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Euless Trinity, Lufkin and Longview -- three of the top schools in the entire state. Lee would later knock off Euless Trinity in the Class 5A, Div. I state semifinals, while unbeaten Lufkin fell in the final minute to Southlake Carroll in the 5A, Div. II state semifinals, 37-30. Longview also went undefeated and state ranked, like Lufkin, during its regular season but lost to Lufkin in the 5A, Div. I region finals.
Lee opened its Div. I postseason with a convincing 28-10 victory over Garland (5A state champions in '99), then defeated host Richardson Berkner, 34-8. A 27-14 quarterfinal win over Round Rock McNeal was followed by a 28-7 win over Euless Trinity in the semifinals at Texas Stadium. Before more than 15,000 fans at the Alamodome, Lee then defeated Spring Westfield, 28-21, for its first state championship.
"We're so much younger compared to last year," Lee coach Mike Owens said. "We may start three sophomores on our offensive line and we have to find a fullback. But it's not like the NFL - we can't draft anyone or recruit players. We have to play with what we have.
"There's an excitement about our schedule, but we could also have a serious loss of confidence if we get our butts kicked - the heads could be hanging. We'll be OK if we survive that non-district schedule."
(For the very latest free recruiting news and our latest on the commitments in the Class of 2006, please click to http://texasfootball.com/05blue_0207.html.)
Departed from the Red Raiders on the offensive line is, among other notables, all-stater Ciron Black, who signed with LSU this past February. There is no player the caliber of Black waiting in line, but Owens received a pleasant surprise this winter with the arrival of Jake Kirkpatrick, a 6-3, 260-pound transfer from Grace Community, a private school in Tyler.
Spring practice will mark Kirkpatrick's first on the football field. A talented basketball player at Grace Community - which doesn't offer football as an extracurricular sport - Kirkpatrick has shown great footwork and smarts during offseason workouts. What's unknown is his competitive fire on the actual playing field.
"We only know Jake in shorts right now, and I've seen a lot of All-Americans in shorts," Owens said. "When you put the pads on, different things happen. But right now, he could be our starter at left tackle."
Preston Hill (6-2, 180) returns at quarterback (and also starts at punter) for the Red Raiders after sharing duties behind center with his brother, Josh, last season. Lee also alternated at tailback last season, with Tyrone Ross (5-8, 180) and Jason Williams (6-1, 205). The graduation of Ross opens the door for Williams to be the featured back.
Hill's tandem of targets at WR will be Jonathan Williams (6-1, 181) and Jacob Amie (6-2, 200). Tight end Tyler Fleet (6-1, 207) will also be a key in Lee's passing attack.
The Red Raiders will have a young offensive line, and will build around a pair of seniors: RG Mario Trimble-Zakrajsek (6-3, 290) and RT Lynn Gibson (6-3, 315).
NG Jacoby McKenzie (6-1, 240) will anchor a young defense which has two standouts in the secondary: FS Tekerrian Cuba (6-3, 185) and speedy DB Quett Nicholson (5-10, 170). Matt Uzzell (6-1, 210) leads a LB unit which was led in 2004 by Jason Stripling (Washington State).
Tyler Lee will close spring drills with its annual spring
game at 6:30 PM on May 18 at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium in Tyler.
Confronted with one of the state's most difficult non-district schedules this fall, Mike Owens' Red Raiders will play two of the nation's premier high schools (from Ohio and Florida) in the opening three weeks. Waco and Euless Trinity are also on the ledger, as well as Longview, who many expect to be ranked in the top five in Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine's preseason top 25 this summer.To recall last fall's memorable season for the Red Raiders, Tyler Lee ended the regular season at 7-3, losing three straight games early when injuries knocked out no less than four starters on their defense. The three losses were to