Everyone's a contender in race for District 7-5A football crown

In February practically every high school athletic director, head coach and journalist with a connection to UIL football in North Texas packed three connecting conference rooms at the Birdville Athletic Complex for district realignment.

When the dust settled many of the people on hand left shaking their heads at the formation of what has been tabbed the best high school football district in the state: District 7-5A.

"You mean the SEC?" Mansfield Timberview coach James Brown said earlier this week. "I think it's even stronger than people thought it was going to be. I think the public had ideas about some of our perceived lower-tier teams who have turned out to be very good football teams."

DeSoto, ranked No. 3 in Texas and ranked in most top 25 national polls, replaced Mansfield Legacy, which dropped to Class 4A, in what was District 5-5A the past two years. The Eagles join four playoff teams from last year.

Chief among them is Cedar Hill, a team many consider to be a contender for the 5A Division II state title, a Timberview team fresh off a run to the Division II state semifinals and Mansfield, which won 11 games last season.

Midlothian and South Grand Prairie, predicted to be 7-5A fodder by most pundits, have been two of the biggest surprises. Midlothian is 4-0 and SGP upset Mansfield last week in the 7-5A opener after giving Arlington Martin a scare in triple overtime the week before.

"I think we have the toughest 5A district in the state and there's no question about that," Mansfield coach Jeff Hulme said. "There are going to be two or three teams that don't make the playoffs that are really good."

While 7-5A got an early start on most districts last week, most area leagues begin play this week and every eight-team district in the state will have opened league play by the end of this weekend.

The favorites

Most of the favorites are the usual suspects, such as Euless Trinity, which has not lost a district game since 2005 (35-28 to South Grand Prairie).

Defending Class 5A Division I state champ Southlake Carroll is the overwhelming favorite in District 4-5A but faces what could be its top challenger this week in Keller Central.

Three-time defending 4A Division II champ Aledo should probably sweep the Fort Worth schools in District 7-4A, but looked vulnerable in the secondary after Stephenville hung 41 points on the Bearcats. No doubt the record-breaking duo of receiver Robbie Rhodes and quarterback Wesley Harris at Fort Worth Southwest took notice.

"When you look at the Division I players at Arlington Heights, Southwest -- there is a tremendous amount of talent around this district that we're going to have to deal with," Aledo coach Tim Buchanan said.

The challengers

Undefeated Arlington, Arlington Martin and an Arlington Bowie team coming off an upset of a then No. 2-ranked Dallas Skyline are all legitimate contenders in District 3-5A and should all be a handful for opponents come playoff time.

"Realistically if you look back at the last five years between Arlington, Martin and us there's been at least one three- or four-round deep team and sometimes two from this district," Bowie coach Kenny Perry said.

Both Colleyville Heritage and Hurst L.D. Bell are undefeated heading into District 6-5A play and are looking for a little payback against Trinity, which has bullied both teams for years.

"Until somebody knocks them off they are still the defending district champs for a long time now," Heritage coach Mike Fuller said. "We've never beaten them. We've come close a couple times, but you don't get points for that."

The underdogs

Azle, Justin Northwest, Midlothian and South Grand Prairie were all pleasant surprises in the first month of the season. Each team will have a legitimate shot at claiming one of the four playoff spots in its respective districts, but all should be considered long shots for league titles.

Jarret Johnson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JohnsonJarret

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