High school football: China Spring leads seven Texas schools in preseason Small Town Top 25 rankings

Kevin Askeland | MaxPreps.com Friday, August 5, 2022 12:45pm

Lone Star State dominates initial look at top programs with enrollment under 1,000 from towns with fewer than 10,000 people.

"Everything is bigger in Texas" is a common refrain in the Lone Star State, but the small town football programs are pretty special as well.

A total of seven Texas schools make the preseason Small Town Top 25 high school football rankings with five teams in the top six, including No. 1 China Spring.

Small town schools are those that have an enrollment of less than 1,000 students and are located in a town of less than 10,000 population. The Cougars from China Spring begin the season at No. 1 based on their 2022 starting power rating in the MaxPreps computer national rankings.

Preseason Small Town Top 25 football rankings
China Spring begins the season No. 1 in the Small Town Top 25 high school football rankings.
Photo: Stan Martin
China Spring begins the season No. 1 in the Small Town Top 25 high school football rankings.
1. China Spring (Texas)
2021 Record: 16-0, Class 4A-2 state champion
2022 Starting Power Rating: 52.7
Outlook: The Cougars lost Class 4A coach of the year Brian Bell to Baylor after last year's undefeated season. China Spring stayed in-house and promoted Tyler Beatty as Bell's successor. He returns five starters on offense and seven on defense, including all-state defensive back Tre Hafford. Also back is Kyle Barton, who scored 20 touchdowns last year. The Cougars move to Class 4A-1 this year after winning the 4A-2 championship last year. The Cougars have to replace quarterback Major Bowden, who was named Mr. Texas State Player of the Year by Dave Campbell's Texas Football.

2. Brooks County (Quitman, Ga.)
2021 Record: 12-2
2022 Starting Power Rating: 44.5
Outlook: The Class 1A Public state champions last year, Brooks County play in the new Class 1A Division 1 this year. State offensive player of the year Omari Arnold has graduated, but state coach of the year Maurice Freeman returns quarterback Jamal Sanders, who earned honorable mention all-state honors as a junior.

3. Lorena (Texas)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 44.1
Outlook: After losing their first two games of the season, the Leopards won 14 in a row to claim the 3A-1 championship. State defensive player of the year Joe Gutshall (6-foot-4, 280 pounds) returns on the defensive line. Lorena gets its season off to a tough start with a season opener on Aug. 26 vs. China Spring.

4. Franklin (Texas)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 41.7
Outlook: The Lions return 11 starters on offense and defense combined from a team that won the 3A-2 state championship. MaxPreps All-American Bryson Washington returns in the secondary as does all-state tight end Braden Smith.

5. Shiner (Texas)
2021 Record: 16-0
2022 Starting Power Rating: 40.4
Outlook: The Comanches have won 30 in a row with a pair of 2A state championships. Class 2A state offensive player of the year Dalton Brooks returns at running back.

6. Brock (Texas)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 37.6
Outlook: The Eagles went 15-0 before losing to Lorena in the 3A-1 championship game. All-state quarterback Tyler Moody returns along with five starters on defense.

7. Belle Vernon (Pa.)
2021 Record: 10-1
2022 Starting Power Rating: 37.4
Outlook: The Leopards won the WPIAA Big Eight, but lost to Aliquippa in the playoffs. Juniors Quinton Martin and Jake Gedekoh rushed for 902 and 501 yards, respectively, last year.

8. Madison County (Madison, Fla.)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 36.3
Outlook: The Cowboys have won four state championships in the past five years and won nine straight to finish the 2021 season after a 2-3 start. Maryland-bound Jonathan Akins is the team's top player at cornerback.

9. Pierce (Neb.)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 35.3
Outlook: After winning the Class C1 championship in 2020, Pierce lost to Lakeview in the championship game in 2021. The Bluejays return three all-state players in state MVP Benjamin Brahmer (6-6, 200) at receiver, Abram Scholting at quarterback and Dawson Raabe on the offensive line.

10. Harlan (Iowa)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 34.2
Outlook: Todd Bladt, the son of Iowa's all-time wins leader Curt Bladt, has a 32-4 record since taking over for his father in 2019 with a state championship last year. The Cyclones have one of the state's top prospects in wide receiver Aidan Hall.

11. Marion Local (Maria Stein, Ohio)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 34.0
Outlook: Few teams in the country have been as successful as the Flyers under coach Tim Goodwin. With 10 state championships since 2006, including one last year, Marion Local is a perennial favorite in Ohio. The Flyers return one of the state's top small town linebackers in all-state pick Darren Meier. All-state punter Aidan Eifert also returns.

12. Ord (Neb.)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 33.8
Outlook: The Chanticleers have plenty to crow about in 2022. With three league titles in the past four years and a state title in 2020, Ord is one of the rising small town powers in Nebraska. Six of the top seven leading tacklers on the 2021 team return while rising junior Dylan Hurlburt returns after a sophomore season when he rushed for 1,244 yards and 22 touchdowns.

13. Irwin County (Ocilla, Ga.)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 33.2
Outlook: The Indians missed out on a chance to win three straight Class A Public state championships last year, but they could make it three of four in 2022. The top two offensive players from last year return in quarterback Cody Soliday (1,742 yards passing) and running back Damarkas Lundy (1,668 yards rushing).

14. Hawthorne (Fla.)
2021 Record: 10-1
2022 Starting Power Rating: 33.2
Outlook: Undefeated during the regular season, Hawthorne fell to Madison County in the playoffs. The team includes several Division 1 prospects in linebacker Jailen Ruth, and tackle Mozell Williams

15. Mount Vernon (Texas)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 33.0
Outlook: The Tigers lost to Brock in the 3A-1 semifinals last year, ending a 14-game win streak. Six starters return on offense and five more on defense. All-state first team quarterback Braden Bennett is back after throwing for 3,789 yards and 41 touchdowns as a junior.

16. Gunter (Texas)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 32.9
Outlook: Gunter lost the battle of unbeatens in the 3A-II state finals last year, falling to Franklin. However, six starters return on both sides of the line of scrimmage, including all-state tackle Mason Peacock and all-state all-purpose Ethan Sloan

17. Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley (Rock Valley, Iowa)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 32.3
Outlook: The Rockets fell to Harlan in the 3A state finals, and last won a state championship at the 2A level in 2016. However, they've won five district championships in the past six years.

18. Ashland-Greenwood (Ashland, Neb.)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 31.7
Outlook: The Blue Jays lost to Pierce in the playoffs after finishing the regular season undefeated. Although the school has not won a recent state championship, it has won three straight district championships. The team returns all-state offensive lineman Braxton Buck.

19. Fitzgerald (Ga.)
2021 Record: 13-2
2022 Starting Power Rating: 31.7
Outlook: Despite not winning a region championship, Fitzgerald captured the Class AA state championship with a win over Thomasville. State defensive player of the year E.J. Lightsey is gone, but all-state offensive lineman Xavier Walker returns. The Hurricanes open with Irwin County and play Madison County in week four.

20. Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 31.6
Outlook: The Pirates have a Division 1 prospect in running back Jaylen Johnson, however they will have to replace Darris Smith, who was a state athlete of the year as a three-sport athlete and is currently playing at Georgia. Dayson Griffis returns at quarterback after leading the team as a freshman with 991 yards passing.

21. Sterlington (La.)
2021 Record: 15-0
2022 Starting Power Rating: 31.4
Outlook: The Panthers captured the Class 3A state championship and have won six district championships over the past eight years. Senior receiver John Barr received honorable mention all-state last year while leading rusher Trammell Colvin (1,434 yards) and quarterback Mason Lawhon (1,514 yards) also return.

22. Pierce County (Blackshear, Ga.)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 31.2
Outlook: A state champion two years ago, Pierce County returns all-state running back D.J. Bell, who rushed for 1,887 yards and 23 touchdowns in just nine games.

23. Alcoa (Tenn.)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 31.1
Outlook: The Tornadoes will be without longtime coach Gary Rankin, who is coaching at Boyd-Buchanan this year, but they still return a couple of Division 1 prospects in linemen Tyler Jeffries and Lance Williams. Alcoa has won seven straight state championships.

24. Southern Columbia Area (Catawissa, Pa.)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 30.7
Outlook: The Tigers saw their 65-game win streak end last year, but they've still won five straight state championships. Coach Jim Roth has won more games than any Pennsylvania coach with 471 victories, 12 state championships and 29 district titles. MaxPreps All-American Gavin Garcia has graduated, but younger brother Garrett Garcia, an all-state linebacker, returns for his junior season.

25. Kirtland (Ohio)
2021 Record:
2022 Starting Power Rating: 29.8
Outlook: Although the Hornets lost to Versailles in the playoffs last year, they previously won three straight state titles from 2018-20. The defense should be solid with all-state honorees Will Sayle (DB), Tommy Gogolin (DB), Philip LaVerde (LB) all returning.