Dawson, Pearland picked to challenge for District 23-6A crown


PEARLAND — It may be the first week in July, but the Dawson Eagles and the Pearland Oilers are gearing up for the Friday, August 26 kickoff of the 2016 football season.

Dawson will host the Conroe Oak Ridge War Eagles at The Rig at 7:00 p.m. while the Oilers will travel to face the Clear Springs Chargers at the new CCISD Challenger Stadium at 7:00 p.m.

Both teams are now in District 23-6A after the UIL realignment placing them in a more competitive league after having to be in the Pasadena ISD district for the past four years.

For the next two seasons, Dawson and Pearland will be in the same district with George Ranch, Brazoswood, Alief Elsik, Alief Hastings, and Alief Taylor.

George Ranch is a fairly new school and they won the 2015 Class 5A Division I state title. Their enrollment pushed them up to the Class 6A level and they will be considered a strong opponent to challenge for the 23-6A crown despite moving up to the next level. They are presently ranked No. 12 in the state in the pre-season 6A polls.

The No. 15 pre-season state-ranked Oilers are also considered a strong choice for the district title with Dawson a favorite to make the post-season.

One thing for sure -- the league will be much tougher and prepare the district teams to make a deep run in the playoffs.


DAWSON EAGLES

The Eagles were 8-4 last season and fell to the Friendswood Mustangs in the Class 6A Region III area round.

Dawson took a hit with graduation sending key players to the next level in their journey to get a good education as well as continuing their playing careers.

The Eagles have four offensive and four defensive starters returning for the 2016 season.

Players to watch: QB Zach Smith (6-2, 180, 4.5), LB Patrick Howell (6-1, 235), DE Desmond Clifton (6-4, 225), RB Darrius Smith (5-9, 165) WR Osby Mitchell (6-0, 200), WR Niko Thomas (6-4, 180). Top juniors: OT Payne Hebert (6-5, 260) and TE Spencer Wells (6-4, 225). Top sophomore: DT Cameron Johnson (6-2, 275).

Other prospects include: S Bryce Victorian, ILB Mike Williams, C Jacoby Shelton, OL Justin Parker, WR Mason Pierce, and DE Isaih Chance.

Smith has the most returning firepower on offense as he threw for 2,264 yards and 33 TDs while rushing for 622 yards and 10 more scores. Darrius Smith will be the primary ball carrier to compliment Zach Smith.

Hebert and Wells will anchor the offensive line while the defense will be lead by LB Howell who had 104 tackles, 10 TFL and 3 INTs a year ago. Clinton will also be a key defensive playmaker.


PEARLAND OILERS

Head coach Tony Heath begins his 20th year at the helm of the Oilers football machine. There aren't enough adjectives to describe the radical turnaround he has seen from his first year to the present. Heath enters the 2016 season needing only 11 wins to reach the monumental 200 career victories as Pearland's all-time winningest coach.

The Oilers always seem to reload and become a force to run deep in the post-season. Coach Heath has seen his teams win the Region III title four times (2001, 2006, 2010, 2013) while advancing to the state semifinals four times and two state championship appearances (2010, 2013) including a 16-0 mark in 2010 to capture the 5A Division I state title.

Heath will field an experienced team this season with four offensive and seven defensive starters returning. Despite losing 45 seniors, the Oilers have 22 lettermen returning to compliment the returning regulars, plus Heath always sees several players who played Junior Varsity last year step up their talent to make a strong contribution on the varsity.

Pearland finished 11-1 last season falling to Dickinson in four overtimes in the 6A Region III Div. I area round.

Players to watch: Pre-season District 23-6A Defensive Player of the Year DT Jordan Crawford (5-10, 305), QB Connor Blumrick (6-6, 215), DB Debione Renfro (6-2, 180), RB Davier Pinkston (5-11, 175, 4.4), Derek Parrish (6-1, 235), C Joey Williams (5-11, 255). Top juniors: RB Evan Burgess (5-10, 175), LB Mitchell Johnson (6-0, 190). Top sophomore: RB/WR Jalen Benefield (5-8, 140, 4.5).

Other prospects include: DT Niko Afuhaamango, QB Jacob Whitehead, DE Chase Keasler, DE Chase Terrell, WR Triston Gibson, LB DeAntoine Carter, and DB Justin Guy-Robinson.

Blumrick, who has committed to Texas A&M, will be a key player in moving the offense as he was 105-for-175 passing for 1,521 yards with 12 TDs and 5 INTs last year.

Pinkston will be the leading ball carrier as he had 88 carries for 770 yards and 10 TDs in 2015.

Burgess saw some action last year and showed tremendous talent that will earn him more playing time this season.

The Oilers defense should provide early leadership to begin the season with offense not far behind. The offensive line will need to step up to open up the running lanes while providing Blumrick with strong pass protection.

Crawford will anchor the defense as he had 110 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 5 TFL, and 2 FR as a disruptive force in the trenches. LB Parrish will also be a force after registering 26 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 INT, and 2 FRs last year. DB Renfro will lead the secondary as he had 27 tackles, 5 PBU, 2 FF, and 2 INTs in 2015.