1. Tascosa: It’s become a familiar tune for the Rebels, who have run their string of 10-win seasons to four straight. They will have plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball, as speedy Tayden Barnes gets a chance to shine as a ballcarrier and a defensive back, and defensive lineman Avion Carter, who has committed to TCU, is capable of dominating games up front. There’s still a question of who will run the flexbone offense, as the Rebels don’t return a proven quarterback.
2. Lubbock-Cooper: Perennial contender Cooper makes the move up to Division I after reaching the 5A Division II state semifinal last season. The Pirates look well-equipped to continue their success even though they graduated several letterwinners, including three to Division I universities. They’ll have one of the district’s best receivers in Cooper Morris and linebacker Cutter Douglas will anchor a defense which always appears to be strong.
3. Abilene High: Abilene is the other new school to this district, and the Eagles add yet more quality to the district in their first 5A season as they were a traditional contender in Class 6A. They’ll have as much athletic talent as anybody in the district even though they have a few key positions to fill. Defense will be Abilene’s strength, as the Eagles return seven starters, led by speedy defensive back Noah Hatcher, a three-year starter.
4. Amarillo High: If there’s a sleeper in the district, it could well be the Sandies. Amarillo High is always in the playoff conversation, and the Sandies have enough offensive firepower to challenge for a top two spot. Three-year starter Jameson Garcia is a big-play threat at receiver and that will open things up for the running game. A strong front seven should carry the Sandies defensively, led by lineman Jacob Greeson and linebacker Cooper Ivey.
5. Lubbock Coronado: The Mustangs were the district co-champions last season and have probably the district’s best returning quarterback in Jett Carroll, who threw for over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. The biggest question marks are on defense, which means Coronado might have to win a lot of shootouts this season. If the defense matures during district, a return to the playoffs looks fairly likely.
6. Caprock: The Longhorns are in the odd position of perhaps being better than they were last season but could likely have a tougher time returning to the playoffs due to the deeper nature of this district. Lleyton Brown emerged at quarterback late last season and that experience should carry into this season. Linebacker Aundre Reyes and defensive back Jamal Acosta-Lewis are solid on defense, but depth could be a question mark.
7. Lubbock Monterey: The Plainsmen are the only school in the district welcoming a new coach, as Judd Thrash takes over for veteran Wayne Hutchinson, who retired. Hebrew Hunter is a 1,300-yard receiver but it’s uncertain who will throw to him. Linebacker Xavier Brown and defensive back Justin Perez are proven veterans on defense, but Monterey will have to adapt to a new system quickly to become a contender.
Tascosa at Lubbock-Cooper, 7 p.m. Oct. 28
The established district power visits the new kid on the block on the South Plains in the penultimate week of the regular season, with a very good chance that it will decide the district championship.
1. Wichita Falls Rider: The perennial power Raiders are the team to beat in this district until somebody beats them. They return a total of 16 starters from last year’s 12-2 team and have good size in both lines, with defensive lineman Anquan Willis leading the way along with tight end-defensive lineman Luke Gambs. Quarterback Jack Pitts should be even better after starting all of last season. If the young offensive line and linebacking corps develop, Rider will be that much tougher to beat.
2. Abilene Cooper: Cooper is dropping down to Division II to effectively replace the other Cooper (from Lubbock), who moved up. Chris Warren is arguably the district’s best returning quarterback and will carry the load along with running back Mikei Flye and wide receiver Cameron Herron. A strong linebacking corps will carry the Cougars defensively. Cooper’s only visible problem might be a lack of size up front on both sides of the ball.
3. Palo Duro: The Dons drop to Division II in their second season under PD alum Eric Mims, and the improvement they showed last season should carry over into this one. Avery Randle is a two-way threat at quarterback and Tre’sean Monroe is a productive running back. Linebacker Kameron Brown will lead the defense as a three-year starter. Lack of size could be a question mark, and developing depth will determine if PD returns to the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
4. Abilene Wylie: Like PD, Wylie is looking for a return to the postseason. The Bulldogs should be improved and have developed a passing game which should be productive, led by receiver Reese Borho, who also plays defensive back. A big offensive line should also help. Defensively, the Bulldogs return only three starters, and they’ll need to grow up as a unit to stay in contention during the grind of district play.
5. Plainview: Plainview could be the dark horse in this district, and with eight starters returning on both sides of the ball, the Bulldogs should improve on last year’s 1-9 record. Karomo Collins will carry a big load as a two-way player and is a genuine deep threat as a receiver. Quarterback Isaac Garza will be improved with an extra year. If the Bulldogs get some depth and avoid injuries, getting to the postseason is possible.
6. Lubbock High: The Westerners bring in a new coach with Juan Rodriguez, who inherits a 1-9 team, but benefits from a drop to Division II. Michael Coleman is a solid two-way player at wide receiver and defensive back and Keith Ramirez is a productive running back. Jaime Villa is a 310-pound two-way lineman, but his size is the exception on the Westerners. Getting back to respectability would be a good step forward.
Abilene Cooper at Wichita Falls Rider, 7 p.m. Oct. 7
This game opens district play and should set the tone for the rest of the season. It’s a statement game for both teams, with the winner getting an inside track on a district title.