McNeil hopes 7-on-7 tour­na­ment the start of resur­gence

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Danny Davis — Danny Davis

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.

ralph Bar­rera pho­tos

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