(Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of articles going up this week by the hosts of The Big Friday Night Scoreboard Program covering high school football teams in the KETR listening area. We begin the series with Rockwall County high school teams.)
Getting to know Rockwall:
Rockwall High School Yellowjackets
2016 record: 6-6
Coach: Rodney Webb (fifth season)
14 returning starters (nine defensive, five offensive)
Gone are the trio of Matt Jones, AJ Blacknall, and Sam Crawford. The tandem accounted for 63 TDs and almost 6,500 yards last season alone and it will be tough for the Jackets to replace that level of production. Rockwall’s new QB Caleb Estes will have some familiar targets to find, as returning receivers Cameron Crayton and Cole Talley (who is also the team’s kicker) will bring back over 800 receiving yards and seven receiving TDs, not the numbers put up by Crawford, but they will get more opportunities this season to produce. A player to watch defensively is linebacker Alston Orji. Orji has been a key piece of the Jackets defense since his sophomore year, totaling 75 tackles last season, eight for a loss. The defense will be key for the Jackets as the offense finds its identity.
The past two seasons have seen the Yellowjackets start off slow and get in a groove later in the season. In 2015 the team started 0-3 before reeling off 10 straight wins in making a state quarterfinal run. Last year it was a 1-5 start to the season, their only win in that span was a surprising victory on the road against John Tyler High School 59-58 (Tyler’s only regular season loss). They then won their next five in a row reaching 5-2 in district play and earned the third berth into the playoffs from their district, advancing to the area round before falling to Coppell 29-25. With Rockwall’s slow starts to seasons in previous years, it may be hard to have faith in the Jackets. But with their defense returning so many starters, the Jackets should have plenty of time to get their offense rolling with the right pieces and make a run for the district title. It will be tough and close, John Tyler is a heavy favorite for a reason, but the Jackets will make it to the playoffs for the fifth year in a row, and host a game in the process for the third straight season.
Playoff Chances: 85%
Getting to know Heath:
Rockwall-Heath High School Hawks
2016 record: 5-5
Coach: Mickey Moss (10th season)
17 returning starters (nine defensive, eight offensive)
It’s a safe bet that the Hawks will bring back a tremendous option attack from last year in their hopes of making another playoff run. Averaging nearly 340 rushing yards a game, Rockwall-Heath was good at the run, but when defenses shut it down, the offense was limited. If the Hawks can develop enough of a passing attack to keep defenses guessing, they could make some serious playoff noise. A player to watch on both sides of the ball is the explosive running back/cornerback Tanner McCallister. The senior was second on the team last year in rushing yards and touchdowns, and was tied for second defensively with 55 tackles. He will be a big factor in how the Hawks fare this season.
Last year was only the third time since 2010 that Rockwall-Heath did not reach the playoffs. Their non-district slate is not as daunting as others, but their opener is tough (at Wylie East). When they get to district play, and opponents have had a chance to see how the Hawks look, it could be a more challenging slate. But with a one or two game improvement in district play alone, Rockwall-Heath could be back in the postseason again in 2017.
Playoff Chances: 55%
Getting to know Royse City:
Royse City High School Bulldogs
2016 record: 3-7
Coach: David Petroff (fifth season)
Eight returning starters (three defensive, five offensive)
Things started off well for the Bulldogs in 2016, they got off to a fast 2-0 start before starting a seven-game slide. With a grueling district, and some early close losses, Royse City played better than their 3-7 record indicated. In 2017 though, things may not get any better for the Bulldogs. With so many new faces in key positions on both sides of the ball, there will be a sharp learning curve for Royse City in a district that includes the defending state champions (Highland Park). A player to watch for the Bulldogs is quarterback Matthew Yelverton. He became the starting quarterback midway through last season and will bring back that game experience to a group of new players this fall. If he can breakout and have a big season, the Bulldogs might play shocker in a few games.
Royse City’s district is exceedingly tough, almost unfair to put them in this district given the distance they have to travel for road games and the caliber teams they have to play. The state the Bulldogs are in at the moment do not scream playoffs. But given their hot start last season, and some consistency from their skill players, the Bulldogs could surprise a few people. Contending with teams like Highland Park, Wylie East, and West Mesquite would make the task of making the playoffs almost impossible. Never say never with this group though, they will turn the corner and make the playoffs sooner than you think, it just won’t be in 2017.
Playoff Chances: 10%