School: Harris County
2013 record: 9-3
Key players: TaQuon Marshall, Tae Crowder, Tyler Boutwell, Tyler McGarr, Blake Jones
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Key game: at Carver, Oct. 24 at Memorial Stadium
Outlook: Two years ago, Harris County surprised everyone when it went on an eight-game winning streak following an 0-4 start to make an appearance in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals. Last year, the Tigers’ nine wins were a program record.
And despite the exit of the coach that got them there, Tommy Parks, this team may have enough firepower for an impressive encore.
On paper, the 2014 version may be better than either of the past two seasons, which were the two best in the program’s 57-year history. Led by senior quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who has committed to play college ball at Georgia Tech, the offense features nine returning starters.
Though new coach Dwight Jones’ Wing-T offense will be new to them, it fits the personnel well and could prove difficult for opposing defenses to stop.
“We’re 100 miles ahead of where we were in the spring,” Jones said. “Where we want to be, hopefully that’ll be determined later. But I think we’ve gotten better every day. The kids have adapted well to what we’re trying to do.”
In addition to Marshall, the offense can lean on Tae Crowder, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound running back/wide receiver. It also has Jay McKibben, an athletic wide receiver, who could spell Marshall under center at times and allow the Tigers to use the latter’s impressive athleticism in different ways.
The offensive line, a strength in years past, will continue to be one of the best aspects of the offense. Tyler Boutwell is big, strong and experienced at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds. Tyler McGarr is 6-foot-4 and will play opposite Boutwell. In between are Tyler Williams and Nakia Grier.
In addition to learning new blocking schemes on the line, Marshall has had to adjust to taking direct snaps under center rather than running post plays out of shotgun. He said that’s been the biggest change, but the time he and his center have put in to perfecting the exchange has paid off.
“I’ve never really been under the center in high school,” he said. “That’s been new to me. We’re still in the gun a little bit, but that’s been the biggest thing — getting my drops right, my footwork right. We’ve put a lot of work into perfecting it, though.”
Defensively, only six of 11 starters will return, but it too appears to be a strength. It will be led by Blake Jones on the line, Monterio Wyatt at linebacker and D.J. Washington and J.J. Hutchinson in the defensive backfield.
While there is a lot of newness surrounding the program under Dwight Jones, the team appears to be in as good a position as it has been to perform at a high level.
Jones was able to jump into the fray before the spring, which has helped the players get used to him far in advance of the 2014 season.
The Tigers will still play in Region 1-AAAAA this year, though there has been a shakeup in the teams it will face. Shaw, Columbus, LaGrange and Carver have been added to the mix, the last of which will likely be the toughest competition in the race for a region championship.
The two teams will square off late in the season, perhaps with a region title on the line.
For a team as experienced and talented as Harris County, that should be the expectation entering the season.