Countdown to Kickoff: Birdville Hawks
By Ryan Osborne
Birdville Hawks
District 6-5A

ast season: 11-3 (6-2 District 6-4A). Lost to Denton Guyer in the Class 4A Division I quarterfinals.

Key players: RB Isaiah Duarte (5-11, 170), QB Will Hayward (6-1, 185), DE Tyler Gannon (6-2, 205), DE Poem Turner (5-11, 205), WR Jake Bransford (6-0, 195), OL Malvin Sadler (6-3, 260).

The big picture: The Hawks made another run to the state quarterfinals last season, but as in 2012, they lost to eventual state champion Denton Guyer. The running back shouldering the load of carries the past two seasons was Xavier Turner, who amassed nearly 3,000 yards and 52 touchdowns in his senior year alone. But Turner graduated, and stepping into the primary running back role will be Isaiah Duarte, who saw plenty of action alongside Turner last season. Duarte is more of a speed back than Turner, coach Jim Skinner said. The senior averaged more than 10 yards a carry last year, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark. At quarterback, Birdville returns senior starter Will Hayward, who tossed 15 touchdowns and ran for six more last season. Defensively, the Hawks return starting defensive ends in Poem Turner and Tyler Gannon. Birdville has a series of intriguing nondistrict games, opening the season at Prosper before hosting Mansfield Summit and Trophy Club Nelson, and then traveling to what should be a tough Class 4A team in Abilene Wylie. Realignment didn’t change the Hawks’ district slate much — they still have defending District 6-4A champion Dunbar to face, while adding Grapevine (which came down from the state’s highest classification) and Lake Dallas. Fort Worth Polytechnic, Fort Worth Eastern Hills and Fort Worth Carter-Riverside round out Birdville’s District 6-5A schedule.

Quotable: “Isaiah can do anything. You can line him up outside at receiver, you can line him up at running back. He’s probably going to be the fastest kid on the field every time we play a team. You can hand it off and do a sweep. You can audible and do what you want.”

— quarterback Will Hayward

“Last few years, it just so happened that the team that beat us out of the playoffs won the state championship. You just have to be prepared to play every week. We’re really proud of our football team, but we expect and look forward to taking a step further and winning it all.”

— coach Jim Skinner

Notable: It might be hard to find a more successful area 5A program over the past five years not named Aledo. The Hawks have advanced to the third round or further in three of the past four seasons and have won 95 games since Skinner took over in 2003. And Skinner is closing in on a milestone other than the 100-win mark at Birdville. He’s eight wins away from 300 wins for his career heading into what will be his 38th season as a head coach.

— Ryan Osborne