With just a decade of play in the books, Cinco Ranch (Texas) is already an elite 5A power. How far they will go in 2010 will depend largely on their ability to handle district nemesis and state title contender Katy High School, ranked #53 in the Rivals.com preseason Top 100.
Cinco Ranch has defeated Katy only once, in 2008, and lost last year’s match up by one point, costing them the district title. Their meeting on November 6 is already shaping up to be the game of the year, and could decide the district title once again. A win against Katy would be a psychological boost and make a potential playoff path much more favorable.
Head coach Don Clayton (who has led Cinco Ranch since the beginning) and his players refuse to look that far ahead, as there are a number of talented teams they must take care of first. Their opening game against Klein Forest will be a good indicator of how good the Cougars really are.
Expectations are high not only among football writers, but inside the locker room as well. Coach Clayton believes the team can play at a state championship level, and players feel it is an achievable goal. There is plenty of talent on both sides of the ball to make that happen.
Only five starters return on offense, but they include several of the key skill positions. Kyle Meloy will take over at quarterback, with Kevin Hassold backing up. Both played well in the summer 7-on-7 tournament and can lead an offense stacked with weapons.
The hopes of Cinco Ranch ride with K.C. Nlemchi, the senior running back who racked up nearly 2400 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns in 2009. Nlemchi will be looked on to keep the offense running, especially early in the season as Meloy settle in behind center..
Nlemchi, an all-state selection last season, is an explosive back whose running style is reminiscent of Herschel Walker; he runs over defenses rather than around them. Coach Clayton believes that durability will benefit the Cougars this season, and will serve him well in college (Nlemchi verbally committed to SMU this spring).
He won’t have to rely totally on that bruising running style – there is enough bulk on the line to open holes and push defenses back. It starts at center, where senior Kevin O’Brien (6′ 2″ and 260 lbs.) returns as a starter. He is flanked by Andy Ellis (6′ 2″ and 300 lbs.) and Tyler Knowles (6 6″ and 275 lbs.) to create a formidable front. Defenses who key on Nlemchi will get burned by another backfield threat: Jamel James (5’11” and 210 lbs.). The sophomore is also a punishing running back who has impressed the Cinco Ranch coaching staff.
Cinco Ranch will have the ability to spread the offense more in 2010, with receivers James Rhoden, Bobby Waid, and Alex Ludowig on board. Rhoden has the speed to be a serious deep threat, and both Ludowig and Waid have the hands quarterbacks can rely on. Cinco Ranch focused heavily on improving the passing game during 7-on-7 tournament play and spring workouts, which could provide a serious challenge to opposing defenses in the fall.
On defense, some fresh faces and key returning starters leave very few weak spots for offenses to attack. The linebacker corps are strong, led by junior Ayodele Illesanmi, an all-district selection last year who packs a powerful punch in his compact (5′ 9″ and 175 lbs.) frame. His partner-in-line, Jeffrey Williams, is a tackle machine who has no trouble holding down the fort.
Manning the trenches ahead of them is Stuart Mouchantaf (6′ 3″ and 290 lbs.) a transfer who will help solidify the defensive line. Junior Russell Cuellar (5′ 10″ and 164 lbs) had four picks last season in the secondary and his speed at safety will keep big plays to a minimum.
Sources: Personal interviews, Cinco Ranch rosters and stat sheets
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