The 25-5A race
Front-runner: Converse Judson. One of the state’s largest schools with a UIL-reported enrollment of 3,848 students, Judson appears ready for an extended playoff run. The Rockets are strong on defense, with a unit that will bank on stalwarts such as LBs Justin Johnson (143 tackles) and Malik Pryor (93 tackles) and DB Kevion Ramsey (42 tackles).
Dark horse: New Braunfels Canyon. After an unexpected 3-7 year, the Cougars return 13 starters. The one-two punch of QB Phillip Shelton (743 passing yards) and RB Gibreel Evans (710 yards rushing) gives Canyon some true playmakers.
Up for debate
1. Can Smithson Valley defeat Judson behind dual-threat QB Garrett Smith ( 2,035 combined passing and rushing yards, plus 17 TDs, in 2012)?
2. Will New Braunfels’ returning nucleus of nine defensive starters be enough for the Unicorns to improve on their 3-8 record from last season?
3. Is Canyon’s three-man linebacker wrecking crew of Trevor Luckemeyer, Zack Carroll-Ramirez and James Smith the best single unit in 25-5A?
Power players: Justin Johnson, sr., LB, Judson (143 tackles in 2012); Aaron Kennedy, sr., PK, Smithson Valley (all-state choice last year); Jake Waltrip, sr., LB, New Braunfels (76 tackles).
Talk it up: “We always have high expectations for our defense. However, with nine players back on that side of the ball, our expectation is that they play at a very high level immediately and that there is not as much of a learning curve as there would be with a large number of guys who have never played varsity football.” — Chuck Caniford, New Braunfels coach
Playoff qualifiers in 2012: Smithson Valley (5A, Division II, area round); Judson (5A, Division I, area round); San Antonio Wagner (5A, Division I, bi-district); New Braunfels (5A Division II, bi-district).
Coach: Mark Soto (1-9, second season)
2012 record: 1-9 overall, 0-5 in district
Starters returning: Offense 8, defense 4.
Players to watch: Jonoah Fabian, 5-8, 165, RB; Brandon Chapman, 5-8, 170, RB; Isaiah Bosquez, 6-0, 300, OL; Chris Miller, 5-10, 175, LB; Alex Sowell, 5-9, 175, DB; Aaron Medina, 5-7, 185, LB; Nick Vega, 5-9, 175, DB.
Oct. 11 — at Smithson Valley
Oct. 17 — vs. New Braunfels
Oct. 25 — at Converse Judson
Nov. 1 — vs. SA Wagner
Nov. 8 — at NB Canyon
Oct. 17, vs. New Braunfels: The Rattlers, who lost every district game by an average of 21 points last season, almost pulled off one upset before falling 38-31 to New Braunfels. San Marcos gets the Unicorns at home this year, and a victory in the second district game could lead to a turnaround.
Beef and bulk: The Rattlers’ running game should pick up behind one of the heaviest offensive lines in Central Texas. Led by LT Bosquez, the five linemen average 251 pounds. The only one below 250 pounds is left guard Xavier Marmalejo (5-9, 175).
Turn him loose: Coming off a season in which he posted 1,307 all-purpose yards, RB Fabian will be the focus of the offense. He averaged 5.5 yards a carry on his way to 658 yards rushing yards in 2012.
83 — Tackles last season for safety Sowell, who also grabbed two interceptions.
6 — Number of San Marcos opponents who qualified for the playoffs in 2012.