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13. Cedar Hill (Cedar Hill, Texas, 12-2)
Head coach Joey McGuire’s squad returns a majority of its starters from last season and could be as dangerous as any team in Texas. People around Cedar Hill are hoping it could be the Longhorns’ year in 5A, much like it was in 2006 when the team went 16-0 and captured a state title behind star William Cole.
The Longhorns may not be as recognizable nationally as some other Texas programs, but that will change this season. The Dallas-area powerhouse has long been a player in the Lone Star State and may be as talented as any team around this year.
Cedar Hill should be downright scary offensively. The team’s quarterback-running back duo is top notch. Signal caller Driphus Jackson passed for 1,360 yards and rushed for another 818 yards last year. He’ll only be a junior in 2009.
Back to solidify the Longhorn rushing attack is Ben Malena. Accounting for 2,243 yards and 35 touchdowns a year ago, Malena was one of the most productive players in the state. He catches the ball well out of the backfield to add another dynamic to the Cedar Hill offense.
Adam Shead and Ricky Gonzalez will anchor an offensive line that always performs at a high level.
Remarkably, the team’s most outstanding player may reside on the other side of the ball. Linebacker Aaron Benson, a future Texas Longhorn, rung up 155 tackles, seven sacks and three interceptions last year. He’ll be back, as will most of the team’s secondary, including Elisha Olabode and Spencer Phillips.
Texas’ Region I will be stacked in 2009, with the likes of Allen, Trinity, Wylie, and a resurgent Southlake Carroll squad. But Cedar Hill will has a chance to survive Region I and capture another state title, cementing its status as a nationally elite program.
12. Skyline (Sammamish, Wash., 14-0, 4A state champs)
In 2007, Skyline plowed through Washington’s 3A playoff bracket, finishing 14-0 with a state title. 2008 saw the Spartans placed in a different classification, only to achieve the same results: another championship, this time in Class 4A.
While Skyline loses star receiver Gino Simone and starting running back Joey Evans, the Spartans return a nucleus of talented players who should help the team be a major player again in 2009. Quarterback Jake Heaps, a highly-coveted recruit, will put up big numbers again after notching 2,910 passing yards and 38 touchdowns last year.
One of his favorite targets will once again be available: Kasen Williams, who caught 56 passes for 939 yards and 13 touchdowns. Watch for Michael Ford and Peter Kim to step up out of a group of possible replacements at the other receiver spots.
Nick Washburn looks to be the man to step up at running back. He’ll keep opposing defenses honest so they don’t key on the Skyline passing attack.
Registering 109 tackles last season, Anthony DeMatteo will be a force on defense once again for the Spartans.
Skyline looked unstoppable for the first half of the season, but then struggled to pull out victories against Bothell and Ferris. It took a late touchdown pass from Heaps to Jake Knecht for Skyline to avoid being upset in the state finals against Issaquah.
Despite a lack of depth, the talent will be in place for Skyline in 2009. The Spartans may have a prolific offense. However, how much of a national contender they really are will likely be known after the team’s games against Jesuit (Portland, Ore.) and Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif.)
Beating Oaks Christian would be monumental for the Skyline program and Washington as a whole. If, however, the Spartans look unimpressive, their reputation—and position in national rankings—will slip a notch. A win by Skyline coupled with a win by rival Bellevue against Katy of Texas would show the rest of the country that football is the Northwest is severely underrated.
11. Prattville (Prattville, Ala., 13-1, 6A state champs)
Prattville is now fully ensconced atop the Alabama high school football scene.
First-year head coach Jamey DuBose led the team to its third straight 6A state title last season. The Lions used a late field goal to get past Hoover 16-13. The Bucs, who were the dominant team in the state before Prattville’s rise to prominence, will also be very strong in 2009, but it’s the Lions who begin the season nationally ranked.
Prattville returns a handful of starters on both sides of the ball and has tremendous depth to fill in for graduated playmakers. On offense, Sam Gibson returns behind center. It was a transformational season in 2008 for Gibson. He opened the season against St. Xavier in Cincinnati and appeared uncertain and inexperienced. By the playoff run, Gibson had the Lion offense flourishing.
The offensive line will be young, but promising. Junior Sam Caldwell is reportedly tipping the scales at 380 pounds and is a behemoth who may also see time at nose guard on defense. The other starters are likely to be smaller and more agile than the 2008 team and may give the Lions more flexibility on offense.
There’s no clear favorite to replace Jerodis Williams at running back, but out of the three or four running back committee members, Prattville is hoping one emerges. As usual, the diminutive Corey Shelton will be a threat to score whenever he touches the ball, whether it be wide receiver, slot back, or returning kicks and punts.
One of the state’s best players will be manning the secondary. Nick Perry, already being courted by a number of top programs, will play safety. Cedric Smith, an all-area selection, will also help stymie opponents’ passing games. The linebacking corps will also be strong, led by Dennis Gardner, who had 76 tackles a year ago. Up front, the Lions have three sophomores 6-4 or taller that they expect to fill the void left by Alex Page and company.
The Lions have been here before, replacing starters, marking adjustments, and winning with so many different variables in play. A mid-season showdown with Don Bosco Prep (N.J.), a program similar in make-up and execution to St. Xavier (Ohio), will be an excellent barometer for how good the Lions are in 2009.
10. John Curtis (River Ridge, La., 14-1, 2A state champs)
Some things are just certainties in Louisiana. Mardi Gras will happen each year on Fat Tuesday. Delicious Creole food will be as ubiquitous as world class jazz music. And the John Curtis Patriots will be good in football.
Legendary coach J.T. Curtis and his staff have led the Patriots to an astounding 23 state titles. Last year, the Patriots traveled to Texas and lost a hard-fought game to Euless Trinity. John Curtis then went on to rattle off 14 straight victories, including a 35-14 victory in the finals against Evangel Christian, who figures to be the Patriots’ biggest obstacle once again in 2009.
Seven starters return on defense for John Curtis, led by shutdown corner Jonathan McKnight, whose brother Joe is now at USC. The team’s second leading tackler, John White, is back at linebacker, alongside Walker Ashburn, who plays a hybrid, defensive end/outside linebacker position for the Patriots.
The staff also expects big things from Tyler Gilbert, a Katrina transfer who sat out last season, but should be a key player in 2009. He’ll play a similar role to Ashburn. Additionally, 6-4 sophomore linebacker Dillon Gordon has the makings of a star.
On offense, the team returns fewer starters, but has the ingredients for another successful campaign punishing teams with the veer. Luke Charpentier is a dominant offensive lineman who knows the system well. His 6-5, 320-pound frame is also helpful. Six-foot-four, 300-pound Darian Campbell will be another huge presence on the line; expect 6-3, 210-pound Leonard Wasiki to execute some critical blocks.
Quarterback Bryce Perry and running back Demetrius Conley will both be new, but both should thrive in the veer system.
Of course, Evangel Christian will be waiting come playoff time. Like J.T. Curtis, head coach John Bachman is another brilliant football mind. His team returns a boatload of talent, and will be one of the state’s best, bar none. Expect the Patriots to rise to the occasion and engage in another Louisiana showdown.
9.Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, Calif., 14-0, Southern Section Northwest champs)
The 2008 campaign was both very satisfying and unfulfilling for the Lions.
They finished 14-0 and were hardly tested at any point during the season, but were denied a shot at a CIF Bowl Game and a chance to prove how dominant they really were.
Since the school’s first full year as an athletic program in 2002, Oaks Christian has quickly become a powerhouse in Southern California. The Lions have won six consecutive section titles and have churned out major Division I recruits like Jimmy Clausen, Marc Tyler, and Marshall Jones.
Still, they are not quite on equal footing with some of the larger, more established football programs in the Southern Section. After this season, that may be forced to change.
Coach Bill Redell’s squad returns a number of key players on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Nick Montana (2,404 passing yards, 33 TDs), running back Malcolm Jones (1,504 rushing yards, 26 TDs), and offensive lineman Erik Kohler. All three helped the Lions score at least 35 points in all but two games. Watch for sophomore Jordan Payton to play an even bigger role in 2009. He had six touchdown receptions as a freshman and is already attracting attention from colleges.
The defense is led by lineman Cassius Marsh, who recently committed to and then de-committed from Cal. Linebacker Zac Stout is another bonafide star for the Lions, registering 112 totals tackles as a junior.
With the addition to Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana to an already impressive coaching staff, the Lions have great potential to improve even more in 2009.
The 2009 Oaks Christian team will be very, very good. Better than the Clausen-led team of 2006? The potential is there.
8. DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md., 10-2, WCAC champs)
There is perhaps no school in the country with as rich an athletics history as the DeMatha Stags, who have nationally-recognized programs in several sports, not the least of which is football.
While coaching legend Morgan Wootten put DeMatha on the map for basketball, Bill McGregor has etched his own legacy and turned the Stag football team into a perennial power. The team’s WCAC title last year was its sixth in a row.
This year’s squad could be one of the best in recent memory. While quarterback Tom Chroniger is gone, the Stags are immensely talented all over the field, and expect big things from Daniel Tapscott, Chroniger’s likely replacement.
Up front, DeMatha is extremely solid. Brothers Arie and Cyrus Kouandjio are both at least 6-5 and weigh 300 pounds. Shane Johnson is another monster up front. All three will enable senior running back Marcus Coker to do some serious damage. Expect junior Delonte Morton to take his share of carries. Speedy Josh McPhearson, whose had several brothers play for McGregor, may contribute as a sophomore.
If that’s not enough, the Stags will also have the versatile Jeff Knox as a weapon on offense. Knox is a talented defensive back who can also play running back or wide receiver. His work on defense will complement fellow defensive backs Lorenzo Waters and Mike Cooley, both of whom have Division I offers.
The biggest reason to believe in DeMatha is not its talent in 2009, but its production in 2008. The Stags were upset by Gilman, and then suffered a televised 21-point loss to Good Counsel. How did DeMatha respond? By giving up only 39 points in its final seven games and routing Good Counsel in the WCAC final.
Good Counsel and the rest of the WCAC will once again be challenging, but DeMatha is the odds-on favorite to win its seventh straight conference title.
7. Elder (Cincinnati, Ohio, 13-2, Division 1 state finalist)
On August 30, 2008 Elder suffered a loss at the Herbstreit Varsity Football Series to 2009 preseason No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.). After that game, Elder went on a terrific winning streak, beating the likes of St. Edward, St. Xavier, Colerain and Pickerington Central. The Panthers made it all the way to the Division I title game before falling at the hands of St. Ignatius.
The 2009 Panthers will be equally dangerous—and equally challenged. A Sept. 6 matchup against Colerain will not only be a rematch of their playoff meeting from last season, but it could be a preview of the Region 4 final, and perhaps a foreshadowing of who will be crown state champion.
Quarterback Mark Miller is back after throwing for over 2,300 yards last season. He was remarkably efficient, throwing 24 touchdown passes versus only four interceptions. The bad news for Greater Catholic League teams is that one of his favorite targets, Tim O’Conner (45 receptions, 662 yards), is back as is heavily-recruited Alex Welch, a 6-5 tight end who’s valuable both blocking and catching passes.
The team’s offensive line loses some key players, but with the type of sub-varsity teams that the Panthers have, head coach Doug Ramsey shouldn’t have to look far for some replacements. Expect similar results for the team’s defense, which will be led by linebacker Corey Mason and defensive back Jake Fishburn.
Winning a Division I state title in Ohio is one of the hardest feats in high school football. Not to mention, Elder’s conference is one of the most challenging in the country. Come November, the Panthers could be 14-0 and heading into the Division I state title game. Or they could 8-3 and out of the title hunt early. Ohio, and Region 4 in particular, can be that brutal.
Colerain, Moeller, St. Xavier, and other Cincinnati teams face similar uncertainties. But the Panthers have the coaching and the personnel to go the distance in 2009, and should be able to hang with any team in the state—or country.
6. Oscar Smith (Chesapeake, Va., 15-0, Division 6 state champs)
At first glance, it may seem that the Tigers are ranked too high. After all, they graduate state player of year Perry Jones, an impact player at running back and linebacker, as well as standout wide receiver Tim Smith and linebacker Jared Askew.
However, Oscar Smith head coach Richard Morgan is as good as any coach in the country at grooming young talent, and he isn’t afraid to give young player a varsity baptism by fire.
At linebacker, look for Raysean Richardson, just a sophomore this past season, to transition from a starter to a star. Backup running back Jaston George, also a sophomore in 2008, is primed for a breakthrough junior season.
Of course, the Tigers will return bonafide stars on each side of the ball in quarterback Phillip Sims and defensive lineman Evan Hailes.
Sims, a starter since midway through his freshman season, is in the upper echelon of quarterback recruits nationally. As a junior, he threw for 3,167 yards and 38 touchdowns. He recently verbally committed to Alabama.
On the other side of the ball, Hailes is a 6-1, 315-pound space eater who may continue to see some time on the offensive line as well. He’s being courted heavily by a number of major Division I programs.
The landscape of Virginia as a whole will be worth watching. Phoebus, despite returning a myriad of young, skilled athletes, loses many of its key players and head coach Bill Dee to the college ranks. Stone Bridge continues to be a dominant program in the northern part of the state. Lake Taylor, who played Oscar Smith very tough in the playoffs last year, will be another team to watch.
Still, Oscar Smith should be team to beat in AAA. After all, Morgan would not have accepted a nationally-televised game against Venice (Fla.) if he didn’t think he’d give the rest of the country a glimpse at high-caliber Virginia football. You can bet the rest of the state will turn into Tiger fans for the night.
5. Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, Calif.; 11-1)
Once again, Notre Dame will face one of the most challenging schedules in the country. Running the table in the Serra League and throughout the playoffs would mean the Knights would have a compelling national championship resume. It will be massive challenge, but Kevin Rooney’s squad is loaded with returning talent.
Most notable on the list of returning players is Ryan Kasdorf, a MaxPreps All-American in 2008 after passing for 3,291 yards and 36 touchdowns. Equally impressive is the fact that the Knights return four all-league offensive linemen: Ben Gottschalk, Tyler Sulka, Daniel Munyer and Devin Hardy.
1,000-yard rusher Kenny Boggs returns to solidify the Knight ground game. Several talented but unproven receivers will look to replace James Flynn, who was responsible for 1,112 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.
Linebacker Wayne Swinson, who finished with 71 tackles, six sacks, and eight forced fumbles, is back on defense, along with fellow all-league selections Andrew Kimble and Devin Hardy. Though the offense is likely to put up a lot of points, the defense will ultimately decide how far the Knights go.
The Pac-5 will be brimming with teams that have the potential to be nationally ranked. Of the bunch, Orange Lutheran stands out as perhaps the Knights' stiffest competition come playoff time. Additionally, Notre Dame will be representing the entire state as it journeys to Texas to take on Klein Oak as part of the Herbstreit Varsity Series.
4. Allen (Allen, Texas, 15-1, 5A-I state champs)
One of the more remarkable seasons in 2008 belonged to the Eagles of Allen.
Allen watched as Euless Trinity and Plano, one of the Eagles’ District 8 foes, hogged much of the preseason attention. The Eagles, coming off a season that ended with an early playoff loss, lay in the metaphorical weeds and let their play on the field speak for itself.
Avenging a narrow, early-season loss, Allen ended Trinity’s season with a 31-24 victory en route to 5A-I state title. The Eagles also beat 4A power Longview, traditional powerhouse Permian and District 8 rivals Wylie and Plano. It was a magical run, one that the Eagles plan to duplicate.
Behind the center, Allen has two potent quarterbacks, all-state selection Matt Brown and highly capable backup Tucker Carter, who led Allen to a state title after Brown went down with a broken collarbone in late November. Both will have the luxury of lining up behind standout offensive linemen Cedric Ogbuehi and Richard Greer.
Head coach Tom Westerberg will have to replace some key parts at wide receiving and running back, but given the Eagles’ depth, that doesn’t figure to be much of a problem. On defense, the team returns lineman Brandon Turner and Tracey Smith. At linebacker, Mitch Hartshorne, who had an interception in the state title game, also returns.
The schedule in 2009 will again be brutal for Allen with non-district games against Longview and Euless Trinity once again. This time, the Eagles will be favored and should have the horses to deliver. Allen has more depth at quarterback than perhaps any team in the country. It remains to be seen if Westerberg will try to utilize the Carter and Brown on the field at the same time.
3. Katy (Katy, Texas, 13-3, 5A-II state champs)
2008 was supposed to be a building year for the Tigers after graduating a plethora of starters.
Gary Joseph’s squad did get off to a slow start in 2008, losing a close game to North Shore and getting blown out by The Woodlands. The Tigers then won 13 of their final 14 games, losing only to cross-town rival Cinco Ranch. After that loss, Katy piled up six straight victories, culminating in a 17-3 victory over Wylie in the 5A-II state title game.
Many key cogs in last year’s title run return in 2009 for Katy, especially on defense. Joseph is a defensive mastermind, and will enjoy having safety Sam Holl roaming the secondary. The linebacking corps will include all-district players Jonathon Fisher, Terrance Barley and Grant Clifton. Look for Katy’s defense to be stingy.
On offense, Parker Ray will likely be replaced by Michael Stojkavic, a senior. However, Brooks Haack suited up for the Tigers’ playoff run as only a freshman. If Stojkavic gets hurt or stumbles early, Haack could be thrust into the role as a sophomore. Six-foot-five Shep Klinke will provide protection for either quarterback, while paving the way for running back Will Jeffery.
While Katy will be challenged by a talented North Shore team to start the season, the most nationally-anticipated game on the Tigers’ schedule is their Sept. 12 showdown with Washington’s 3A champion Bellevue.
Bellevue has a history of slaying some football giants, most notably California's De La Salle and Long Beach Poly. However, the Wolverines' Wing-T offense preys on poor decision making and impatience of opposing defenses, neither of which are likely to happen lining up against Katy.
2. Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.; 14-1, 4A-I State Champs)
It’s a great time to be a high school football fan in South Carolina. Last season, four teams from the Palmetto State appeared in the MaxPreps/Army National Guard National Rankings. South Carolina was the only state to have two teams in the final top 10, South Pointe of Rock Hill and Byrnes.
This season, the Rebels return more than any of their in-state contemporaries, and more than most out-of-state teams as well.
Leading the charge will be star running back Marcus Lattimore, who rushed for 2,314 yards and 30 yards en route to being named MaxPreps National Junior of the Year. Lattimore is the total package: a supremely talented player whose rises to the occasion in big spots.
Quarterback Chas Dodd also returns after throwing for over 2,900 yards last year. Two of his top three receiving targets are also back in Nick Jones (834 receiving yards) and Jazz King (494 receiving yards). Opponents will have a difficult time preparing a game plan for the Rebels’ diverse offensive attack.
Defensively, Byrnes will probably have more talent up front than any team in the country. MaxPreps Junior All-American and mega-recruit Brandon Willis returns alongside Corey Miller and Danzel Collins. Each had more than 100 tackles last season. Willis, perhaps the best of the bunch, had 13 sacks.
A new in-state challenge awaits the Rebels to start the season in defending 3A champion Myrtle Beach. The Seahawks will feature a new coach, Mickey Wilson, but a familiar face at quarterback in junior Everett Golson. They will be a great early-season warm up for the Rebels.
Without question, Rebels faithful are looking ahead to the Oct. 2 showdown against St. Thomas Aquinas. Byrnes is 4-0 against teams from Florida over the last there seasons, but beating the Raiders would be the Rebels’ most prominent out-of-state accomplishment yet.
1. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 15-0, 5A state champs)
The fact that George Smith’s Raiders had 11 seniors sign letters of intent on National Signing Day to play for Division I schools speaks volumes about the program’s talent. The fact that the team remains an overwhelming favorite to win its third straight 5A state title speaks volumes about the team’s depth.
For Aquinas, rebuilding is not an option. Junior Jacob Rudock will likely replace the departing Ryan Becker at quarterback. Rudock saw valuable time as a backup last season and should slot in seamlessly. He will have the luxury of handing off to an extremely capable backfield. If star Gio Bernard is not dangerous enough, senior James White and junior Jamal Wilson will also take advantage of the holes open up by the offensive line, led by all-state selection Brandon Linder.
On defense is where Aquinas will really overwhelm teams. Safety Brian Robinson and cornerback Cody Riggs are both major recruits. The additions of Keion Payne and LaMarcus Joyner could make the team’s secondary one for the ages.
Look for transfer Rashad Greene from Westover (Ga.) to make an impact, as well as sophomore Jelani Hamilton. The 6-foot-4 defensive end is likely to start as a sophomore in the fall after an impressive spring.
The road to another state title—and potentially another national title—is not without its landmines. Standing in the way in 5A once again will likely be the Lakeland Dreadnaughts. The Raiders beat Lakeland soundly in last year’s playoffs, but people around Florida have little doubt that the Dreadnaughts, loaded with speed at skill positions, will be eager to exact revenge. Boyd Anderson and Miramar also sit on the schedule hoping to make upset bids.
However, the biggest threat to another unbeaten season will come from MaxPreps’ preseason No. 2 team, the Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.) Rebels.
Last Five Out:
Union (Tulsa, Okla., 13-1, 6A state champs)
The Redskins graduate state player of the year Jeremy Smith, but return quarterback Chase Boyce, who threw for 2,300 yards last season.
Bingham (South Jordan, Utah, 11-3, 5A state finalist)
The Miners lost to Alta in the state finals last season but early reports indicate that Bingham returns more than its rival, including all-state junior running back Harvey Langi.
Memphis University School (Memphis, Tenn., 13-0, Division II state champs)
The Owls, led by quarterback Barry Brunetti, look to be Tennessee’s top team this season.
Butler (Matthews, N.C., 12-2)
Butler lost twice to Independence last year, but may be a big stronger than the Patriots this season; Junior quarterback Christian Lemay will be one of the best players in the Carolinas.
Lakeland (Lakeland; Fla., 14-1, 5A state finalists)
The Dreadnaughts return a very athletic squad and may be destined to meet St. Thomas Aquinas again in the state playoffs.