SBLive’s Class 6A Region IV Texas high school football preview: Top teams, best players and 2021 playoff predictions

The 2021 Texas high school football season is nearly upon us. In anticipation of the start of a new year, SBLive is breaking down the top teams and players in every classification level around the state before the season kicks off.

Here is an inside look at the Class 6A squads throughout Region IV. We analyze the top teams and highlight players to watch in all eight districts in addition to predicting the playoff field and regional championship matchups in the 6A Division I and 6A Division II playoffs.

MORE: TOP 6A QUARTERBACKS | TOP 5A QUARTERBACKS | TOP 1A-4A QUARTERBACKS

District 25-6A Preview

Austin Vandegrift and Round Rock should duel for the top spot in District 25-6A for the second straight season. Vandegrift made it to the 6A DII Region IV championship game during the 2020 postseason, while Round Rock knocked out Lake Travis before falling in an overtime area-round loss to Cibolo Steele. Vandegrift’s only regular-season loss last year was via an overtime defeat to the Dragons. The Vipers, however, are set to bring back more starters (11) and lettermen (26) than Round Rock giving them the early-season inside track when it comes to defending their district title.

“It’ll definitely help a ton,” Vandegrift senior Reece Beauchamp, a leading candidate for the Vipers’ starting quarterback job, said. “With that being our farthest run in the 6A playoffs as a program, it really helped us grow as a team and now we really know what it takes to win as we get into the later rounds of the playoffs. It also helped our younger players mature a lot.”

Cedar Park Vista Ridge, Hutto and Round Rock Cedar Ridge appear to be best positioned of the district’s other six teams vying for a trip to the postseason. Hutto will look to get back to the playoffs after finishing fifth in 25-6A last season. This season, though, the Hippos are set up for success with third-year starter Grayson Doggett (1,389 passing yards, 13 touchdowns), back at quarterback alongside leading rusher Cyron Miller (608 rushing yards, four touchdowns) and the team’s two of the team’s three leading receivers. Vista Ridge should have a slight leg up on Cedar Ridge for the district’s final playoff spot with more experience returning on the defensive side of the ball with eight starters back after beating the Raiders head-to-head in last season’s matchup.

Playoff Picks:

  1. Austin Vandegrift
  2. Round Rock
  3. Hutto
  4. Cedar Park Vista Ridge

Division I teams in italics.

District 26-6A Preview

Westlake enters the season as back-to-back 6A state champs and preseason favorites in 26-6A. The Chaparrals welcome back now-senior quarterback Cade Klubnik, a Clemson commit and Texas Sports Writer Association 6A First Team All-State pick in 2020, in addition to a wealth of DI talent. The Chaps bring back eight starters, six offensively, from their state championship winning squad last year. Westlake will be challenged by rival Lake Travis for the district crown after the two teams finished the 2020 season at 6-0 and 5-0, respectively, against district competition.

Cade Klubnik, Austin Westlake
Cade Klubnik, Austin Westlake

“What sets our team apart from everyone else is our work ethic; how we workout, how we play, and how we learn,” Westlake defensive end Kale Williams said. “At the end of every day, everyone’s main goal is to be the best they can be. We’re not just a team, we’re a family.”

Lake Travis should be at the top of the district again in 2021 after bringing back 13 starters from last year’s 6-1 squad. Junior Bo Edmundson is a candidate for a breakout season behind center in his first year starting at quarterback for the Cavs, especially with an athletic receiving corps. Four teams — Austin High, Bowie, Buda Hays and Del Valle — should battle it out for the district’s other two postseason berths. Austin Bowie is the only team out of the four to bring back its starting quarterback (Diego Tello), leading rusher (Noah Camacho) and three of its four leading receivers from last year, giving the Bulldogs an edge in experience with 42 returning varsity players. Hays, despite bringing back only three total starters, has an edge when it comes to experience too, after the Hawks clawed their way to a Region IV championship in the 6A DII playoffs and into the state semifinals.

Playoff Picks:

  1. Austin Westlake
  2. Lake Travis
  3. Austin Bowie
  4. Buda Hays

District 27-6A Preview

District 27-6A is among the deepest of San Antonio’s three 6A districts with a top-heavy trio likely to lead the way in the battle for the league championship in 2021. Cibolo Steele, Converse Judson and Smithson Valley are each coming off postseason appearances and all three programs have experienced deep playoff runs in recent years. Steele enjoyed the most postseason success of the three last season by advancing to the Region IV championship game in the 6A DI playoffs during an 8-5 campaign. The Knights will have offensive firepower between running back Josh Fahrner (693 yards, nine rushing TDs) and receiver Edmarrion Contreras (285 yards, two receiving TDs), but must break in a new starting quarterback. Steele will lean on an experienced defense led by junior linebacker Makai Williams (96 tackles, 10 TFL) after allowing 18.3 points per game last year.

“They are all great football programs, but no matter who our opponent is, we try to go into the game playing our brand of football,” Williams said. “With the uncertainty of who’s in and out of the playoffs we, as a team, take on the responsibility of preparing ourselves with the instruction from our coaches.”

Judson will be in the thick of the district title chase again after graduating several DI players from its 2020 squad. Senior quarterback Michael Burroughs (1,004 passing yards, 11 TDs; 463 rushing yards, eight TDs) is back for his second season leading the Rockets’ offense, while junior defensive lineman Johnny Bowens and senior linebacker and Houston Cougars commit Treylin Payne (100 tackles, nine TFL) anchor a fierce defense. Smithson Valley will be among the district’s top teams too with Texas A&M commit and offensive tackle Colton Thomasson leading a contingent of 10 returning starters. New Braunfels, San Antonio Wagners and Schertz Clemens will be in the running for 27-6A’s last playoff spot. Clemens and New Braunfels will break in new quarterbacks, while Wagner must adjust to a new coaching staff. The Buffaloes should gain a slight edge from their eight returning defensive starters in what should be a photo finish in the race for the district’s final postseason berth.

Playoff Picks:

  1. Cibolo Steele
  2. Converse Judson
  3. Smithson Valley
  4. Schertz Clemens

District 28-6A Preview

San Antonio Reagan will look to defend its district championship behind the strength of an experienced and dangerous offense with seven starters returning. Senior quarterback Bitton Moore (1,052 passing yards, 10 TDs; 763 rushing yards, seven TDs) should take another step forward in his second season starting behind an offensive line with three starters back as well as third-year starting running back Carson Green, who ran for 1,200 yards and eights touchdowns last season. The Rattlers, who finished 9-2 last season, will also return seven starters from a defense that held opponents to 15.4 points per contest in 2020. 

Reagan’s top challengers for district supremacy this season should be San Antonio Johnson and Brandeis after 9-2 and 6-3 campaigns, respectively, last year. Johnson must find a new starter at quarterback, but will be anchored offensively by senior running back Benjamin McCreary (630 rushing yards, 12 TDs) and senior wideout Canaan Fairley (585 receiving yards, seven TDs). Brandeis, meanwhile, welcomes a new coaching staff for the upcoming season after an injury-riddled 2020 campaign. The Broncos bring back 16 starters — eight on each side of the ball — which leads all teams in the district. Brandeis will have senior quarterback Nico Garcia (569 passing yards, seven TDs), whose season was cut short by a collarbone injury, back offensively and an elite defense led by a deep secondary and linebacking corps.

“They didn’t change too much of our offense so they made the transition a lot easier too. We are all learning fast and getting ready to come out strong and the coaching staff are a big part of that,” Brandeis senior defensive back Aiden Inesta- Rodriguez said. “I think if we stay healthy and be smart with the rise in COVID, we have enough experience and solid players that (reaching the) playoffs shouldn’t even be a question. We definitely plan to get back to our deep (postseason) runs like we did the previous two years.”

San Antonio Churchill, Clark, Madison and Roosevelt will be the likely contenders for 28-6A’s final postseason spot. Roosevelt should ultimately prevail in a tight playoff race behind the momentum of its area-round appearance in the 6A DII playoffs last season.

Playoff Picks:

  1. San Antonio Reagan
  2. San Antonio Brandeis
  3. San Antonio Johnson
  4. San Antonio Roosevelt

District 29-6A Preview

San Antonio Brennan enters 2021 as the district frontrunner after winning a district championship last season and advancing to the regional semifinals in the 6A DII playoffs. The Bears will look to reach the postseason for the 11th consecutive year with eight offensive and six defensive starters returning. Quarterback Ashton Dubose threw for 1,452 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for another 587 yards and seven touchdowns in his first season behind center in 2020. Dubose should be set up for a big junior season with three of Brennan’s four leading receivers back. The Bears will also be able to lean on a strong defense highlighted by linebackers Wakil Mateen and Alyzha Williams as well as junior defensive back Tyler Turner — the team’s anchor in the secondary — who tallied 45 tackles, four interceptions and a fumble recovery last year.

“We have a lot of guys that are eager and hungry to go even further than last year,” Brennan’s Tyler Turner said. That experience will rub off on the younger guys that haven’t been able to experience a playoff run and will make everyone better. We know what we’re capable of and planning on having a lot of earned success.”

A crowded field of five programs — San Antonio Harlan, O’Connor, Stevens, Taft and Warren — sit positioned to contend for the district’s remaining playoff spots and a chance at a district title. Stevens and Taft are each coming off trips to the regional semifinals. The Falcons topped Laredo United and Harlingen in the 6A DI playoffs, while the Raiders advanced to the third round after defeating Eagle Pass and winning by forfeit against PSJA North due to COVID-19. Stevens returns 34 lettermen including seven defensive starters and quarterback KK Brashears, who passed for 2,329 yards and 19 touchdowns and ran for 511 yards and 10 touchdowns. Taft should be poised to get back to the postseason with the Falcons led by the three-headed monster of quarterback Justice Hurt, running back Thomas Andrews and receiver Jamel Criswell. Harlan, O’Connor and Warren will all have to find replacements at quarterback. O’Connor should capitalize on its strength and experience upfront defensively to help the Panthers separate from the pack.

Playoff Picks:

  1. San Antonio Brennan
  2. San Antonio Stevens
  3. San Antonio Taft
  4. San Antonio O’Connor

District 30-6A Preview

Eagle Pass and Laredo United were the top two contenders in 30-6A’s district title race during the condensed 2020 regular season. The Eagles and Longhorn’s should be among the early season favorites to vy for the 30-6A championship again in 2021 with two of the district’s most experienced teams after returning 36 and 35 varsity lettermen, respectively. United fell to Eagles Pass 24-20 in their matchup last season, but the team returns six starters on each side of the ball. Junior quarterback Sammy Casso (1,106 passing yards, four TDs in five games) will be back as a second-year starter offensively, while defensive end Andy Torres and linebacker Alexandro Salazar return to lead a Longhorns’ defense that yielded 13.3 points per game last season.

Laredo Alexander, Laredo United South and Del Rio should be the leading challengers for the remaining two playoff berths in this seven-team district. Del Rio brings back the most experienced team in 30-6A with more returning lettermen (46) than any other program. The Rams, however, will have to replace nine offensive starters to keep pace in the playoff hunt. United South appears best positioned for a breakthrough season coming off a 6A DI regional semifinal appearance, which matched the deepest playoff run in school history.

“Our strength from O-line and D-line play will be the same and better with us just learning and following what our coaches have taught us and using that on the field,” United South offensive tackle Daymeonn Vercher, the anchor of the Panthers’ offensive line, said. “(We’re) still working on learning while we go through the season, and I’m very confident in my team striving to stay on top.”

Playoff Picks:

  1. Laredo United
  2. Eagle Pass
  3. Laredo United South
  4. Del Rio

District 31-6A Preview

Edinburg Vela has been a dominant force among the Rio Grande Valley’s 6A teams for several seasons now and should continue to be in 2021. The SaberCats are coming off a 6-1 campaign in which they never trailed during the regular season. Vela brings back a district-leading 43 lettermen for this season, including eight offensive starters and seven defensively. Senior quarterback Chase Campbell will take the keys to a high-powered offense that averaged 34.8 points per game last year and returns its two leading rushers and four of its top five receivers.

“Our chemistry is 100% there and I can trust them with everything I have. If I throw them the ball and give them a jump ball, I know they’re going to come down with it,” Campbell said. “This offensive unit can be deadly. The chemistry we have is unbelievable and the way our O-line has been blocking will continue to be huge.”

The top squads poised to challenge the SaberCats at the top of 31-6A heading into the season are Mission and PSJA North. Mission concluded a  5-2 season with an overtime loss to Laredo United South in the area round of the 6A DI playoffs, while PSJA North was forced to bow out of the area round of the 6A DII playoffs due to COVID-19 contact tracing last fall. The Eagles bring back five starters from an elite defense that  allowed 17.0 points per game in 2020. The Raiders, meanwhile, return all 11 offensive starters including senior Isaac Gonzalez (1,266 rushing yards, nine TDs), the RGV’s leading rusher in 2020. Edinburg High, Edinburg North and PSJA High will scrap it out for the district’s final playoff spot. Expect North’s experience from back-to-back postseason trips to play an important factor.

Playoff Picks:

  1. Edinburg Vela
  2. PSJA North
  3. Mission
  4. Edinburg North

District 32-6A Preview

Harlingen and Brownsville Hanna were crowned 32-6A’s co-champions last season amid a shortened regular season for both schools. The Cardinals and Golden Eagles will be among the favorites to be lifting a district title trophy this season in one of the Valley’s deepest districts. Hanna suffered its only loss of the season to PSJA North in the bi-district round of the 6A DII playoffs, but the Golden Eagles return five defensive starters including defensive lineman Humberto Garcia and defensive back Anthony Ambriz, who were both Texas Sports Writer Association honorable mention all-state selections in 2020.

The Cardinals will also be led by a stingy defense headlined by defensive end Nathan Huerta, another TSWA honorable mention all-state pick last year. Huerta and Harlingen’s defense allowed the fewest points per game (11.4) of any 6A team in the RGV last season by dominating in the front seven. The Cards should be set for another big year with the bulk of their experience defensively at linebacker and on the defensive line. Four programs — Harlingen South, Los Fresnos, San Benito and Weslaco — should wrestle for 32-6A’s two other playoff berths. South brings back the most experienced group with 32 lettermen and 14 starters returning, but San Benito and Weslaco should be able to overcome an influx of youth as South and Los Fresnos adjust to new coaching staffs.

“I can see every team in 32-6A contending for that gold ball and definitely for a playoff spot, especially with such great opponents and the competitive nature of our district,” Huerta said. “I definitely believe that my school, Harlingen High, will be going for a third straight district title. It’s just our expectations that we bring to the program every day.”

Playoff Picks:

  1. Harlingen
  2. Brownsville Hanna
  3. San Benito
  4. Weslaco

Bi-District Playoff Matchup Predictions:

  • Class 6A Division I
    • Austin Vandegrift vs Buda Hays
    • Smithson Valley vs San Antonio Johnson
    • San Antonio Stevens vs Laredo United South
    • Mission vs San Benito
    • Lake Travis vs Round Rock
    • San Antonio Reagan vs Schertz Clemens
    • Laredo United vs San Antonio O’Connor
    • Harlingen vs Edinburg North
  • Class 6A Division II
    • Hutto vs Austin Bowie
    • Cibolo Steele vs San Antonio Roosevelt
    • San Antonio Brennan vs Del Rio
    • Edinburg Vela vs Weslaco
    • Austin Westlake vs Cedar Park Vista Ridge
    • San Antonio Brandeis vs Converse Judson
    • Eagle Pass vs San Antonio Taft
    • Brownsville Hanna vs PSJA North

Regional Finals Predictions:

  • 6A DI — Smithson Valley vs. Lake Travis
  • 6A DII — Cibolo Steele vs. Austin Westlake

Andrew McCulloch

Andrew McCulloch, SBLive

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