Surely you’ve noticed: the sweet aroma of football leather baking in the sun?
OK. Maybe not. But it’s that time again, folks! And with McKinney Boyd’s Broncos and McKinney North’s Bulldogs geared up for more playoffs and McKinney’s Lions determined to end a post-season drought, the local season should be cooking well into November again.
Things kick off Thursday, Aug. 27, at McKinney’s Ron Poe Stadium when Boyd meets Mesquite Horn in a top area contest. And stick this date in your phone, friends: Friday, Oct. 16. That’s when North and McKinney, district-mates again this year, clash in UniqueByNature-ville’s lone cross-town tilt.
Now let’s get started.
McKINNEY BOYD BRONCOS
Head coach: Don Drake, 10th year
2014 record: 8-4 overall, 6-2 in District 6-6A
Last playoff appearance: 2014; second round loss to eventual state champion Cedar Hill (Division II)
Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
2015 strengths: talent returns in passing game with experienced quarterback, multiple top receivers; good nucleus back on defense; veteran kicker.
2015 opportunities: must reload at running back and account for key losses on defense; first-year varsity punter.
Head coach Don Drake and his Boyd Broncos seek a sixth-straight playoff appearance – and much more.
Boyd has its sights on a sixth-straight playoff appearance – and much more. “Our goal,” says coach Don Drake of his program, “is not to go 8-4. Our goal is to go 16-0 and win a state championship.”
As for 2014, Drake says, “From a coach’s perspective, we’re never satisfied – I don’t think our kids are satisfied – when you look back and you go 8-4. … Part of it is, you had a really good year, the kids competed very well. Of our four losses, two of them were to [eventual] state champions and two of them were losses to teams that went a couple of rounds in the playoffs, at least.”
“The flip side is, we’ve got to find ways to win those games, right?”
Drake is pleased with the Broncos’ off-season work and says team focus remains what it’s been for years: leadership development, confidence-building, strength-training and conditioning. And all those things lead to an ultimate aim: execution. “It only takes a handful of plays to be the difference in a game,” Drake says, recalling having led Cedar Hill, 7-0, early in last year’s playoff game – then letting the Longhorns out of a 3rd-and-long hole with a 76-yard screen-pass touchdown. “What a game-changer for them,” Drake says. “In games like that, against quality people, you’ve got to make those plays.”
Veteran quarterback Grant Restmeyer, in red, will be a big plus for the Broncos.
Senior quarterback Grant Restmeyer, coming off an impressive 2,100-yard passing year, has plenty of reason to be upbeat about this season. “Pretty much every receiver is returning from last year,” he says, reeling off the names Brandon Bowling, Jeremiah Campbell and Stephen Driskell. “There’s more chemistry going on there. I feel good about it.”
Plus, Restmeyer says his confidence is improved from this time a year ago. “Last year, I had no real game experience. So, two varsity years learning the offense, I feel like I’ve got it pretty much all down.”
At running back, Boyd looks to fill a void left by career 3,500-yard rusher Dedrick Scrivens, now at Oklahoma State. Junior Kaeden Markham, Scrivens’ back-up last year, has stepped in with positive results. “He brings kind of a smash-mouth attitude in the backfield,” Restmeyer says. Senior Doren Gibson, a JV starter in 2014, has also impressed, Drake says. “Both of them are very capable of doing some really good things for us.”
Up-front, returning starters Patrick Quintana and Tyrese Robinson – the district’s 2014 Offensive Newcomer of the Year – roll back in at left and right tackle, respectively. “We’ve got a chance to be as good as we’ve ever been in the offensive line,” Drake says.
“Defensively, I think, is where our biggest question marks are. You’ve got to have young kids step into those roles and start to produce. I believe that we have those individuals.” Returning defensive starters, seniors all, form a solid core: inside linebackers Braydon Webb and Ron Deboue, defensive tackle Noah Prater, safety Parker Noren and cornerback Armani Jenkins. Defensive tackle Ramon Readus, 2013’s district Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore, is also back after missing his junior year with a shoulder injury.
Seasoned placekicker Cameron Powell returns for his third varsity tour. “He’s very much that kid that understands how to play under pressure,” Drake says, recalling Powell’s clutch point-after kick into the wind to beat Plano as a sophomore. Senior Derek Dickman assumes varsity punting duties for the first time. “He’s one who has spent a lot of time in preparation for that role,” Drake says, adding, “He’s got a strong leg.”
The toughest stretch on your schedule, Coach? “Every week,” Drake grins. “I think they’re all tough.”
Last year’s Broncos now at “The Next Level”:
|RB||Dedrick Scrivens||Oklahoma State|
|C||Matt Morse||Southeastern Oklahoma|
|DL||Kiel Simas||Fort Hays State|
|DB||Keaton Livingston||Harding (Ark.)|
|OL||Emery Gulick||Southwestern Oklahoma|
|DL||Josh Stewart||Southwestern Assemblies of God|
McKINNEY HIGH LIONS
Head coach: Jeff Smith, sixth year
2014 record: 2-8 overall, 1-6 District 10-5A
Last playoff appearance: 2009
Returning starters: 7 offense, 3 defense
2015 strengths: experienced, talented running back and receivers; defensive line could be very good.
2015 opportunities: new face(s) this year at quarterback and key spots on offensive line as well as on defense; new placekicker and punter.
“Last year’s record and disappointment left a pretty sour taste in a lot of these seniors’ mouths,” McKinney coach Jeff Smith says, “and they want to change that. They want to make it right this year. I’m excited that they’re hungry in that way.”
“We had a lot of good, solid efforts in games last year,” he adds. “I think our kids played really hard. But we didn’t do some of the little things. We ended up hurting ourselves in some situations more than the other team hurting us.”
Of the Lions’ off-season, Smith says his team got “a lot stronger and a lot faster.”
With Brian Sutter’s graduation, McKinney fields a new quarterback this year – or maybe quarterbacks, with an “s”. But at this writing, Smith hadn’t yet made the call concerning four talented candidates: senior Tyree Johnson, back from ACL surgery which cost him all of last season, sophomore Damon Witmer, senior Cade Galyean, a varsity back-up last year, and junior John Marrs, the Lions’ 2014 JV starter.
Tyree Johnson, an all-purpose threat for McKinney, is back after a devastating injury.
All throw well, Smith says, while Johnson and Witmer provide an added running dimension. “We’ve got to find out what we do really, really well, and I think we kind of hit on that some this spring.”
Know this: If playmaker Johnson isn’t the signal-caller, he’ll be somewhere on the field – as a receiver or running back – and likely on defense, too. When he went down before last year’s preseason scrimmage, it was a huge blow to the Lions. “We were going to kind of build a lot of things around him,” Smith recalls. “He was going to be one of our go-to guys.”
“I feel like myself again,” Johnson says. “I feel like I’m getting back to where I was. … It feels like it’s been more than a year. I’ve missed it so much.”
Joseph Robinson, Seth Hunt and Rickey Fantroy – the Lions’ top receiver in 2014 – stock a talented receiving crew. McKinney returns two starters on the offensive line, center Caleb Stricklin and left tackle Aidan Mulligan, though right guard Jett Carson split time at his position all last season and Zach Rupe, to Carson’s right, is back after missing last year with an ACL injury as well. All four are seniors.
“As a group, we don’t have a lot of size,” Smith says of the o-line, “but they’re a great unit.”
McKinney head coach Jeff Smith and the Lions are determined to end a five-year playoff drought.
Senior running back Walker Torrain brings punishing experience to a backfield that will also feature Matt Gadek, last year’s freshman-squad starter. “Matt Gadek is going to be a big contributor this year,” Smith says. “Walker brings that bruiser, bang-it-up-in-there-run-over-people toughness. Matt is a lot more of a speed guy. You’ll see them back there together at times.”
The defense is anchored by returning starters Isaac Nunez at linebacker, safety Jonathan Hobart and defensive end Cameron Calhoun, whom Smith calls “our best defensive lineman last year.”
“I think the defensive line could be a strength,” Smith says, noting impressive sophomores Jackson Hill at left defensive end and Marcus Ramsey at left tackle and two-way Torrain again seeing lots of time at right tackle.
Versatile A.J. Jaeke moves from linebacker to join Hobart at the other safety.
Gavin Baechle and Michael Shipley are vying for placekicking duties and Ethan Maliskas takes over as punter.
As for district play, Smith says another “dog-fight” is in store for 10-5A’s four playoff spots. “I still think it’s a district where anybody can beat anybody. I like where we’re at. … We’re going to surprise some people, with some of the guys that we’ve got out there.”
Last year’s Lions now at “The Next Level”:
|OL||Tyler McMahon||West Texas A&M|
|DB||Byron Robinson||Riverside Community College (Calif.)|
|DB||Myron Robinson||Riverside Community College (Calif.)|
|OL||John Kent Calhoun||Oklahoma Baptist University|
McKINNEY NORTH BULLDOGS
Head coach: Mike Fecci, seventh year
2014 record: 11-3 overall, 5-2 District 10-5A
Last playoff appearance: 2014; lost in fourth round to Tyler John Tyler
Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
2015 strengths: entire offensive line returns; solid defensive nucleus back; veteran receivers, placekickers.
2015 opportunities: must reload at quarterback, running back, defensive secondary.
North head coach Mike Fecci and the Bulldogs cruised four rounds deep into last year’s playoffs.
The Bulldogs are coming off their first 11-win season in school history – and the team’s deepest playoff-run ever. In fact, it’s been almost three decades since a McKinney school ventured so far in post-season play.
“That was a big stepping stone for our program,” North coach Mike Fecci says. “To play four-rounds deep and do something nobody in McKinney has done since 1986 was a giant accomplishment.” (That year, McKinney High fell to West Orange-Stark, 21-9, in the 4A state championship.) Fecci adds, “Where that was such a blessing, if we’re not careful, it could be a curse. These guys have got to understand if we want to get back there again, and enjoy all that comes with that, we’ve got to put the time in right now.”
“The goal here is to do better than we did the year before.”
Job One may be adjusting for the loss of career 4,800-yard rusher Ronald Jones, now a USC Trojan. Junior Micah Bualicex, who showed loads of spark last year during Jones’ injury absence, should ease the transition. “It’s Micah’s job,” Fecci says, “but he’s got two guys right there who are going to get carries: K.J. Hart’s a senior, a varsity player coming back, and we’ve got a sophomore, Lamar Lucas, we’re real excited about too.”
Senior Christian Files, last year’s back-up quarterback to now-graduated Nick Hutchins, steps into the lead role. “He’s done phenomenal,” Fecci says. “Christian really understands the ins-and-outs of the entire offense that we run.”
Add to that, the Bulldogs’ entire starting o-line is back, including big Gage Thomason, Perry Radway, Andrew Grisham, Jared Morris and Zach Thomas. Throw in experienced Constantino Zuniga and Jordan Barany, now at tight end, and Fecci says, “We’ve got seven guys up front that have all played a lot of football.”
At receiver, Brennan Harris and Miguel Hudson return, with Conner Manning back at slot receiver. “We’ve got a lot of people back on offense,” Fecci says. “All our starters have stepped out there and done it before.”
Standout North defensive end Justin Madubuike will draw plenty of attention from opponents.
Talk of defense starts with the name most likely to give 2015 opposing offensive coordinators the yips: Justin Madubuike – last year’s District 10-5A Defensive MVP. “He’s the most dynamic defensive player I’ve coached in 18 years,” Fecci says of his senior standout defensive end. “To be 6-4 and 265 [pounds] and be able to run as fast as he runs, and as strong as he is, he’s the definite difference-maker for us in there.” Fecci adds that senior defensive tackle Gabe Dutze shouldn’t be overlooked, though. “[Madubuike] and Gabe started 12 games as sophomores together and 14 as juniors together. We’re looking for big things out of him too.”
“I’m feeling healthy, I’m feeling strong,” Madubuike says. How about the prospect of facing another year of double- and triple-team blocking? “I’m just going to do the same thing my coaches have been teaching me since my sophomore year,” he says. “It’s not the first time. I’ve seen it before. I’m just going to keep doing it the way I’m doing it – even at a higher level.”
Elsewhere, North lost both starting cornerbacks, a safety and an outside linebacker to graduation. Returning starters Khalil Lewis and Nathan Gifford will anchor at linebacker and Fecci says he like what he sees in the secondary from J’Varri Stewart and Jamarrius Hill. Veteran McShane Wyatt moves from free to strong safety.
Placekicking duties will again be shared by Sam Ashun and Chase Carraher, who’ll rotate as Fecci deems. At punter, Files and sophomore safety Mylin Mosely are “battling it out.”
Fecci says he thinks the district’s playoff-spot log-jam will be even tighter this year. “You look at the teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year, [Sherman, Denison, Prosper, McKinney], I think every one of those teams is going to be vastly improved.”
Last Year’s Bulldogs Now At “The Next Level”
|RB||Ronald Jones||Southern California|
|S||Bryce Balous||Oklahoma State|
|TE||Jo’Marr Davis||Texas A&M-Commerce|
|WR||Kirvin Parks||Emporia State (Kan.)|
FEARLESS PREDICTIONS for final district standings
(* playoff teams)
McKinney Boyd *
Flower Mound Marcus *
McKinney North *
Wylie East *
|Fri.||Aug. 28||at Richardson Pearce||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Sept. 4||Frisco Liberty||7 p.m.|
|Fri.||Sept. 11||at Carrollton Newman Smith||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Sept. 18||Bye week (no game scheduled)|
|Fri.||Sept. 25||Wylie||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 2||at Denison||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 9||Sherman||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 16||at McKinney North||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu.||Oct. 22||Wylie East||7 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 30||at Prosper||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Nov. 6||Lovejoy||7:30 p.m.|
|McKINNEY BOYD BRONCOS|
|Thu.||Aug. 27||Mesquite Horn||7 p.m.|
|Fri.||Sept. 4||at Coppell||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Sept. 11||at Allen||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Sept. 18||Flower Mound||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Sept. 25||at Plano West||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 2||Plano East||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 9||Bye week (no game scheduled)|
|Fri.||Oct. 16||at Plano||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 23||Flower Mound Marcus||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 30||at Lewisville||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu.||Nov. 5||Hebron||7 p.m.|
|McKINNEY NORTH BULLDOGS|
|Fri.||Aug. 28||Carrollton Newman Smith||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Sept. 4||at Little Elm||7 p.m.|
|Fri.||Sept. 11||Richardson Pearce||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Sept. 18||Bye week (no game scheduled)|
|Fri.||Sept. 25||at Wylie East||7:30 p.m.|
|Thu.||Oct. 1||Prosper||7 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 9||at Lovejoy||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 16||McKinney||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 23||at Denison||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Oct. 30||Sherman||7:30 p.m.|
|Fri.||Nov. 6||at Wylie||7:30 p.m.|