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Midlothian football looks to repeat historic season with a top WR in country, new-look defense

By Travis M. Smith | Ellis County Sports

Wishbone, flexbone or turkey bone — the biggest bone to pick in District 4-5A DI is with the projections by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.

Midlothian and Red Oak were selected to finish third and fourth in 4-5A, respectively. Lake Belton (8-3, 6-2 in 4-5A) is projected to win the district crown, while Killeen Shoemaker (8-3, 6-2 in 4-5A) is projected second.

Shoemaker lost to both Red Oak (38-35) and Midlothian (32-37) in 2022. Lake Belton narrowly escaped Red Oak (48-47 OT) and then fell to Shoemaker (34-33) and Midlothian (39-37).

Red Oak was amid an odd fumbling of the head coaching position, which ultimately landed in the more-than-capable hands of Melvin Robinson. Midlothian, meanwhile, was in year one-and-a-half of moving further from the flexbone to a more spread offense.

Midlothian enters 2023 fresh off a campaign that saw the Panthers secure the outright district championship, first undefeated regular season (10-0) since 1984 and reach 12-0 for the first time in program history. Head coach Doug Wendel and the Panthers bowed out to state-power Aledo in the third round of the 5A Division I playoffs (and it took an improbable fourth-quarter comeback by the Bearcats to pull it off).

The shift in offensive philosophy has been quite noticeable for Wendel and company. 

The Panther offense amassed 1,410 yards and 19 touchdowns through the air in 2022. For comparison, Midlothian quarterbacks combined to throw for just 1,482 yards in the previous two seasons combined (756 in 2020, 726 in ’21). 

Drew Wendel will step in as the starter behind center for his senior season. He completed 28-of-his-41 attempts for 274 yards and 4 touchdowns (2INT) in primarily a mop-up role. Chad Ragle threw for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns before departing Midlothian for Eastern New Mexico University. 

Of course, having one of the best football players in the country lining up at wide receiver certainly helps complete a few more passes a season.

Clemson-commit Bryant Wesco (6-2, 180) is that dude. He is the 22nd-ranked player in the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2024 and a 4 or 5-star prospect, depending on your preferred recruitment service. 

247Sports gives Wesco a 5-star grade to go with the top-overall ranking in Texas and 9th nationally, while Rivals has the senior as a 4-star prospect, 4th-best player in Texas and 32nd nationally. 

Wesco pulled in 56 passes for 1,072 yards (19.1 YPC) and 12 touchdowns this past season. He was named to the 2023 DCTF Class 5A Preseason All-State team. Micah Hudson from district-foe Lake Belton was the second receiver selected to the squad.

And the Panthers will need Wesco to produce, as they lost quite a bit in the backfield.

Midlothian, behind Deago Benson (Vanderbilt), rushed for 3,920 yards and 48 touchdowns. The ground attack averaged better than 7.1 yards per carry and 301.5 yards per game. 

Benson (1,115yds, 16TD), Ragle (993yds, 8TD) and Jordan Richburg (615yds, 9TD) spearheaded that Panther ground game and will all need to be replaced following graduation. Michael Garber is the only backfield returner with any real game experience. He rushed 131 times for 599 yards and 9 touchdowns during his junior campaign, averaging 4.6 yards per rush. 

Bolstered by Kade Tompkins (Air Force), the Panther defense held opponents to 18.9 points per game in 2022. They’ll, unfortunately, have to replace Tompkins’ production (52 total tackles, 15 TFL, 8 sacks), as well as that of 8 of the top 10 leading tacklers from a season ago.

The Panther defense will need to see seniors like linebacker Nytori Burnett (69 total tackles, 6 TFL), defensive tackle Roman Parham (22 total tackles, INT), linebacker Daylin Smith (19 total tackles, 10 TFL, 2 sacks) and defensive tackle Bradyn Smith (17 total tackles, 3 sacks, 5 QB hurries).

UP FIRST

Midlothian opens the season against Arlington Seguin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Choctaw Stadium in Arlington.

_____

Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith

tsmith@elliscosports.com

About Travis M. Smith

Travis M. Smith is the owner and content director of Ellis County Sports and has over a decade of award-winning sports coverage. He most recently served as the digital sports director for KBEC 1390AM/99.1FM. He is the former managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light, Midlothian Mirror and Glen Rose Reporter.

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