Eric Wells knew this day, eventually, would come.
Wells just hoped that when it happened that he would have 22 returning starters to deal with Dawson High School’s promotion to Class 6A football from the 4A ranks.
“Here’s the hand we’re dealt, and we’ll play this hand,” the Dawson head football coach said.
Dawson’s jump to 6A football is met with as much enthusiasm as it is with guarded optimism.
There are the obvious powers – Pearland and Manvel – to play in District 22-6A. But there’s also the opportunity to reach the playoffs.
“There’s a lot we, as a coaching staff, don’t know about this district,” Wells said. “What we do know are our players, and that we’ll do our best to get into the playoffs.
“We know it’s going to be tough, but I think we’ve been playing teams that are very tough. At one time or another, we’ve had Texas City, Manvel, Angleton, La Marque and Texas City in our old district. Those are some pretty good football teams.”
This year’s Dawson squad isn’t unlike the 2010 team, which was decimated by graduation.
“We lost 44 seniors this past year, and many of those guys were two- and three-year starters,” Wells said. “But I’m excited about this young group.
“They don’t have the Friday night experience those other guys have, but it’ll be a fun year, even though it’s a transition year.”
Dawson’s offensive line features a mixture of veterans and newcomers.
At left tackle is Sam Tripp,a 6-3, 220-pounder, who played on the junior varsity last year. Next to him is guard Tyler Guenther, a 5-11, 260-pounder. Returning at center is Austin Bush, a 255-pound scrappy veteran.
At right tackle is Wells’ son, Tucker, who is 6-5 and 295 pounds. Cameron Wilson (6-4, 275) returns at right tackle. Also back on the offensive line is tight end Derry Ruth, a 6-2, 210-pounder.
Dawson’s receiving corps includes Antoine Cannady, Brailon Mouton, Drake Rainer, Jamarcus Mattox-Williams and C.J. Simmons.
“Antoine came up on varsity for the playoffs,” Wells said. “He’s a big kid (6-3, 215). Brailon Mouton is 6-2, 175 and had a real good spring and 7-on-7 season.
“Rainer was a backup quarterback for us last year, and we feel we’ve got him in the right spot now. C.J. has only played basketball, but if he can catch the ball, he could do good things for us. Jamarcus had a good spring, also.”
In the backfield, Dawson returns talented Brett Winnegan, who rushed for 2,290 yards and 26 touchdowns last year. To alleviate defenses from concentrating on him, Wells may have Saevion Johnson (6-0, 190) share the ball-carrying duties.
“We’re real excited about our Saevion can help us,” Wells said. “We know what Brett can do.”
The Dawson quarterback job is up for grabs between senior Vance Galloway and sophomore Zach Smith.
“Both of them are runners and throwers,” Wells said. “Coming out of spring, Vance understood more of what we were doing because he’s been there before.”
Smith started at shortstop as a freshman on the Dawson baseball team this past spring.
“The both bring good things to our offense,” Wells said. “We’ll just see if one steps ahead of the other in our scrimmages.”
Defensively, the Eagles are starting with pretty much of a clean slate.
In the secondary, the lone starter returning is senior cornerback Jordan Wilson. The other cornerback slot may be manned by Mykul Mitchell, who started on the junior varsity. Safeties are likely to be Brandon Guzman and Carl Isaac.
Travonte Moody (5-9, 180) returns for his third year at an outside linebacker. Kevin Lambert and Kareem Jones will battle for the other OLB position. At inside linebacker are John Alexander and Ethan Arthur.
“John played behind Ryan Woods last year, and Ethan was our starter at middle linebacker on JV,” Wells said.
“We’re trying to put as much speed out there as we can to overcome inexperience. Hopefully, if we make a bad read, we can still get there because we’re fast.”
In the three-man defensive line, Richard Picking (6-0, 280) will be at noseguard.
“He’s not as big as Eric England, but he’s a good athlete,” Wells said. “He had a great game against Magnolia West last year. I think he’ll be fine.”
Tyler Davis will likely play at one defensive end, but the other is up for grabs.
“There are a handful of guys that are trying for that spot,” Wells said.
Tyler Day returns to provide Dawson with quality kicking and punting.
Dawson opens district play against Alvin and then takes on Pasadena Rayburn and Pasadena Memorial before its showdown with Pearland on Oct. 3.
“To only have two games with a young team to get ready for district isn’t ideal, but a lot of other teams are in the same boat as us,” Wells said. “The goal is to make the playoffs.
“Yeah, you’d like to win district, but our goal is to go as far in the playoffs as we can. Our kids know they can win.
“We had more holes to fill on defense than offense this year, but I actually think we’re better at some places.
“It’s group of good, hard-working kids. They aren’t D1 guys, but just a lot of really good players who are committed to what we’re doing here.”