In the words of pro wrestling icon Ric Flair, "To be the man, you have to beat the man."
That said, it's why the defending Class 4A, Division II champion La Marque Cougars hold down the No. 1 spot on the TPX preseason (preseason) top 20 poll.
The Coogs lose the likes of Leonard Dynes, Aundre McGaskey, Joseph Florence, Micheal Ray, James Thomas and TPI Houston area Defensive Player of the Year Perrin Sellers; they also said goodbye to head coach Bryan Erwin (Flower Mound Marcus). But La Marque does have 44 players who suited up for the state title win returning along with new head coach Chris Jones, who brings his wide-open offense from Refugio.
Jones' pass-happy attack will be a boon to QB Jarius Kerlegan, who won each of his seven starts last season, including all six of La Marque's playoff wins. He threw nine touchdown passes and scored seven on the ground, numbers he will likely eclipse before the Cougars begin district play.
La Marque's strength is a fleet of receivers who will thrive in the new offense. Desmond Haynes had a breakout performance in the postseason, while TE Ian Jackson will move to receiver to further take advantage of his 6-5 frame. Possession receiver Deron Goodwin and Michael Patterson will vie for receptions as well.
Shane Cams will be the lead back for La Marque. His hard-running style is complimented by his receiving skills, which makes him a perfect fit for the new offense.
Eligibility issues cost the Cougars OT Brandon Garrett (6-7, 300), who recently committed to Oklahoma State. His loss will hurt La Marque, but the team does return Matthew Weigt, Jeremy Lewis, Raynard Josey and Robert Davis. The junior varsity has several players that are expected to add depth.
The Cougars' biggest question mark is on the defensive line. Losing Sellers, Raphael Guidry and Davin Owens will be a challenge for La Marque. Mitchell Lewis, Aldorean Young and Curtis Jefferson will have to step up and equal the production from a unit that helped the Cougars allow just two opponents to score more than 14 points.
La Marque has a group of hard-hitting linebackers coming back, led by Quinton Jones. Evin Price, Michael Bryant, Larry Jarmon and Josh Smith also return.
Wicked-hitting Alvin Taylor is the next in a long line of outstanding Cougar defensive backs. Gaston Benson also broke through in the playoffs, while Chris Barrett showed playmaking ability in limited action.
Kicker Denroy Van Horne has one of the strongest legs in the area. The transfer from Jamaica had a 49-yard field goal during the season and has range beyond 55 yards.
The Cougars will play every game with a target on their collective backs, but it's nothing new for the program. The defense will need to retool the front seven, but if the offense is as explosive as it is projected to be, then it may not matter. An 18th straight trip to the playoffs is a given; a sixth state title is a very likely possibility as well.