With training camps for various teams set to get underway in the coming weeks, it’s an exciting time for sports fans in Walker County.
Here are five local storylines to keep an eye on this fall:
DEFENDING CHAMPS LOOK TO JOIN ELITE COMPANY
Just over two months removed from claiming the first FCS National Championship in school history, the Sam Houston Bearkats are already almost back to work.
The Bearkats will attempt to become just the fifth school — joining North Dakota State, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Youngstown State — to repeat as FCS champions. And although they certainly face an uphill battle, given the quick turnaround and lack of a full offseason, they also have several factors working in their favor.
Most notably, Sam Houston returns all of its starters and specialists from the spring’s national title run. The Bearkats are one of the few premier FCS programs to not lose any key players to the transfer portal. Instead, they add several FBS transfers to the mix — including Memphis linebacker Tim Hart and Texas State offensive lineman Reece Jordan, who are expected to play significant roles right off the bat.
The pursuit of back-to-back national titles isn’t the only source of intrigue surrounding Sam Houston football this fall, either. With three potential championship contenders in the Bearkats, Central Arkansas and Jacksonville State, the WAC-ASUN Challenge could make a legitimate case as a top-two league for its one and only season.
RUN IT BACK
Another program in Huntsville looking to build off a historic season is the Lady Hornet volleyball team.
Huntsville went 9-1 in league play to secure the District 16-5A title outright, marking the program’s first district championship since 2014, before beating Marshall in the bi-district round. The Lady Hornets lose several pivotal pieces to graduation, including District MVP Alyssa Fielder, Defensive Player of the Year Kayla Cooper, Setter of the Year Sasha Johnson and all-district selections Jalyn Elliott, Lexie Davis and Nia Merchant. However, they also bring back a talented cast that includes Newcomer of the Year Madison Grekstas and several all-district honorees.
After dominating their first season in District 16-5A, nobody will be sleeping on the Lady Hornets this fall.
MOVING ON UP
Alpha Omega’s football program is set to begin a new chapter in 2021.
The perennial six-man playoff contender will play its first season at the 11-man level this fall, a change that coincides with significant growth in numbers for the school’s football team. The Lions have won 17 games over the past three seasons, with a run to the TAPPS Division 2 title game in 2018.
Alpha Omega will face its share of adversity as a first-year 11-man program. Ask anyone around the team, however, and they’ll share that they welcome the challenge.
UP FOR GRABS
The New Waverly Bulldogs are coming off their winningest season and first playoff appearance since 2016. Now, with District 12-3A, Division II Offensive MVP Sebastine Amaro and first-team all-district selections Dylan Schaub, Davis Schaub, Jacarius Smithers, Peyton Cooper and Adrian Zamudio back for another run, they'll look to take the next step in 2021.
New Waverly had a chance to lock up a No. 2 seed heading into the final week of the regular season last year, before a loss to Anderson-Shiro dropped the Bulldogs down to the No. 3 spot — setting them up with a first-round showdown against state semifinalist Waskom, which received a scare in its playoff opener. State title contender Newton hasn’t lost a league game since 2011 and is the undisputed favorite in District 12 this year, but with at least seven returning starters on both sides of the ball, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football has New Waverly picked to finish second.
The Huntsville Hornets might have a new look in 2021, but their expectations aren’t going anywhere.
Huntsville is coming off its first undefeated regular season since the 1980s, boasting a 32-7 record with seven playoff wins over the past three years. Its lone loss of the season came in overtime against Class 5A, Division II runner-up Crosby in the Region III semifinals.
The Hornets are forced to replace the majority of the pieces from a defense that built a reputation as arguably the most dominant in the state last fall — including Mr. Texas Football finalist Ed Bobino, District 10 Defensive MVP Quaterian Riles and first-team all-district selections Brian Bobino, Jayden Ross, Cody McLerran, Ethan Minor and Jadarian White. However, they do return Newcomer of the Year Calvin Simmons and Seth Carroll, who started the bulk of the season at defensive end.
Fortunately for Huntsville, its offense returns eight starters from a unit that averaged nearly 35 points per game in 2020. As a result, DCTF has the Hornets tabbed as the District 10 favorite and No. 5 team in all of Class 5A, Division II.