Nine months after the Boyd Yellowjackets took the final snap at the end of the 2011 football season for Wise County teams, a new year rolls around.
Six of the seven teams return to the field Monday morning for fall workouts. Class 5A Northwest, which conducted spring practice, will have to wait an extra week.
Plenty of new faces are ready to step to the forefront to capture headlines on Friday nights. A couple of veteran players are back looking to build on last year’s promising performances.
Here is a quick preview of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the county’s six teams:
2011 record: 4-6
The Alvord Bulldogs’ final record in 2011 is something that still doesn’t sit well with Curtis Enis.
He is anxiously awaiting the opportunity to start his second year back on the Alvord sidelines.
“I’m ready to get going and get that 4-6 taste out of my mouth,” Enis said. “It’s a bitter taste. I don’t like losing and having a losing record.”
Enis has brought in several new coaches including former Bridgeport assistants – new defensive coordinator Pete Hart and offensive and defensive line coach Charlie Mann – to help turn things around.
“My staff is excited,” Enis said. “We had good meetings last week and are ready.”
Strengths: The Bulldogs have holes to fill due to graduation along the line and at some skill positions. But Enis feels there a strength for the team in the abled bodies ready to step up and play a variety of roles.
“We have a bunch of good football players,” he said. “We don’t have anyone super fast at 4.4, but we have a bunch of guys at 4.6 and 4.7. We have a lot of kids like Joe Randall, Casen Baker and Brandon Aeling that can run, catch, throw and block.”
Question marks: The Bulldogs are rebuilding up front on both sides of the ball.
Alvord has four players with experience on the offensive line, but will need them to play solid for the offense to be effective.
“How quickly we can bring them around will affect how we move the ball,” Enis said.
Defensively up front, Enis said they must be more physical to allow linebackers to go make plays.
2011 record: 9-3
For the first time since 1977, there will be someone different leading the Boyd Yellowjackets on to the field.
J.G. Cartwright retired in June, and his longtime assistant and offensive coordinator Brandon Hopkins is now in charge of the Yellowjackets.
The first-year head coach said it’s a bit of an adjustment being over the whole program instead of one side of the ball.
“I’ve been looking forward to it,” Hopkins said. “It’ll be a little different when you’re the guy that has to put people in spots.”
Hopkins takes over a team that made the second round of the playoffs last season but must replace record-setting quarterback Jared Cate and its top two receivers.
Strengths: While Cate took his talents to West Texas A&M and Abe Moreno and Chasen Starnes also graduated, Hopkins feels like the skilled positions will still be strong with 1,000-yard rusher Fino Cardona returning and Blake McDonald taking over at quarterback.
“Skillwise we’ll be fine,” Hopkins said. “We’ve been throwing for a while in 7-on-7. All the reps we got in the spring and summer should pay off.”
Question marks: Boyd lost three starters up front and will return Tyler Souder and Parker Rivers from last year.
“The line is where we have the most question marks,” Hopkins said.
2011 record: 7-4
The Bridgeport Bulls move to a new region and district looking to fill several holes to get back to the playoffs.
Bridgeport coach Danny Henson said that’s part of the game at the high school level.
“It’s not like the pros where you get the same lineup each year,” Henson said. “You have to be ready for the change and put the puzzle together.”
The Bulls will have a new quarterback in Hunter Gantt and will try to fill spots in the secondary where several players graduated.
Strengths: One area of strength for the Bulls is something that every team would like to have – a veteran, strong, fast running back.
Senior Gabe Huerta, who ran for 1,383 yards last season, is back to lead the Bridgeport offense. He’s started since midway through his freshman year and piled up 3,043 yards.
“He’s run for a lot of yards and has a lot of experience,” Henson said.
Huerta will get to run behind a mostly veteran offensive line.
Question marks: Gantt takes over at quarterback replacing Colby Mahon, who transferred in the offseason. Henson said it may take some time for Gantt to adjust. He will also be working with a group of receivers that will be in expanded roles this year.
The Bulls are replacing the entire defensive front and two defensive backs.
2011 record: 4-6
The Chico Dragons took several steps forward last year. After a pair of winless seasons, the Dragons finished 4-6 last year.
Chico coach Stephen Carter wants to see his team take the next step and compete for a playoff spot.
The Dragons bring back a three-year starter at quarterback in Hunter York and running back Dylan Hightower to help accomplish that task.
Strengths: York is back under center after making a majority of the starts for the Dragons. He threw for 1,595 yards and 17 touchdowns last night. Hightower ran for 565 yards and caught 26 passes for 362 yards.
“Our skilled kids are our biggest strength,” Carter said. “We have more speed than we’ve ever had.”
Question marks: Carter expects the offensive line that is young to be improved. But until they get on the field and hold their own it is speculation.
“We expect to be improved, but talk is cheap,” Carter said. “We have to get out there and prove it.”
2011 record: 10-1
The Decatur Eagles rolled through the regular season at 10-0 last year before being knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.
The Eagles will now try to win a second straight district title in a new league – 9-3A.
Decatur will try to accomplish that task after losing eight starters on both sides of the ball – including standout quarterback Garrett Muehlstein and linebacker Coleman Stapp – and with a new defensive coordinator, Nick Stokes.
Decatur coach Kyle Story feels upbeat heading into the year with the cast he has coming back, including last year’s Newcomer of the Year, Grayson Muehlstein, and linebacker and running back Damien Loving.
“We’ve got several good players in key positions coming back,” Story said.
Strengths: Muehlstein gained experience last year as a sophomore spelling his brother under center at times. His athleticism and versatility in the running and passing game should make the Eagles’ offense dangerous. Loving and Max Junkert are back to carry the ball.
Question marks: The Decatur secondary and linebacking corps were hit hard by graduation. Decatur lost all four starters at linebacker and all four starters at the back end.
Loving is expected to move into one of the linebacker spots.
Story is concerned about finding on-the-ball defenders in the secondary.
“We’ve got to find secondary players to step up,” he said.
2011 record: 5-5
The Paradise Panthers came up a game short of the playoffs for a second straight year.
The Panthers now must try to fight their way to the postseason in the new, tough 5-2A Division I that includes Boyd and three teams dropping from Class 3A – Bowie, Whitesboro and Pilot Point.
Paradise brings back key pieces to try to make the postseason including versatile running back Jarrett Roper and quarterbacks and defensive backs Josh McDowell and Tanner Valentine.
Strengths: Along with Roper, Valentine and McDowell, Paradise brings back six starters on each side of the ball. Paradise coach Danny Neighbors said there are also talented players behind them.
“Hopefully our depth is a strength,” he said.
Neighbors did say some of that depth is without experience.
Question marks: The offensive line was a strength for the Panthers last season with returning starters throughout the unit.
This year, the Panthers bring back only two starters – tackles Braden Broussard and Jordan Carter.
“We’ve got a lot of offensive line positions to fill,” Neighbors said. “We’re not going to be as big up front.”
Last year may have been the year of the quarterback with several talented signal callers under center. This year, many of the area’s teams will rely heavily on talented running backs. Here are a few of the top returning backs.
Name, class, school … Carries … Yards … TD
GABE HUERTA, senior, Bridgeport … 190 … 1,383 … 20
- Starting for a fourth year and has more than 3,000 career yards
FINO CARDONA, junior, Boyd … 148 … 1,066 … 16
- The speedy back caught 19 passes for 321 yards last year
JARRETT ROPER, senior, Paradise … 125 … 666 … 6
- Roper shared the load with three backs last year
DYLAN HIGHTOWER, senior, Chico … 54 … 565 … 7
- The versatile back caught 26 passes for 363 yards
JOE RANDALL, sophomore, Alvord … 93 … 543 … 6
- In limited action last year, Randall showed a bright future as a freshman