By Stafford MSD Communications
The Stafford High football team graduated approximately 30 players from the most successful squad in program history, and more than a third of those players will compete at the collegiate level.
Despite the mass graduations, the Spartans are receiving a great deal of respect from the football experts throughout Houston, and even, state-wide.
VYPE Houston Magazine picked the Spartans as the No. 5 team in their rankings of schools smaller than 5A. Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine has Stafford No. 12 in the State-wide 4A Division I rankings and the favorite to win District 4A-12 Division I.
Still, Stafford first-year head coach Ken Savanah knows that the game is won on the gridiron, not in the newsroom of a football magazine.
“Those accolades are most of a testament to what we’ve done the past few years,” Savanah said. “Guys write and predict, but when the season starts, we still have to go out and play.”
The Spartans have hit the ground running under Savanah, who was Stafford’s defensive coordinator under Ron Counter since 2013. When Counter accepted a position at another school, Savanah applied for the position and was promoted to head coach.
Summer workouts have been successful, with approximately 70 students working out per day. Stafford fielded a 7-on-7 Team that reached the state championships in College Station, and linemen excelled at camps throughout the Houston area.
Savanah will call the defensive plays at the beginning of the season and gradually shift the defensive play-calling duties to new defensive coordinator David Montano, who comes to Stafford after a successful career at La Marque.
Senior linebacker Noah Nelson and junior linebacker Kenny Savanah were the third- and fourth-leading tacklers on last season’s 4A state quarterfinalist team. They are expected to be defensive leaders again, and Nelson was selected as the 12-4A defensive pre-season MVP.
The Spartans will continue to play a 4-3, relying on the defensive line to make things happen.
“The strength of our team has been the defensive line for the past four years,” Savanah said.
Leaders on the defensive line include seniors Jason Pamugo and Victor Lozano, juniors Ethan George and Zachary Natt, and sophomore Robert Wooten.
The secondary will be young, but talented with returners such as senior Allen Monroe and junior Sheldon Amaran.
Offensively, the Spartans return the electric tandem of senior quarterback Walter White (44 Touchdowns in 2016) and senior wide receiver Dylan Smith
The Offensive Line will feature George, Natt along with seniors Dung Trinh and Kahleab Hill and junior Elvis Pineda.
Stafford will look to replace seniors James Brown (HBU) and Cameron Montgomery (Rice), who combined for more than 2,000 yards last season. The candidates in the backfield are Monroe, junior Taurean Wilson, sophomore Jacob Tubbs.
Torrence Botts and Corey Gallion will serve as co-offensive coordinators for the Spartans, who expect to have a balanced offense between passing and running.
The Spartans have a record seven home games this season, including the home opener on Sept. 1 versus defending 4A-11 district champion, Houston North Forest.
Stafford won the 2016 season opener, 33-13 at North Forest, but later forfeited the non-district game when it discovered and self-reported the inadvertent use of an ineligible player.
Both Stafford and North Forest have first-time head coaches, both of whom were promoted from defensive coordinator.
Both teams lost to eventual 4A-I state champion Carthage in the playoffs last season – Stafford (27-26 in the state quarterfinals) and North Forest (41-6 in the second round).
Savanah said District 4A-12 Division I will continue to become more challenging, with improved programs at Bay City and Needville and new coaches at the helm in Sealy and Brazosport.
For the past few seasons, the Stafford-El Campo Game has determined the district championship. The teams will meet in the regular season finale on Nov. 3 in Stafford.
“El Campo is an example of the type of program we want to build,” Savanah said. “Year in and year out, they are someone to be reckoned with. We’re not that far off from being there.”