This column is part one of a four part series about 3A, 4A and 5A football projections in Ellis County. It will run every Sunday and Thursday during the next four weeks.
As it is with the National Football League, collegiate and high school football offseasons contain a fair amount of buzz, including hot take predictions and early hailing of state champs.
Those conversations can intensify greatly when looking at a district as tough as the 10-5A and one aptly dubbed "the District of Doom" and "the little SEC" that pits Midlothian, Red Oak and Midlothian against the likes of Lancaster and Mansfield Lake Ridge, Summit and Timberview High Schools. On average, from year to year, it produces consistent playoff contenders, not unlike its collegiate namesake.
Those discussions — and corresponding questions – ramp up a level when hot summer 2-a-days are a stone's throw away.
Will Midlothian High School erase a four-year playoff drought?
Will Midlothian Heritage High School reach past the regional quarterfinal and into the state tournament for the first time in its history?
What does post-Trey Jackson, Jalen Reagor and Kenedy Snell Waxahachie look like?
Separation fact from fiction is paramount when traveling the Texas football landscape, especially in the football-less months between February and August. The following should help you strap the waders on and find clear water.
FICTION: Waxahachie's offense will rank in the bottom third of the district and they will miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year.
TRUTH: The Indians — including their defense — will be fine.
Yeah, yeah. I know.
Waxahachie High School and it's "Tribe" won't have the field-reversing speed and talent of the three former stars mentioned above. They lost mauling left tackle Jack York to a First Baptist Academy transfer and his running mate Caleb Carlile to graduation and Texas State University.
They also haven't sniffed the postseason since 2012.
Cool your jets, Gingerbread City, what's left on the other side is green and just as sweet
Instead of a reliance on three game-changing factors, Waxahachie may have six. One of them recently etched his name in the minds of high school odds makers after the adidas 7-on-7 football tournament. The other is looking to become an integral part of a multi-faceted Indian offense.
With Tevin Wofford Jr. using his 6-foot-5 frame to steal 50-50 balls from Lancaster, Mansfield, Midlothian and Red Oak defensive backs and Jeff Alexander finding soft spots in the middle of the field, the Indians may actually be more efficient than they were last year.
Those two receivers played limited roles last season due to the existence of Jackson, Reagor and Snell, but still managed to grab key balls for important yards and pivotal touchdowns.
There's also Keyshawn Anderson, Kevin Green, Austin Mick and Will Morgan, of you're keeping score at home. And they also have a new "joker" back standing behind third-year varsity starter Bryse Salik.
Jarreth Sterns, who transferred to Waxahachie a couple of months before the end of the 2016-17 school year, will play a hybrid running back-wide receiver role similar to Midlothian's Kerrion Fields.
As a dual threat to run and to skirt out to the flats, Fields gained 1,727 yards on 91 receptions and scored 18 total touchdowns in 10 season games.
Jarreth also, as well as his brother Josh, will play defense. So, too, could blossoming speedsters like Taylen Lovings, Ashton Moore and Jhamarian Sergeant.
Speed, it seems, still may be the going currency in Waxachachie. I think there's an old adage somewhere that said "Speed Kills."
The new-look defense also has Morgan patrolling its defensive line, hard-hitting linebackers Caleb High and Jarvis McCray and safety Demani Richardson covering the middle of the field and Jarreth, Josh and rangy cover corner Nick Henderson.
The defense allowed 33 points per game last season, but with its current ball hawking compilation, expect 10-15 points less.
FICTION: Midlothian, without the service of the Sterns,' is bound a suffer another postseason-less year.
TRUTH: The return of Landry Songer and new defensive additions creates a capable playoff team.
Everyone in the "Cement Capital of Texas" knows the rhetoric. Midlothian High hasn't stepped foot in the playoff arena since third-year Midlothian Heritage Head Coach Lee Wiginton led Jimmy Fouse, Najee Mustafaa and the Panthers to the bi-district round in 2012.
2017, though, could erase the drought and usher in a new era of power football.
In Chris Dickert, Nolan Samek, Landry Songer and Tyler Spain, Midlothian High may have the best pieces on hand to fit its bruising triple option offensive system. Perhaps more to the point, they have the option of playing either Tate Corbin or Austen Thomas under center.
They could play both as an extra wrinkle in a system Head Coach Doug Wendell's run for more than a decade.
While some may view the triple option horribly outdated in this new age of spread offenses, five-receiver sets and pass-heavy play calling, it has been successful recently — at the collegiate level.
University of New Mexico Head Coach Bob Davie reformed the Lobos offense the Lobos’ identity with a 20th-century offense revitalized with a few added tweaks and adjustments.
UNM averaged 360.9 rushing yards per game in 2016, including the Mountain West Division title game, and had the nation’s top two per-carry rushers among backs with at least 100 carries. The offense gained at least 350 yards on the ground in seven games during the regular season, highlighted by a 568-yard showing in the finale against Wyoming.
The Panther defense, too, received gifts — both in the maturation of budding linebacker JT Cavender and the insertion of state championship defensive coordinator Steven Lemley into the coaching staff.
Lemley spent 12 years with Cedar Hill ISD and won three state titles with former Head Coach Joey McGuire, who accepted a position on new Baylor Head Coach Matt Rhule’s staff in December.
Between 2003 and 2016, McGuire, Lemley, new Waxahachie offensive coordinator Aaron Woods and the Longhorns amassed a 137-77 record, won three state championships and appeared in the 2012 6A state title game.
The trio also won nine bi-district championships and seven district championships. During the back-to-back championship stretch in 2013 and 2014, Cedar Hill averaged 14.1 and 29.88 points per game allowed, respectively.
Midlothian’s defense averaged 39.7 points per game allowed in 2016.
Lemley not only has Cavender at his disposal but a talented defensive backfield as well. While Samek will help Cavender stifle offenses at the point of attack and in the middle sector of the field, uber athletic defensive backs like Spain, Tyger Barnes, Diego Gonzales and shutdown cornerback John Rodgers will look to nullify deep threats and close passing lanes.
If healthy, Midlothian High might be in a position to vie for either No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 in 10-5A when the final district standings emerge in November.
Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI