“We have those guys that have been in the fire and know those big moments,” Dudley said. “They played in that regional semifinal at the University of Houston, that can only help you. We are really looking forward to it."
Cinco Ranch learned to win last season.
After winning one game over the course of two years, the Cougars had a bounce back year, winning eight games and making to the regional semifinals in the Class 6A-Division II playoffs.
Now, with a strong returning cast, the Cougars are ready to take the next step and think they have what it takes to make a deep run in the playoffs and compete for a district title.
“It really advanced the program,” Dudley said. “It wasn’t just about the winning season or winning record, it was about doing the things we did. We were proud to get to the playoffs, but we did what we knew we could do. That success has reinforced everything that we have been building in terms of our culture, coaching, execution on both sides of the ball, just everything. But the great part is, no one is satisfied.”
The Cinco Ranch offense is one that will put up a lot of points this year. The Cougars bring back an explosive core, led by senior quarterback Gavin Rutherford who already holds the Cinco Ranch school record for career passing yards, completions and touchdowns heading into his final high school season.
But Rutherford is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Cinco’s offense. Also back are each of Cinco’s three leading receivers in Seth Salverino, Noah Abboud and Fischer Reed.
Salverino comes off a season in which he put up over 1,000 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns while Abboud had 482 yards receiving and nine touchdowns and Reed provides a steady presence as a third option.
On top of that, Cinco brings back both of its leading rushers from last season in Sam McKnight and Eric Eckstrom, and Dudley thinks that the offensive line is the most underrated group on the team.
Overall, this Cinco team has 90% of its total yards from last year returning, as the group looks to take their game to the next level.
“We have those guys that have been in the fire and know those big moments,” Dudley said. “They played in that regional semifinal at the University of Houston, that can only help you. We are really looking forward to it offensively. We averaged 31 points per game last season and we think we can build on that, and our offensive line is big and ready to step into those roles. The sky is the limit for what we can do on that side of the ball.”
But there are question marks for the team as well. The offensive line does have holes to fill after the departure of X starters from last season and there will be newcomers that need to step up on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Braden Williams, Taytum Johnson and Riete Nesiama are the only returning starters on defense. Williams provides strong senior leadership and great play at the linebacker position while Johnson and Perez-Gilbes both are playmakers on the back end of the defense, but the team does have have new faces when it comes to the starting lineup. Most of those though, were able to gain varsity experience last year and Dudley is excited about the units potential.
“On paper there’s only three starters back and that might be cause for concern for some teams,” Dudley said. “But we don’t view it that way. We have some guys who were really valuable backups last year back and I think it’s a really underrated group. There’s great athleticism at the back end and our corners are tremendous and we feel really good about the guys who are stepping into these roles in the front seven too.”
The Cougars will have a chance to test themselves early in the season, as they open with games against College Park and Klein Oak, both of which made the playoffs and advanced to the area round last season. Cinco will then open district against Taylor. And Cinco can’t wait for a chance to prove themselves once again.
“Our program is at that point now where we can schedule some of those really strong area teams and playoff teams in non-district so we really tried to go out and find some good competition,” Dudley said. “Both of those teams are really talented and bring a lot back so that gives us a good barometer to see where we are. We’re going to know a lot about ourselves by the time we head into district.”
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