SAN ANTONIO — Judson has a new coach and some key players to replace, including blue-chip defensive end DeMarvin Leal and explosive running back Sincere McCormick, but the Rockets still will start the football season as they usually do – ranked among the best teams in the state.
Judson, which finished 12-1 last year after losing in the state quarterfinals, is No. 12 in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine’s preseason Class 6A Top 50 rankings.
Wagner, Judson’s rival in the Judson ISD, is No. 8 in the 5A rankings. The Thunderbirds had their best season in school history last year, reaching the 5A state semifinals and finishing 13-2.
A state semifinalist last year, Falls City (14-1) is No. 2 in the 2A Division II rankings.
Judson returns seven offensive starters, including prolific senior quarterback Mike Chandler II, and one on defense from a team that lost to Lake Travis in the 6A state quarterfinals. Chandler was voted District 26-6A Offensive Player of the Year last season after passing for 2,582 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 858 yards and 12 TDs.
“When you have guys that have been through it and been in the fight a few times, they can help in leading the way for the new guys that are going to come in and don’t really know what to expect,” said Rodney Williams, who was named the Rockets’ interim head coach in early May after Sean McAuliffe resigned to become head coach at Houston Cypress Ranch.
Williams, 45, was offensive coordinator at Judson for five seasons before getting promoted.
“I’ve just sat back and been watching them lately and let them jell as a unit, and I’m liking what I see right now," Williams said. “The numbers have been really good at our summer workouts and you can see a little difference in the mindset of these kids. I think that Lake Travis game really slapped them in the face pretty good. I know it slapped us coaches in the face.
"We’ve got to be better conditioned when it comes down to the end of games and beating the quality teams. We don’t have the star power per se that we’ve had in the past, but we have some kids who are very hungry and want to get their names to that next level.”
Considered the bible of football in the Lone Star State, Texas Football hit the newsstands in San Antonio this week. This year’s magazine is the 60th summer edition of the magazine, which was created by Campbell in Waco and rolled off the presses for the first time in 1960.
Wagner returns five offensive and four defensive starters from a team that fell to Alvin Shadow Creek in the 5A Division I state semifinals.
The Thunderbirds face the challenge of replacing quarterback Tobias Weaver, who signed with Navy, but return bruising fullback L.J. Butler (2,028 yards, 32 TDs rushing) and defensive end DeMarcus Hendricks. An All-State pick last year, Hendricks finished the season with 87 tackles, 14 sacks, four interceptions and four TDs.
“I think that we’re continuing to build on the progression from last year,” Wagner coach Charles Bruce said. “We saw some really good things in the spring. We still need to have some questions answered, even in early fall. The core is coming back. What I mean by core is our D-line and our O-line, but there are some skill positions that we need to fill. Free safety is a big one, just like the quarterback is a big one.”
Falls City is picked to beat Burton in the state quarterfinals for the second year in a row, but Mart is favored to win the championship for the third consecutive season. Senior Brady Lyssy, who earned All-State honors last year after rushing for 2,140 yards and 30 TDs, has been moved from running back to quarterback.
Steele, No. 25 in Texas Football’s 6A Top 50, is picked to lose to Austin Westlake in the 6A Division II state quarterfinals. The Knights, who went 8-4 last season and made the second round of the playoffs, compete in District 26-6A with Judson. Steele also lost to Westlake in the 2017 6A Division II state quarterfinals.
Knights senior cornerback Jaylon Jones, who has committed to Texas A&M, is Texas Football’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. An All-State selection last year, Jones has the length, size and speed to play multiple positions in the secondary.
O’Connor senior guard Logan Parr landed a spot on the first unit of Texas Football’s Preseason Offensive Super Team. Parr, 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, committed to Texas last October. Parr and Jones are the only San Antonio-area representatives on the 6A preseason All-State team.
Hendricks and Kerrville Tivy senior punter Jared Zirkel were named to the 5A preseason All-State team on defense. The Falls City duo of senior quarterback Brad Lyssy and senior lineman Tay Yanta are on the 2A preseason All-State offensive team. Lyssy made All-State at running back last season.
Judson and Wagner, both picked to win their districts, are projected to make long playoff runs again this season. Texas Football picks Austin Lake Travis to beat the Rockets in the 6A Division I state quarterfinals for the second year in a row. The Cavaliers also eliminated Judson in the second round two years ago.
“I’m trying to use that with our kids as fuel,” Williams said. “We’re going to take the season game by game. But, again, in the back of your mind, in our community the big picture is the big picture. It is what it is at Judson. You either go to the state championship or you didn’t have a good season. We understand that as coaches and our kids know that as well. We accept that challenge.
“A lot of our kids go to these camps and they see all these other kids getting (scholarship) offers. They’ll go, ‘Coach, what’s wrong with us?’ So, that’s our battle cry right now, to prove to people that we’re just as good as everybody around on the field.
“That’s why we try to play the best teams (in non-district) any time we get a chance. Whatever happens, happens, but they’re going to know they’ve played us. I know that much.”
Wagner is favored to beat Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial in the 5A Division I state quarterfinals, but fall to Richmond Foster in the semifinals.
Texas Football picks Galena Park North Shore to defeat Duncanville in the 6A Division I title game for the second straight year. North Shore edged the Panthers 41-38 last year, winning the championship with a Hail Mary pass on the last play. Longview is picked to beat Westlake for the 6A Division II state title.
Other San Antonio-area teams ranked in Texas Football’s Top 50 are Brandeis (28), O’Connor (32), Reagan (37), Smithson Valley (41) and Madison (42).
Texas Football picks Highland Park to beat Richmond Foster for the 5A Division I state crown, which would be the Scots’ fourth in a row. Aledo is expected to down Fort Bend Marshall for the second consecutive year in the 5A Division II title game.
Wagner is the only San Antonio-area team in Texas Football’s 5A Division I Top 25. Tivy (15) and Boerne Champion (20) are in the Division II Top 25. Perennial power Corpus Christi Calallen is picked to beat Tivy in the 5A Division II state quarterfinals.
La Vernia is ranked No. 11 in 4A Division I and traditional powerhouse Cuero is No. 4 in the 4A Division II rankings. Navarro (18), Wimberley (23) and Hondo (25) are also in the 4A Division II Top 25. Texas Football picks Cuero, last year’s Division II state champion, to beat Navarro in the state quarterfinals. Liberty Hill is the Region IV Division I favorite.
Waco La Vega and Pleasant Grove are favored to win the 4A Division I and Division II state championships, respectively. Pleasant Grove lost to Cuero in last year’s Division II state final.
Jourdanton (23) is ranked in the 3A Division I Top 25, and Blanco (16) and Poth (19) are in the 3A Division II Top 25.
No. 1 Refugio, is the only South Texas team in the 2A Division I rankings. The Bobcats are Texas Football’s pick to beat San Saba for the Division I crown.