The North Channel National Conference football season begins tonight as nine junior high teams hold hopes of making a run to a title.
A number of new faces dot the 7th grade teams’ rosters while 8th-grade coaches will get to work with athletes they’ve built some success around as teams hit the gridiron.
Highlands travels to Horace Mann, Gentry is at Barbers Hill North, Baytown Junior High is at Crosby and Dayton travels to Cedar Bayou with Barbers Hill South gets a by in the 8th-grade games.
The seventh-grade games will take place with the same matchups with the home fields reversed. All game times are set for a 5 p.m. kickoff.
Eighth grade preview
Christopher Haney leads the Cedar Bayou 8th graders who come up after a 5-3 7th-grade ‘A’ team season and a 5-3 ‘B’ team campaign.
“This group has had great practices up to this point,” Haney said. “We are very optimistic that being back in a district with Crosby, Dayton, and Barbers Hill, we will have a shot at a district championship with both groups. We have good size on the line and good speed and power at the running back and fullback positions.”
Haney has added some athletes over the summer he expects to slot into the secondary while the team needs to work on its offensive prowess via the ground and air.
He also noted that his team, Baytown Junior, Gentry and Crosby should be favored to challenge for the new league title.
Michael Contreras takes over at Baytown Junior which went 5-1-1 at the 8th-grade level a year ago.
“They are starting to come around,” Contreras said. “They are getting each practice and the retuning players are helping teach the new players.”
Baytown Junior will center its attacking on a stout offensive line, according to their coach, but they will need skill players to step up, he said.
Highlands Junior High is expecting to bounce back from an 8th grade campaign that finished 3-5. Seventh-year head coach Trevor Smith feels this team looks good through the preseason.
“We are light in numbers but the talent is definitely there,” Smith said. “I believe we can do great things this year. Our growth comes from several things. First off maturity from being a 7th grader to an 8th grader. As the kids get older the understanding of the gets better and we are able to get into more of the X’s and O’s.”
Smith has 38 kids to work with and he notes the importance of regular attendance will only help the team make a push.
He believes his team, Gentry, Cedar Bayou and Baytown Junior will be the biggest challengers to the title.
Gentry head coach Steven Albritton will lead a squad that went 3-5 in A ball and 3-3-1 in B ball.
“I think the 8th grade group has matured and should definitely have a better season than last year,” Albritton said. “They have worked hard to get stronger and faster and that should carry over onto the field.”
Horace Mann aims to change the narrative after an 0-8 campaign and head coach Claude Garrison is optimistic that will happen.
“This group is hard working and motivated to learn and get better every day,” Garrison said. “We have some good returning young men from 7th grade and we have some new additions to the program. I feel like this team has a chance to make a splash.
“I feel we have gotten faster and are starting to understand assignments and responsibilities better.”