By MIKE MONTFORT —
NOTE: Here is a copy of the 2016 Navarro football preview from the July 29 SWJCFC Media Day presentation at Garden Valley Resort and Golf Club.
Second-year coach Cody Crill’s Navarro Bulldogs draw preseason ranks of No. 9 by the NJCAA, No. 17 by JC Gridiron.com’s Dirty Thirty and of No. 19 by The Sporting News. The Bulldogs look for more improvement from a 7-4 season that saw them reach the SWJCFC Championship game for the eighth time in nine seasons.
Navarro last year averaged 513.6 yards and 43.5 points as it produced its fourth-highest scoring team in school history –that, after point records were broken in three consecutive seasons. Offensive coordinator Scott Parr’s explosive unit had a 65/35 pass-and-rush yardage split as it grew in rank among the NJCAA Top 10 statistically in touchdowns (59), scoring (478 points), pass yardage (3617) and touchdown passes (34).
Sophomore Devlin Isadore earned returning starter status after completing 54.6 percent of his passes (154-of-283) for 2173 yards and 20 touchdowns during the Bulldogs’ final six-and-one half games. Consecutive 400-plus passing games and two more 300-plus games stick out prominently in those starts. During starts 2-3-4, Isadore had a 59.9 completion rate, threw for 11 touchdowns and compiled 1192 yards – the best three-game, pass-yardage series by a Navarro quarterback since Adrian Nelson in 2011. During his 9-game season, the talented Isadore racked up completion, attempts, yardage and TD pass numbers that rank fourth in Navarro single-season history since 1970. More Candidates: Kenneth Arthur (6-1, 190, South Oak Cliff); Kyle Fuller (6-2, 175, San Antonio Lee); Derrick Ponder (6-2, 210, Bells); Harry Woodberry (6-2, 182, The Woodlands).
Navarro’s produced 1,000-yard rushers for four consecutive seasons. The top returning ground gainer, Maurice Gordon (5-11, 190, Denton), was the team’s third-leading rusher last season with 44-205-2. Xavier Turner (6-1, 235, Birdville-North Richland Hills) comes back after a 2014 season when he rushed 64-377-6. More Candidates: Mori Evans (6-0, 230, Huntsville); DeAndre Cook (5-11, 190, Arlington Bowie); EJ Davis (6-0, 200, Alief Elsik); Daylon Giddens (6-0, 190, Coldspring-Oakhurst).
Langham Creek’s Dominique Harris (35-493-3) and Desoto’s Tim Taylor (31-361-2) are the top returning receivers from a passing offense that finished fourth in yardage (3617) and fifth in TD passes (34) nationally. More Candidates: Jalen Davis (6-6, 185, San Antonio Brackenridge); Joventa Grimble (6-1, 190, Georgetown); RoDarrion Harrison (6-2, 180, Dallas WT White); Keshawn Henderson (6-4, 200, Wilmer-Hutchins); Devonte Mims (6-2, 210, Palestine); Matt Reyna (5-8, 165, Kingwood Park); Joseph Robinson (5-11, 160, McKinney); Erik Wade (6-2, 175, Cedar Ridge); Kaleb Washington (6-2, 170, Lubbock Coronado); Brian Williams (6-3, 180, Bryan Rudder); Tyrone Williams (6-1, 180, Dallas Lincoln)
Entering the season, offensive line play may be the single area of greatest concern – from its lack of starting experience. Last year’s unit produced four all-SWJCFC performers (three 1st teamers and an honorable mention). Sophomores viewed as top candidates for Navarro’s reload are Weatherford’s James Robinson (6-6, 290), redshirt Deon Sheppard, Oklahoma transfer Dominique Hearne (6-3, 326) of Lancaster, and freshman Levon Livingston (6-7, 270) of Washington, DC, but some quality freshmen quickly will join the rotation. More Candidates: Jimmie Banks (6-4, 350, Alief Elsik); Fredrich Danches (6-5, 265, Lewisville Hebron); Elijah Duane (6-6, 260, Cedar Park); Aires Gilmore-Gardner (6-4, 300, Jersey Village); Deitrich Heard (6-5, 340, Austin LBJ); Benosa Jackson (6-5, 315, Fort Bend Austin); Dawson Kier (6-4, 260, Coldspring-Oakhurst); Ronnie Rodgers (6-3, 280, San Antonio Alamo Heights); Brock Stephens (6-3, 280, Fort Bend Austin)
Coordinator Scott Joseph’s defensive unit lost three major motors in noseguard Jesse Brown and twin 100-tackle linebackers JD Copeland and Jake Blomstrom, but loads of sophomore experience returns. With Brown, Copeland and Blomstrom anchoring, Navarro was solid against the rush last season, allowing only 132.8 yards per game. During spring drills, the veteran unit that gave up 32 points and 389 yards per game last season developed overall into what coaches consider a team strength
Redshirt James Judie (6-6, 270, Temple) and sophomores Harris Tafah (6-2, 280, Mansfield), Pattro Howard (6-3, 255, Mesquite) and Keshun Smith (6-3, 290, Houston) head the rotation up front. Beginning fall camp, Judie and Tafah likely will battle for an end slot. Tafah last season made 41 tackles with three sacks, 2 tackles for losses and 1 fumble recovery. In 2014, Judie made 25 tackles with 4 sacks and 4 TFLs. Howard likely draws a starting tackle spot after totalling 18 tackles, 3 TFLs and 1.5 sacks in part-time duty last season. Smith and offensive line conversion Venron Samuels (6-2, 300, Port Arthur) contest for noseguard. Last season, Smith forced two fumbles and recorded a TFL. First consideration for the rush-end spot will be Dee Spencer (6-0, 220, Mesquite), who had 22 tackles last season. More Candidates: Joshua Peoples (6-4, 235, Bryan Rudder); Falleh Popeh (6-4, 234, Fort Bend Travis); Jackson Reed (6-1, 245, Humble Atascosita); Douglas Nyandika (6-4, 240, Mansfield Legacy); David Sow (6-3, 230, Dallas Woodrow Wilson)
The linebacking corp is equally solid with experience, led by middleman Ty Thomas (6-1, 235, Rockwall), who averaged 8.2 tackles per game. Among his 90 total stops, Thomas recorded 11 sacks and 2 TFL and recovered 2 fumbles. Weakside likely will be manned by David Orr (6-1, 230, League City), who contributed 11 tackles with 2 sacks. Tavares Thomas (6-1, 205, Lamar Consolidated) likely gets a shot to deliver from the stud linebacking slot, and will share some time with by University of Nebraska transfer Adrienne Talan (6-1, 215, Davie, Fl.). More Candidates: Legestia “L.J.” Beckford (5-11, 205, So-Tr/Angelo State (Cypress Ranch); Yohance Burnett (6-0, 200, Pearland Dawson); Louis Hamilton (5-11, 210, Alief Taylor); Breon Hayward (6-0, 220, Cypress Ridge); Daylon Tarkington (6-2, 215, Fort Worth Trimble Tech); Xavier Zamora (6-1, 220, Manor); Emanuel Barber (6-5, 225, Chicago, Ill.)
Coach Patrick Resby’s defensive backfield returns cornerbacks Aaron Brown (6-0, 185, Crosby) and Corvette “Speedy” Miles (5-9, 165, Mesquite), plus safety Deionta Valentine (6-0, 175, Mesquite). Brown, an All-SWJCFC honoree, heads secondary tacklers with 27, plus two interceptions last season. Valentine totaled 18 stops with one pick; Miles, 13 tackles. More Candidates: Colby Usher-Bryant (6-1, 190, Fort Bend Kempner); Donovan Burton (6-1, 175, Lewisville Hebron); Dominic Cameron (5-9, 170, Converse Judson); Benjie Franklin (6-0, 170, Alief Taylor); Jeffrey McCutcheon (6-1, 170, Lubbock Coronado); Daytwon Sheridan (6-2, 170, San Antonio Jay); Malik Taylor (6-0, 170, Converse Judson); Ernest Watts (5-9, 190, Klein Collins); Matthew Wright (5-11, 180 Round Rock McNeil); Michael Alvarez (5-11, 175, Aldine Eisenhower);
First-team All-SWJCFC placekicker Patrick O’Brien (5-10, 160, New Braunfels) accounted for a team-high 104 points, with 59-of-61 conversions and 15-of-20 field-goal attempts. He kicked a personal-season best 48-yarder at Tyler – 1 of 7 field goals converted from 35 yards or longer. Keep an eye on freshman Begnino Heredia (6-1, 175) of two-time Class 2A state champion Canadian, who was a two-time Texas Sports Writers Association All-Stater. The three-year varsity letter winner accounted for 332 points from 23-29 Field Goals (including 20-24 during his final two years), plus 263-283 conversions. He scored 19 points in Canadian’s 61-20 Class 2A State Championship Game win over Refugio in Houston on December 17, 2015 with 7-7 conversions and 4-4 field goals, including a 46-yarder.
Rockdale’s Adolfo Chavira (5-10, 160) will be a prime candidate to replace Ben McIntosh as the Bulldogs’ punter.
Tim Taylor, among others in the receiving corps, will be among top selections to handle kick returns for Navarro.