3,085): Volunteers looking to bounce back after tough season.

Preseason Offensive MVP: MacArthur quarterback Tyler Vitt

Preseason Defensive MVP: Reagan safety Spencer Gilliam

Here is a breakdown of each team in District 26-6A:

1. Reagan Rattlers

Coach: Lyndon Hamilton, first season as head coach
2016 records: 9-2 overall, 6-0 in District 26-6A (first)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Austin Westlake 48-3 in 6A Division I bi-district
Starters returning O/D: 6/4
Season opener: vs. Brennan, Sept. 2, Farris Stadium
District 26-6A opener: vs. MacArthur, Sept. 29, Heroes Stadium

Outlook: Hamilton was Reagan’s defensive coordinator for four seasons before getting promoted in January. He succeeds David Wetzel, who resigned in December to become an assistant coach at Baylor. Hamilton, 40, is starting his 12th year as a coach in the North East ISD. He was an assistant coach at Roosevelt for seven seasons, 2006-2012, before joining Wetzel’s staff in 2013. Hamilton takes over a program that was one of the most consistent in the San Antonio area under Wetzel, who went 114-42 in 13 seasons at Reagan. The Rattlers have won their district with unbeaten records each of the past four years. Reagan advanced to the state quarterfinals five times and won seven district championships in Wetzel’s last nine seasons. The Rattlers have won 24 consecutive district games since losing to Roosevelt on Nov. 9, 2012. Reagan’s top hands heading into the season are junior running back John Carrington, junior linebacker Lucas Eatman, senior running back/defensive back Spencer Gilliam (4.4), senior offensive lineman Brandon Smith, senior quarterback/wide receiver Justin Tibbs, senior wide receiver Drew Ureste and senior running back Reggie Wilson. Senior Cade Cogburn headed into preseason workouts as the top prospect for the starting quarterback position.

2. Johnson Jaguars

Coach: Ron Rittimann, 53-47 in nine seasons at Johnson
2016 records: 7-4 overall, 4-2 in 26-6A (third)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Austin Vandegrift 27-26 in 6A Division II bi-district
Starters returning O/D: 6/9
Season opener: vs. Brandeis, Sept. 1, Heroes Stadium
District 26-6A opener: vs. Roosevelt, Sept. 29, Comalander Stadium

Outlook: Only three seasons removed from a march to the state semifinals, Johnson is expected to mount a serious challenge to Reagan’s stranglehold on the district championship. The Jaguars  lost to Reagan 7-0 and runner-up Churchill 17-7 last year. Rittimann, the only head coach Johnson has had since its first season in 2008, will rely on 15 returning starters to keep Johnson in the title chase. Senior running back/cornerback Jabari Aiken and senior outside linebacker/cornerback Chase Williams headline the group of returnees. Other top players, all seniors, are defensive end Alex Brown, linebacker Cole Jacobson, strong safety LG Lewis, wide receiver Brandon McDuffie, linebacker Tanner Reed and cornerback Jack Scarborough. Reed and Jacobson are the headliners on a defense that returns nine starters. Reed had 73 tackles and two sacks last year, and Jacobson finished with 102 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries. McDuffie had 681 yards receiving and nine TDs last year. Sophomore Mike Chandler and senior Grant Huff will compete for the starting job at quarterback.

3. Churchill Chargers

Coach: Ron Harris, 17-8 in two seasons at Churchill
2016 records: 11-3 overall, 5-1 in 26-6A (second)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Steele 38-7 in 6A Division II state quarterfinals
Starters returning (O/D): 6/5
Season opener: vs. Clark, Aug. 31, Farris Stadium
District 26-6A opener: vs. Lee, Sept. 30, Heroes Stadium

Outlook: The Chargers took a big step in their second season under Harris, finishing 11-3 and reaching the state quarterfinals after winning six games in 2015. Picked to finish fifth in the district last year, Churchill lost only to defending champion Reagan in league play and advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1996. The Chargers also posted their first 11-win season since ’96, when they also went 11-3. Harris expects big things from the all-senior foursome of offensive lineman Ryan Booth (6-5, 275), running back Austin Castilleja, wide receiver Malik Fletcher and running back Diego Vela. Booth, Vela and Castilleja are key players on an offense that rushed for more than 3,000 yards last year. Vela led the way with 964 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Castilleja finished with 695 yards and four TDs. Quarterback Derek Perez rushed for 412 yards last year, and Fletcher finished with five TD receptions. Junior end Seth Jaquess (64 tackles) and junior back Luke Rosas (71 tackles, 5 interceptions) return to help anchor the defense.  

4. Madison Mavericks

Coach: Blaine Pederson, first season as head coach
2016 records: 4-7 overall, 2-4 in District 26-5A (three-way for fourth)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Austin Westlake 56-7 in 6A Division I bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 4/6
Season opener: vs. Steele, Sept. 1, Lehnhoff Stadium
District 26-6A opener: vs. Roosevelt, Oct. 6, Heroes Stadium

Outlook: Pederson returned to his alma mater in March to succeed John Campbell, who resigned after only season as the Mavericks’ head coach. Pederson, 46, was an assistant coach at Madison under Jim Streety for 13 seasons before joining Ron Rittimann’s staff at Johnson in 2008. Pederson was the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator and assistant head coach last year. A former Mavs linebacker, Pederson graduated from Madison in 1989. Madison has fallen on hard times since Streety resigned in February 2014, going 8-23 the past three seasons. The Mavs were 4-16 under Mark Smith, who stepped down after an 0-10 finish in 2015, and went 4-7 in Campbell’s only season. Madison never had recorded back-to-back losing seasons since playing its first season in 1978. Massive senior offensive lineman D’Wayne Anthony (6-3, 305) and senior running back/safety D.J. Dotson are the stalwarts for the Mavs. Other players to watch are senior safety D’Angelo Alexander, junior defensive end Jamie Ferguson, junior wide receiver Dante Heaggans, sophomore safety De’Shaun Heaggans, and junior running back Dion Moore.

5. MacArthur Brahmas

Coach: Ben Cook, 20-42 in six seasons at MacArthur
2016 records: 2-8 overall, 2-4 in District 26-6A (three-way tie for fourth)
Last playoff appearance: 2015, lost to Steele 62-13 in 6A Division II bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 7/4
Season opener: vs. O’Connor, Sept. 1, Farris Stadium
District 26-6A opener: vs. Reagan, Sept. 29, Heroes Stadium
Outlook: MacArthur won two of its last four games last year after starting the season 0-6. The Brahmas finished on a high note, rolling past Lee 70-35 in their finale. Any discussion about Mac football has to start with senior quarterback Tyler Vitt, who has passed for more than 5,000 yards and 47 touchdowns the past three seasons. He threw for 1,818 yards and 15 TDs last year, but was intercepted 12 times. Vitt got moved up to the varsity midway through his freshman season, and began his sophomore year as the Brahmas’ starting quarterback. Other top players back are senior wide receiver Cameron Acker, senior defensive back Martin Apopot and senior linebacker Johnathan Thompson. Junior linebacker Jace Jung is another talented returnee. Acker caught 43 passes for 646 yards and seven TDs last year. Wide receiver Ethan Gottschalk and wide receiver/tight end Michael Groff give the pass-catching corps more experience. Thompson (97 tackles, 2 sacks), and Jung will lead the defense.

6. Roosevelt Rough Riders

Coach: Matt Carroll, 11-29 in four seasons at Roosevelt
2016 records: 4-6 overall, 2-4 in District 26-6A (three-way tie for fourth)
Last playoff appearance: 2012, lost to Steele 45-0 in 5A Division II second round
Starters returning (O/D): 5/3
Season opener: vs. Waco, Sept. 2, Waco ISD Stadium
District 26-6A opener: vs. Johnson, Sept. 29, Comalander Stadium
Outlook: Junior Carlos Baribay faces the challenge of replacing three-year starter Bryson Carroll at quarterback. Carroll, now a freshman at New Mexico, was one of the most prolific dual-threat quarterbacks in the San Antonio area last season, passing for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns and rushing for 1,381 yards and 18 TDs. Senior offensive linemen Manuel Hernandez and Dylan Johnson, are both three-year starters. An interior lineman last season, senior David Pavon has been moved to tight end. Sophomore linebacker Zachary Fitzgerald, senior linebacker Jacob Infante, senior lineman Steven Marshall, and junior end Jaylon Murray are the defensive leaders. Marshall is a three-year starter.

7. Lee Volunteers

Coach: Danny Kloza, 20-50 in seven seasons at Lee
2016 records: 2-8 overall, 0-6 in District 26-6A (seventh)
Last playoff appearance: 1993, lost to Taft 24-16 in 5A Division II second round
Starters returning (O/D): 2/7
Season opener: vs. Taft, Aug. 31, Gustafson Stadium
District 26-6A opener: vs. Churchill, Sept. 30, Heroes Stadium
Outlook: Lee fell on hard times last year, dropping to 2-8 after finishing 6-4 in 2015. The winning season two years ago was the Volunteers’ first since a 6-5 finish in 1991. Lee went 0-6 and was outscored 281-92 in district last season. Always resilient under coach Danny Kloza, the Vols will rely on nine returning starters to get back on track. Senior wide receiver/running back Vincent Taylor and senior defensive tackle Sam Brooks (6-1, 185) top the returning cast. Taylor had 324 yards receiving and four touchdowns last year. Junior quarterback Caleb Englebrecht and senior running back Darnyll Remigio will be counted on to help Taylor lead the offense. Brooks anchors a defense that has seven starters back. Brooks will get plenty of help from senior linebacker Tim Longoria.

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