DISTRICT 28-6A PREVIEW: O'Connor, Brennan picked to duel for title

Predicting the District 28-6A 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. O’Connor (3,163): Panthers looking for a long playoff run.

2. Brennan (2,723): Blue-chip running back Jahmyl Jeter is finally a senior.

3. Warren (3,107): Warriors raring to go after making playoffs last year.

4. Brandeis (2,335): Broncos kick off their 10th season with new head coach David Branscom.

5. Clark (2,922): Cougars ready to break streak of seven losing seasons.

6. Taft (3,103): Raiders haven’t had a winning season since 2004.

7. Stevens (2,929): Conrad Hernandez starting first season as a head coach.

8. Holmes (2,922): New coach Juan Morales knows how to win.

9. Marshall (2,713): Rams haven’t won a district game the past two years.

10. Jay (3,046): Mustangs eager to atone for last year’s 0-10 finish.

Preseason Offensive MVP: Brennan running back Jahmyl Jeter

Preseason Defensive MVP: O’Connor safety Millard Bradford

Here is a breakdown of each team in District 28-6A:

1. O’Connor Panthers

Coach: David Malesky, 40-22 in seven seasons at O’Connor
2016 records: 9-2 overall, 5-0 in District 27-6A (first in Zone B)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Judson 36-24 in 6A Division I bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 8/5
Season opener: vs. MacArthur, Sept. 1, Farris Stadium
District 28-6A opener: vs. Warren, Oct. 7, Farris Stadium

Outlook: O’Connor was the king of the hill in District 28-6A last year, winning the Zone B title before routing Zone A champ Brennan 38-7 for the league title. The Panthers took a 9-1 record into the playoffs, but were bounced out of the playoffs by Judson for the third season in a row. O’Connor is favored to win its district and most likely face the Rockets in the playoffs again. Ironically, Panthers coach David Malesky is a Judson graduate and was a senior linebacker on the Rockets’ first state-championship team in 1983. The best athlete among O’Connor’s 13 returning starters is Millard Bradford, a senior safety/wide receiver who has received scholarship offers from such FBS schools as TCU, Arizona State, and Houston. Bradford had four interceptions last year and two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Senior cornerback Zaire Taylor, who has committed to Houston, is also back to help lead the secondary. The offense should be in good hands with senior quarterback Roel Sanchez, a dual-threat operator who passed for 2,022 yards and 23 TDs and rushed for 807 yards and 11 TDs last year. Sanchez alternated at quarterback as a sophomore and took over the starting spot last season. Senior wide receiver Jalen Hughes, back for his third year as a starter, caught 44 passes for 649 yards and eight TDs last season. Junior Brannon Brown, who has started every varsity game since his freshman season, returns to anchor the offensive line.     

2. Brennan Bears

Coach: Stephen Basore, 62-25 in seven seasons at Brennan
2016 records: 7-5 overall, 4-1 in District 28-6A (first in Zone A)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Churchill 10-7 in 6A Division II second round
Starters returning (O/D): 7/2
Season opener: vs. Reagan, Sept. 2, Farris Stadium
District 28-6A Zone A opener: vs. Holmes, Oct. 12, Gustafson Stadium

Outlook: Brennan lost as many games last year as it did the previous four seasons combined. But the Bears still won their zone before getting dismantled by O’Connor in the District 28-6A title game. They bounced back to beat New Braunfels in the first round of the playoffs, but lost a 10-7 squeaker to Churchill in the second round. Senior running back Jahmyl Jeter, who has committed to Oklahoma State, returns to fuel an offense that returns only two starters. Jeter rushed for 1,576 yards and 16 touchdowns last year, when he averaged 8.1 yards per carry. Senior wide receiver Alexander Wise, who caught 35 passes for 787 yards and 10 TDs, also returns. Junior wide receiver Jordan Smith (503 yards, 5 TDs) is another player who will pose a threat to defenses.

3. Warren Warriors

Coach: Bryan Dausin, 92-72 in 15 seasons at Warren
2016 records: 5-6 overall, 4-1 in District 28-6A (second in Zone B)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Smithson Valley 53-7 in 5A Division I bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 6/9
Season opener: at Del Rio, Sept. 1
District 28-6A opener: vs. O’Connor, Oct. 7, Farris Stadium
Outlook: With nine starters back, the Warriors’ defense should be tough to move against this season. The junior trio of linebackers Eli Huron and Aiava Lealaimatafao and end Caleb Williams will anchor the defense. Williams had three sacks last season and Lealaimatafao recorded 51 tackles. Senior Benjamin Greene, who started in the secondary last year and finished with 62 tackles, has the inside track on the starting spot at quarterback. Senior wide receiver Quinton Starks, who caught 28 passes for 440 yards and three touchdowns last season, is among the Warriors’ six returning starters. Senior running back Devin Moore, who rushed for 527 yards and four TDs, is also back. He averaged 6.1 yards a carry. Heading into his 16th season at Warren, Dausin is the only head coach the Warriors have had. Dausin guided Roosevelt to the Class 5A Division II state championship in 1995.

4. Brandeis Broncos

Coach: David Branscom, first season as head coach
2016 records: 7-4 overall, 4-1 in District 28-6A (tied for first in Zone A)
Last playoff appearance: 2016, lost to Steele 42-21 in 6A Division II bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 3/3
Season opener: vs. Johnson, Sept. 1, Heroes Stadium
District 28-6A opener: vs. Taft, Oct. 6, Gustafson Stadium

Outlook: Only three years removed from a march to the state quarterfinals, the Broncos head into the season with their third head coach in four years. Brandeis’ defensive coordinator the past two seasons, David Branscom was promoted to head coach in March after Jeff Fleener resigned to become head coach at Mesquite High School. The Broncos went 14-9 in two seasons under Fleener and made the playoffs both years. Brandeis opened in 2008 and went 69-19 in its first seven seasons, all with John Campbell at the helm. Brandeis reached the state quarterfinals three times and won five district titles during that span. A head coach for the first time, Branscom will have only six returning starters, three on each side of the ball, when the Broncos kick off their 10th season. Junior running back Marlon Flores-Flores, who rushed for 666 yards and six touchdowns last year, and senior lineman Will Draker are the offensive leaders. Senior Kyle Fitzgerald is being counted to start at quarterback. Seniors Alias Elizondo and Jalen Griffin and junior Jaylen Johnson lead the receiving corps. End Brandon Matterson and linebacker Brent Malone are the leaders on defense. Malone recorded 88 tackles last season.

5. Clark Cougars

Coach: Steve McGhee, 27-45 in seven seasons at Clark.
2016 records: 4-6 overall, 2-3 in District 28-6A (tied for third in Zone B)
Last playoff appearance: 2013, lost to Steele 52-6 in 5A Division II bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 6/6
Season opener: vs. Churchill, Aug. 31, Farris Stadium
District 28-6A opener: vs. Stevens, Oct. 7, Gustafson Stadium
Outlook: Clark has recorded seven consecutive losing seasons since reaching the state quarterfinals in 2009 and finishing 13-1. But with six starters back each way, the Cougars could make a run for the district’s fourth-place playoff berth. Junior running back Kenneth Bivins headlines the list of returning offensive starters. Bivins was a threat as a running back and receiver last year, rushing for 536 yards and seven touchdowns and catching 32 passes for 411 yards and three TDs. Another dandy on offense is senior tight end Ben Sims (6-4, 215), who had 30 passes for 477 yards and two TDs last season. Senior wide receiver/defensive back Luke Gibson (6-6, 215) is one of the best two-way players on the Clark roster. He caught 15 passes for 320 yards and four TDs last year, and also finished with two interceptions. Senior Jayson Flores, who completed 25 of 51 passes for 308 yards last season, will start at quarterback. Gibson will get help in the secondary from senior cornerback Austin Branard.

6. Taft Raiders

Coach: Brian Davenport, 36-85 in 12 seasons at Taft
2016 records: 4-6 overall, 2-3 in District 28-6A (tied for third in Zone A)
Last playoff appearance: 2007, lost to East Central 22-17 in 5A Division II bi-district
Starters returning (O/D): 7/8
Season opener: vs. Lee, Aug. 31, Gustafson Stadium
District 28-6A opener: vs. Brandeis, Oct. 6, Gustafson Stadium
Outlook: With 15 starters back, seven on offense and eight on defense, Taft will rely on its experience to make a run at ending its nine-year postseason drought. The Raiders’ offense will depend on senior running back Justin Stevenson to keep the chains moving. Stevenson rushed for 731 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and averaged more than eight yards per carry. Junior lineman John Garza and senior wide receiver Martin Ramirez are two other returning offensive starters who will be counted on heavily. Senior Julian DeHoyos is expected to start at quarterback. The defense will be anchored by the quartet of senior back Quincey Chapman, senior linebacker Carlos Perdomo, senior lineman William McCluskey and junior lineman Tejumgesu Okunade. Perdomo had 68 tackles and three sacks last season, and Chapman finished with three interceptions. The Raiders haven’t had a winning season since 2004.

7. Stevens Falcons

Coach: Conrad Hernandez, first season as head coach
2016 records: 4-6 overall, 2-3 in District 28-6A (tied for third in Zone B)
Last playoff appearance: 2015, lost to Smithson Valley 35-0 in 6A Division I second round
Starters returning (O/D): 2/1
Season opener: at Kerrville Tivy, Sept. 1
District 28-6A opener: vs. Clark, Oct. 7, Gustafson Stadium
Outlook: The Falcons’ offensive coordinator the past two seasons, Hernandez has been on the coaching staff at Stevens since the school opened in 2005. He was promoted in June to succeed Darryl Hemphill, who was the Falcons’ head coach for four seasons and is now an assistant athletic director with the Northside ISD. With only one offensive starter back, Stevens faces the challenge of replacing prolific quarterback Bryce Rivers, who passed for 2,725 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. Rivers enrolled at UTSA in January and signed with the Roadrunners in February. While the Falcons will sorely miss Rivers’ skills and leadership, senior running back Doryen Littlejohn returns to help pick up the slack. Littlejohn rushed for 780 yards and six TDs last year, and caught 34 passes for 295 yards and one TD. Junior James Chavira is the top prospect at quarterback. The only returning defensive starter is senior Nate Gonzalez, who had two sacks last season.

8. Holmes Huskies

Coach: Juan Morales, first season at Holmes
2016 records: 5-5 overall, 2-3 in District 28-6A (tied for third in Zone A)
Last playoff appearance: 2000, lost to Austin Westlake 42-28 in 5A Division I second round
Starters returning (O/D): 5/1
Season opener: Sam Houston, Aug. 31, Alamo Stadium
District 28-6A opener: vs. Marshall, Oct. 6, Farris Stadium
Outlook: Morales succeeds Eddie Salas, who coached the Huskies for four seasons before getting the head-coaching job last December at Harlan, the newest high school in the Northside ISD. Morales headed the program at Highlands the past two years, guiding the Owls to 7-4 finishes both seasons. Highlands was mired in the throes of 15 consecutive losing seasons when he took the job. Morales, 47, is no stranger to the Northside ISD. He coached in the district for 15 years before taking his first head-coaching job at Highlands. Morales was on the coaching staff at Brennan when the Bears reached the Class 4A Division I state final in 2013. Holmes finished 5-5 in its last season under Salas. The Huskies were winless in Salas’ first two seasons, but improved to 4-6 in 2015 before climbing to .500 last year. Experience will not be a strength for Holmes this season. The Huskies return only six starters, including just one on defense, senior linebacker Benny Cruz. The offense will be led by senior offensive linemen Leo Delgado and Willie Gonzalez, junior running back D’Qurian Haney, senior running back Marquis Jones, junior wide receiver Jake Lee and senior wide receiver Quentrevious Wright.

9. Marshall Rams 

Coach: Tim Williams, 6-34 in four seasons at Marshall
2016 records: 2-8 overall, 0-5 in District 28-6A (fifth in Zone A)
Last playoff appearance: 2012, lost to Steele 49-17 in 5A Division II bidistrict
Starters returning (O/D): 5/6
Season opener: vs. Laredo Johnson, Sept. 1, Gustafson Stadium
District 28-6A opener: vs. Holmes, Oct. 6, Farris Stadium
Outlook: The Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2006, but with 11 starters back, they could be on the verge of getting back on track this year. After hitting rock bottom with an 0-10 finish in 2015, Marshall finished 2-8 last season. But the Rams went winless in district play for the second year in a row. Junior quarterback Dylan Poore could develop into a top threat, and junior Abram Gomez is the best player on the offensive line. The defense will look to lineman Deandre Dunn, linebacker Joseph Mimun and backs Stanley Lambert, Ezrael Powell and Dylan Smith for leadership. All four are returning starters. Speed, especially on the defensive unit, will be a team strength for Marshall this season. 

10. Jay Mustangs

Coach: Gary Gutierrez, 9-30 in four seasons at Jay
2016 records: 0-10 overall, 0-5 in District 27-6A (fifth in Zone B)
Last playoff appearance: 2006, lost to Austin Westlake 35-21 in 5A Division I second round
Starters returning (O/D): 8/6
Season opener: vs. Harlandale, Sept. 2, Gustafson Stadium
District 28-6A opener: vs. Clark, Oct. 13, Gustafson Stadium
Outlook: The Mustangs fell to 0-10 last year and haven’t had a winning season since finishing 6-4 in 2008. Jay will face an uphill battle again this year, but the return of junior dual-threat quarterback Jacob Zeno gives the Mustangs good reason for some optimism. Zeno already has a scholarship offer from Penn, and should attract more college suitors as the season unfolds. Junior running back Jaylin Hastings, who rushed for 564 yards and five touchdowns last year, gives Jay another offensive threat. Junior Jordan Choate and senior Enrique Perez are the top wide receivers. Choate finished with 303 receiving yards and three touchdowns last year. The defensive ringleaders, all seniors, are Aaron Alderete (4 sacks), back Nathan Garcia, cornerback Malik Ross and linebacker Isaiah Tuck (4 sacks). Garcia and Ross each had two interceptions.

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