District 18-5A 2009 Outlook

Can Stratford emerge atop 18-5A?

TPI has another early look at a wild Houston district race. This one could go to any of six contenders. Who will step up?


It's about that time again and Texas Prep Insider has got you covered. We have started our 2009 coverage of state's districts with this look inside Region III's most wide-open district.

District 18-5A Overview
Strake Jesuit dominated league play in 2008, finishing 7-0. Even the Crusaders, however, only got two games into the postseason as every other 18-5A team bowed out early. The 2009 district race appears to be mass confusion this fall with six teams capable of the advancing. No single team appears loaded to lead the race with authority.

Stratford impressed during 7-on-7 play, but Elsik has the most returning talent. Can Memorial win this district with just defense? Can Strake defend its crown after losing 14 quality starters to graduation? And can Elsik or Hastings stay focused, disciplined enough to use all of that returning talent? Will Stratford find the supporting cast to help the QB-WR twins claim a Spartan championship in 2009?

In a district where at least six teams are competitive – and none stand out yet – we'll have to wait and see. Week 10 looks like the key date to focus on.

Predicted Order of Finish (Division I in Bold):
1.Stratford
2. Elsik
3. Alief Taylor
4. Strake Jesuit
5. Memorial
6. Hastings
7. Spring Woods
8. Northbook


Stratford
2008 Finish: 5-4 Divsion II bi-district finalist

The Spartan twins – QB Mark Benninger and WR Brett Benninger (6-0, 175) – will decide where Stratford finishes, but they will need assistance. Spartan coach Eliot Allen has good team speed throughout and size, so Stratford is in a near dead heat with Elsik.

Give these Spartans a productive running game with RB Kelvin Scott or sophomore RB Rodrick Taylor (5-7, 155), good protection for Mark and a second receiver in WR Derwin Amboree (5-6, 145), and the brother combo may generate a district MVP and the 18-5A title.

Stratford finished 4-3 in league with the biggest loss to Memorial, but the Spartans' stumbles at Hastings and Strake Jesuit were both by less than 10 points.

Elsik
2008 Finish: 3-5

Maybe it's the memories of Ram teams playing four games deep in the postseason in 2000 to get a second shot at district rival Katy. Or perhaps it's the fact that coach Bill Barron returns 17 starters (8 offensive/9 defensive).

Either way, Elsik should be in the fight for the front of the playoff line in District 18-5A. If leadership and discipline are intact, these Rams could make a run with junior QB Kurt Lambert (5-9, 170), junior WR Dontrell Morrison (5-8, 150) and sophomore RB Jerry Bynum (6-0, 190) filling the skill spots.

OL/DL James Previn (6-0, 290) and OL James Polk (6-7, 300) will provide plenty of line push, and LB Danny Brownell (6-0, 225) can level opposing runners to keep Elsik in the game.

Alief Taylor
2008 Finish: 6-4 Division I bi-district finalist

The Lions earned a playoff berth in 2008, only to be faced with a 50-14 defeat at the hands of Cinco Ranch. Taylor returns with 3/5 starters back, and many skill positions filled with youth. Junior QB Jordan Are' (6-2, 187) threw for 414 yards and 4 TDs and will have WR Devonta Felder, RB Treveon Taylor and RB Derrick Lair to help build the offense.

OT Jonte Berry (6-4, 295), DT De'Aires Cotton (6-3, 300) and LB Briawn Rodriguez (5-11, 215) will play key leadership roles as the Lion veterans.

Strake Jesuit
2008 Finish: 9-2 Division II area finalist

The Crusaders ruled in 2008 and lost 14 starters to graduation, at least seven of whom moved to college programs. Strake Jesuit coach Ron Counter will rely on another strong defensive season if the Crusaders have postseason hopes in 2009.

DL Michael Sam (6-2, 230), LB Will Huskinson (5-11, 185) and FS Evan Fichter (6-0, 180) will carry the defensive load. RB Chaz Mitchell, WR Beau Grenier and TE Bucky Ribbeck will aid the offensive unit.

Memorial
2008 Finish: 7-2 Division I bi-district finalist

Memorial lacks veteran starters in the skill positions. The Mustangs will be led by LB Mike Williams (5-10, 185), DL James Rushing and OL Trey Gregory. With 3/5 returning starters on the roster, coach Gary Koch will work his magic to make this team a solid contender. Williams led a stingy defense with 56 tackles as an all-district selection in 2008.

QBs Wayne Taylor and Preston Burkett will share the pigskin with RB Jake Kight and WR George Strake as the Mustangs chase another playoff berth.

Hastings
2008 Finish: 3-5

The Bears will go hunting for the playoffs with nine offensive returning starters, including OL Blake Shelton (6-3, 295), QB Ricardo Wilson (6-0, 170), RB Xavion Taylor (6-0, 185) and K Jaime Hernandez.

Based on 2008, Hastings – which lost to Elsik, Alief Taylor, Strake Jesuit and Memorial by 14 or more points – may be pushed to win a close battle. But Bear coach Greg Alexander has high hopes for this troops due to leadership and improved offensive output.

Spring Woods
2008 Finish: 1-8

Spring Woods coach Dwayne Eggerman has talent on hand in RB Donald Brooks (6-0, 170), S Jose Herrera (6-1, 170), all-district RB Robert Pineda (6-1, 170) and QB Calvin Blair (6-2, 180). With 9/6 starters back, the Tigers could challenge in many more games this fall.

With solid blocking, Spring Woods could post its best season in many years if the offense and defense can gel, and Eggerman can fill a few key positions. Having averaged 6.8 points per game in 2008, it comes down to offensive production for the Tigers.

Northbrook
2008 Finish: 1-7

New coach Ron Rogers takes the Ragin' Raiders' reins with 4/6 returning starters. QB Anthony Rollings (6-2, 180), RB Kenneth Noble (6-0, 190) and sophomore WR Kelvin Rainey (6-1, 175) will keep the football moving downfield.

Now Northbrook needs a defensive lift after allowing 35.4 points per game. LBs Lex Cortez, Jimmy Cruz, DL Anthony Ramos will have to lead on the field by making the big plays as coach Rogers breathes new life into the Raiders' program.

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