McNeil hopes 7-on-7 tournament the start of resurgence
Cameron Smith understands that Stony Point and Pflugerville are among the best football teams in District 16-5A. The SMU-bound defensive end, however, wants to help prove that McNeil belongs on top with the Tigers and Panthers.
After a 2-8 season in 2009, the Mavericks are moving on. And the first stop on McNeil’s image rehabilitation tour will be in College Station, where the team will participate in its first 7-on-7 state tournament since 2007.
McNeil opens pool play at 1 p.m. Friday against Coppell. The Mavericks also will play Boswell and Cinco Ranch as they bid for a spot in Saturday’s championship bracket.
“It’s a big change in our program right now,” Smith said. “I’ve been here too long to come out here and just do this. I want to go on in the fall and the winter and (win).”
Winning has eluded the Mavericks in recent years. McNeil is 15-24 over the past four seasons, and the team has not made the playoffs since 2004.
McNeil struggled last season, closing with a 54-35 loss to previously winless Georgetown.
In November, coach Robert Wilcox resigned after eight years with the Mavericks. Lee Penland, who had spent the past 12 seasons with Hutto, was brought in to replace Wilcox, who has since been hired at King High in Kingsville.
Less than six months after Penland’s hiring, the Mavericks are heading to College Station for only the second time in school history. McNeil also has been picked by Texas Football Magazine to make the playoffs this season.
“We’re going to expect to be better, we’re not going to (just) try to be better,” McNeil junior Zach Kuhn said.
“Last year is behind us; we’re done with the old Maverick tradition.”
At the center of McNeil’s McNeil wide receiver Terrell Smith leaps to catch a pass in front of defensive back Dominic Middleton as the Mavericks prepare for the school’s first appearance in the 7-on-7 state tournament since 2007. McNeil opens Friday against Coppell. rebuilding efforts is senior Joshua Williams, whose older brother Aaron is a star defensive back for the Texas Longhorns. Joshua slides into the quarterback position after lining up as a wide receiver last season, and his father, Anthony, will serve as one of McNeil’s 7-on-7 coaches this weekend.
“I feel a little pressure,” said Joshua, who will be joined in the backfield this fall by his brother Daniel, a sophomore running back. “There is going to be pressure all the time. You’ve just got to put it aside and play your game.”
Penland found plenty of success at Hutto with a wing-T offense, reaching the Class 3A, Division II championship game in 2005. McNeil also has done well with its ground game. Former Mavericks running back Adrian Smith rushed for 1,612 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.
But this weekend’s tournament is all about passing the football, and the Mavericks will be challenged from the first snap in pool play.
Junior Jeff Nabors takes over at quarterback for a Hawks team that made its first 11-man playoff appearance last year. An all-district first baseman, Nabors also helped Canyon Lake into the 3A baseball playoffs this spring. A good showing in College Station could send a message to the Hawks’ rivals. Two other District 26-3A teams — Wimberley and Bandera — also are playing in the Division II 7-on-7 tournament.
Coppell was 11-2 last season while Boswell returns eight starters from a seven-win team. Cinco Ranch advanced to the Class 5A, Division I semifinals in 2009, and the Cougars have one of the Houston area’s best players in K.C. Nlemchi, a running back who, like Smith, is an SMU recruit.
Two wins in pool play would likely get McNeil into the championship bracket for the first time. Win or lose, however, the Mavericks are hoping that the summertime drive from north Austin to the Texas A&M campus becomes an annual trip.
“I’m starting to expect this every year,” Kuhn said.
Georgetown won the Division I title of this tournament in 2007, and the Eagles have advanced to the second round of the championship bracket in three of the past four years. In June, at an Austin-area qualifier for the Red Bull passing tournament, Georgetown reached the title game before losing to Lake Travis 27-18. Senior receiver Cal Spangler caught eight touchdown passes last year, when he earned all-district honors.
Lake Travis has won three straight 11-man state titles while passing for 14,512 yards and 150 touchdowns. During that same time span, the Cavaliers have failed to advance past the quarterfinals at the state 7-on-7 tournament. Quarterback Michael Brewer, a Texas Tech recruit, will lead a Cavaliers offense that has solid receivers in Conner Floyd and Tanner Gillette.
The Division I tournament’s defending champion will be looking to become the first team to win back-to-back titles. Senior Stephen Williams, a flex player who was the tournament MVP last summer, will be a favorite target of rotating quarterbacks Aaryn Sharp and Gus Barrera. In the past three years, Williams has accounted for 2,462 yards of offense and 20 touchdowns.
Other Central Texas qualifiers: Division I — Belton, Copperas Cove, McNeil, Pflugerville; Division II — Burnet, Lexington, Wimberley Anthony Williams, the father of McNeil’s Joshua Williams, goes over plays in practice on Tuesday. Joshua Williams will play quarterback after lining up as a wide receiver last season.