EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Eastwood and Pebble Hills figure to be the teams to beat in District 1-6A in 2023, but if there’s one team that can challenge the Troopers and Spartans, Franklin figures to be that team.

Daren Walker’s Cougars went to the playoffs again in 2022, finishing the season 6-5 following a first-round playoff exit. Franklin will return five starters on each side of the football in 2023, one of whom is perhaps the best player from in El Paso in the class of 2024.

Cougars senior quarterback Shay Smith threw for 3,727 yards and 42 touchdowns in 2022 and the son of a former NFL player looks even better this year.

Harboring offers from the likes of Houston, North Texas, SMU and UTEP, Smith will have a big decision to make very soon. Also a talented linebacker, Smith spent part of the summer working out in California with former UTEP and NFL quarterback, Jordan Palmer.

“My expectations are always high. Obviously it’s to win games and championships, but at the end of the day we have to have a good brotherhood, so that’s my biggest expectation,” Smith said.

With Smith plus running back Jordan Morales and wide receivers Elias Rangel and Patrick Powers returning, Walker thinks the Cougars offense could excite.

“We’ve got a lot of returning skill players that we think will make a difference. We’ve got a new offensive line, but we like these young players,” said Walker.

If Franklin is to challenge for a district title, they’ve got to prove their worth early. The Cougars open the 2023 season with a tough opponent at home in Centennial on Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. at Franklin Stadium.

The first episode of 9 Overtime also airs that night at 10:15 p.m. on KTSM.