In a small town with huge expectations, players and coaches embrace the pressure to reclaim what was once theirs: “State!” Jared L. Christopher and Jessica Koscielniak Star-Telegram.com
In a small town with huge expectations, players and coaches embrace the pressure to reclaim what was once theirs: “State!” Jared L. Christopher and Jessica Koscielniak Star-Telegram.com

High School Football

Countdown to kickoff: Sam Houston ready to turn things around

By Shawn Smajstrla

ssmajstrla@star-telegram.com

August 21, 2016 04:33 PM

UPDATED August 21, 2016 11:17 PM

Arlington Sam Houston

District 4-6A

Last season: 2-8 (1-6 District 4-6A)

Key players: DE Trevon Mason (6-5, 280), DB Mardis Waters (5-10, 175), QB Jacob Dollar (5-11, 185), WR Damarcus Allen (5-10, 170), RB Darius Blake (5-7, 180), Junior Kabela (5-11, 185)

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access.

The big picture: It would probably be fair to put an asterisk next to Sam Houston’s 2015 season. The team opened district play by taking Arlington Bowie to overtime and then trailed 12-10 at halftime to Arlington Martin when coach Anthony Criss suffered a stroke. The team managed just one victory after that. Criss said he’s back at full capacity, though he may begin the season coaching from the press box. Criss has just eight total returning starters and 23 lettermen, including quarterback Jacob Dollar, who started all 10 games as a sophomore. The offense last year operated primarily around graduated tailback Peytton Pickett. Running back Darius Blake probably won’t be the workhorse Pickett was, but he will be the main man in the backfield. He averaged almost 8 yards per carry last year. Criss also believes Damarcus Allen and Samari Session have big-play potential. Allen was the team’s leading receiver a year ago with 24 catches. Up front the Texans are very raw, but big. The offensive line will need to jell quickly. The defensive line is the strength of the team. DE Trevon Mason is a guy you have to game-plan around. Darrius King and Kameron Pickens join Mason to give Sam Houston both size and athletic ability in the trenches. Criss said the linebacking group is the fastest he’s ever had at the school, with Trey Hensley, Jaylen Vincent, Dequane Graves and Keshoun Graves looking to take advantage of their quickness. The secondary returns Mardis Waters, a three-year varsity player, and Junior Kabela. The pair combined for almost 140 tackles a year ago. Robert Brown will be expected to step in and contribute immediately on the back end. Sam Houston feels good about its special teams, thanks to kicker Juan Vargas. Criss said he hit a 65-yard field goal this summer at a kicking camp. Sam Houston will be happy to put last year in the rearview mirror, but the Texans know navigating this district won’t be easy. The Texans reached the playoffs in 2014 and to get back to the postseason they’ll need to find some early chemistry.

Quotable: “We just want to recover from last season. It didn’t quite go how we wanted it to. Our mentality was to come in and be more consistent at practice and be better than we were last season. … We have a lot more energy at practice and overall we have a better look about us than we did last year. People are taking it more seriously now after seeing the outcome last year.” — QB Jacob Dollar

“In the old district it was about which four of the five Arlington schools are going to go [to the playoffs]. It pretty much stayed that way. Now, the test is a little tougher. You lost a non-state-ranked team and picked up a state-ranked team [Mansfield]. Paschal is much improved. North Crowley is much improved, too. It could be one of those districts where nobody goes undefeated and in Week 11 all four games mean something.” —Coach Anthony Criss

“He’s an added weapon for our football team. When we get to the 25 or 30, we’re already in field goal range, which has never happened for us before.” — Criss on PK Juan Vargas

“Coming into fall camp we really wanted a change. We want to finish what the Class of 2015 left behind.” DB Junior Kabela

Notable: Since 2010, Sam Houston has gone just 1-23 against fellow Arlington ISD schools Arlington, Martin, Bowie and Lamar.