Friendswood selected as pre-season favorite to win district

FRIENDSWOOD — Friendswood's Robert Koopmann enters his ninth year as the head coach of the Mustangs after taking over for long-time head coach Steve Van Meter who left Friendswood after 20 years at the helm.

Koopmann has fashioned a 66-29 overall record with the Mustangs finishing 9-3 last season after missing the post-season in 2018 for the first time as the head coach. Friendswood finished 6-4 in 2018. The positive is that Koopmann has never had a losing season.

The Mustangs find themselves in a new district after the realignment by the UIL which takes place every two years.

In 2018 and 2019, Friendswood was in perhaps the toughest district in the state which such schools as Shadow Creek, Angleton, Richmond Foster, Terry, and Hightower.

In 2020, the Mustangs moved to District 9-5A-I with Ball High, GC Memorial, Baytown Lee, Port Arthur Memorial, Baytown Sterling, and Beaumont United.

Friendswood is the only school in their new league that had a winning record in 2019. Lee, PA Memorial, and United won five games each while the other schools managed three wins except Sterling who won only one.

So it came as no surprise that the Mustangs would be the pre-season favorite to win the district title especially since Friendswood had seven offensive and five defensive returning starters entering the 2020 season.

Leading the way will be three-year starting quarterback Luke Grden who will enter his final campaign for a fourth straight year. Grden threw for 2,543 yards and 26 TDs last season and received the following words of confidence from coach Koopmann, "He has arm strength that is second to none and he is the catalyst of our spread offense."

Grden (6-2,180,4.8) will have plenty of help from running back Noah Palitz (6-1,175,4.6) who had 608 yards rushing for 10 TDs while catching 47 passes for 336 yards and 4 scores last season.

Friendswood will be strong on the offensive front with OL Daniel Goolsby (6-3, 235), OL David Goolsby (6-1,230), TE Mathew Kovacevich, OL Joey Leeper, and TE Cole Kelly.

Grden will look to WR Patrick Elizondo and WR Jack Ehrman to help with the potent passing attack.

“It’s nice to have a special kid at quarterback, but we also have weapons around him,” Koopmann said. “If we can stay away from injuries, we could really be special.

“We think we’ll be fine up front. Daniel Goolsby played for us as a sophomore last year and was a first team all-district. Joey Leeper also started for us, and Jackson Nemecek got a ton of time. David Goolsby also got a lot of minutes. Those guys were young last year, and we think it’s going to pay off for us this year."

Koopmann also provided insight as to the way the offensive line should function.

“We know Daniel is going to be our left tackle and David is going to be the center. Jackson Nemecek will be at guard, and we’re pulling for Trent Ferguson to be our other tackle.

“Leeper can play any position up there, giving us some flexibility. Cole Kelley returns as a tight end/slot receiver for the Mustangs. We’re big at receiver with Matthew Kovacevich (6-4, 212) and Cole Kelly (6-6, 230),” Koopmann said.

Sophomore Reid Mikeska is good size at about 6-5 and 210 pounds. Patrick Elizondo started every game last year and made some huge catches.

The defense should also be strong led by Eliot Spiller (6-1, 235), also a defensive end, had 48 tackles a year ago. Fifteen of those were behind the line of scrimmage and six were sacks.

“On the line, it starts with Spiller, a heck of a player, and Reyes, who as D1 talent written all over him with size and speed,” Koopmann said.

“Jared Yawn started for us a sophomore at nose tackle, and Whitney Te’o, who’s about 5-11, 325, played on JV last season before he got hurt.”

Friendswood’s linebacking corps should be just as impressive as the guys in front of them.

“Jackson Stephens will be back at inside linebacker for his third year starting, and Britton Merritt will be the other inside backer,” Koopmann said. “Nick Abowd, on the outside, just helps you win games. There will be competition for the other outside spot.

“We’re really excited about our front seven. Reyes can run like the wind. Those two ends can really apply pressure and we’ve got plenty of confidence in the backers.”

Special teams will play a critical point for the Mustangs as Grden was an All-District first-team punter last year and Ryan Sweeny will return to handle the placekicking duties.

The Mustangs are well stocked this year and they should find their new district much easier than the last two years, but they still must hit the field with their A-game each week so no team catches them off guard.