Everyone who follows East Texas football knows the region's strength in smaller classifications. District 10-A Division I is a case in point.

Perennial power Alto is the early favorite in the district, which also includes talented squads from West Sabine and San Augustine, programs that played multiple rounds in last season's playoffs.

District 10-A Division I Preview

Alto RB/LB Jacolby Whitaker. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • Anfernee Black, Sr., WR, Alto
  • Hunter Cabral, Sr., LB, West Sabine
  • JaVie'Ontae Mumphrey, Jr., DE/LB, Alto
  • Jarvis Payne, Sr., OL, San Augustine
  • Dez Randle, Sr., WR, San Augustine
  • Zac Sturns, Sr., QB, Alto
  • Patrick Walker, Sr., ATH, Grapeland
  • Jacolby Whitaker, Sr., RB/LB, Alto
  • Jeremy Williams, Sr., OL, West Sabine
  • Nick Williams, Sr., RB, West Sabine

 

TOP GAMES

  • Oct. 18 -- West Sabine at Alto
  • Oct. 25 -- San Augustine at West Sabine
  • Nov. 1 -- San Augustine at Alto

 

1. Alto Yellow Jackets

Alto DE/LB JaVie'Ontae Mumphrey. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Paul Gould

2012 finish: 11-3 (Class A Division I Region III finalist)

Returning starters: 9 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/LB Jacolby Whitaker, Sr., 5-10, 193 (304 carries, 2,696 yards, 39 TDs; 128 tackles)
  • QB Zac Sturns, Sr., 6-2, 175 (55 of 101, 1,019 yards, 11 TDs, 2 INTs; 219 carries, 1,265 yards, 13 TDs)
  • DE/LB JaVie'Ontae Mumphrey, Jr., 6-3, 215 (73 tackles, 14 sacks)
  • WR Anfernee Black, Sr., 6-0, 200 (36 catches, 678 yards, 8 TDs)
  • DB Leroy Lewis, Jr., 6-0, 175 (62 tackles, 5 INTs)
  • OL Luis Alverado, Soph., 5-10, 230

 

Alto WR Anfernee Black. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Alto is loaded at the skill positions. Jacolby Whitaker and Zac Sturns combined for more than 5,000 total yards in 2012, which ended in a state quarterfinal loss to eventual state runner-up Mart.

Whitaker will likely eclipse 5,000 career rushing yards on his first carry of the 2013 season since he enters his senior campaign with 4,993 career yards. He was one of the most impressive skill players at the May 19 ETSN.fm Football Recruiting Combine, recording a 4.46-second laser-timed 40-yard dash at a bulky 193 pounds. Whitaker is primed to terrorize defenses as a senior.

Then there's Anfernee Black on the perimeter. He amassed almost 700 receiving yards last season and returns as Sturns' top target.

Alto averaged 37.6 points per game in 2012 and could eclipse that average this fall.

Alto DB Leroy Lewis. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Not all of Alto's playmakers reside on the offensive side of the ball.

JaVie'Ontae Mumphrey is a name to remember for the next two seasons. He emerged as one of East Texas' best defensive playmakers at the Class A level a year ago and is back for his junior season. Classmate Leroy Lewis, a defensive back, promises to be another quality defender.

Mumphrey and Tyarius Hackett should give the Yellow Jackets a strong pair of pass rushers.

Alto yielded a respectable 23 points per game in 2012 and there's no reason the Jackets can't improve on that number in 2013, especially with seven defensive starters returning.

2013 Outlook: Alto enters the season as perhaps East Texas' best Class A football team. Tenaha, with 10 starters back on each side of the ball, is the only program that could possibly challenge for that title.

Sturns, Whitaker, and Black should be among 1A's best offensive trios, while Mumphrey could be an impact player on the defensive side of the ball. The question is can Alto get by Mart, which will also be loaded once again after beating Alto 62-40 in last year's Region III championship?

Mart and Alto are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine's preseason poll, so a regional final rematch would be among the most anticipated games in the state this season.

 

2. West Sabine Tigers

West Sabine LB Hunter Cabral. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Tod Stark

2012 finish: 9-3 (Class A Division I Region III area finalist)

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 9 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Nick Williams, Sr., 5-6, 165 (1,004 rushing yards, 12 TDs)
  • QB/ATH Reshod Williams, Jr., 5-8, 170 (252 passing yards, 4 TDs; 16 catches, 220 yards, 3 TDs)
  • LB Hunter Cabral, Sr., 5-10, 180 (170 tackles)
  • OL Jeremy Williams, Sr., 6-1, 280
  • ATH Tyler Sepulvado, Soph., 6-0, 250
  • OL Dustin Bragg, Sr., 5-9, 260
  • OL Dakota Dew, Sr., 5-10, 250

 

West Sabine RB Nick Williams. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: West Sabine returns eight starters from an offense that averaged almost 46 points per game. Reshod Williams takes over the quarterback duties after being one of the Tigers' perimeter playmakers last season.

Joining him in the backfield will be Nick Williams, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last season and returns as the Tigers' feature back. That duo should give West Sabine some big-play potential, especially considering that they will have four players weighing 250-plus pounds clearing the way.

Defense: The defensive side of the ball starts with linebacker Hunter Cabral, whose massive junior tackle total should be a sign of what's to come during his senior campaign.

But with nine returning starters on this side of the ball, there's obviously more than simply Cabral for head coach Tod Stark.

West Sabine allowed a respectable 22.8 points per game in 2012. With all but two starters back, there's no reason the Tigers shouldn't make a run at improving on that number. West Sabine could have a solid defensive front to protect Cabral and company with veterans such as Austin Stephens and Brandon McBride manning trenches.

West Sabine QB ReShod Williams. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

2013 Outlook: With 17 total returning starters from a nine-win team, West Sabine is primed for another strong season this fall.

The Tigers have the misfortune of being in one of the tougher Class A districts in the state with Alto and San Augustine, but on the other hand, playing such tough competition in league play should once again prepare the Tigers to get beyond the first round of the postseason.

At least one preseason publication has high expectations for West Sabine: Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine picks the Tigers eighth in the D-I preseason poll. That's certainly not out of the question as West Sabine should once again be a threat in 10-A D-I and the playoffs.

 

3. San Augustine Wolves

San Augustine WR Dez Randle. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Donald Hubbard

2012 finish: 9-3 (Class A Division I Region III semifinalist)

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL Jarvis Payne, Sr., 6-2, 315
  • WR Dez Randle, Sr., 6-2, 175
  • OL E.J. Barnes, Soph., 6-2, 270
  • QB JaMickel Roberts, Jr., 6-0, 175
  • LB Jeremy Jenkins, Jr., 5-9, 190
  • RB/DB Anwar Davis, Sr., 5-10, 175
  • OL Y'Venskie Rushing, Jr.

 

San Augustine OL Jarvis Payne. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: San Augustine must replace a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, including its leading passer, top three rushers, and top two receivers.

Tony Hubbard leaves a 1,776-yard, 29-touchdown hole at running back, while Bobby Tanner's graduation takes almost 2,000 total yards away from head coach Donald Hubbard's offense. Then there's the void left by the versatile Ty'Aundra Taylor, who led San Augustine in receptions and was second in rushing.

Desmond Randle will try to pick up the slap on the perimeter, while Jamikel Roberts replaces Tanner at quarterback. San Augustine will still be athletic and will possess a bulky offensive line led by Jarvis Payne and E.J. Barnes.

But with only four returning offensive starters, it may be tough matching the 34.7 points per game the Wolves averaged in 2012.

San Augustine LB Jeremy Jenkins. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: San Augustine's defense also returns only four starters from a unit that surrendered a respectable 21.2 points per game a year ago.

But Jeremy Jenkins is back at linebacker after a strong sophomore season, and the Wolves -- like in offense -- will rely on new athleticism to fill the spots created by graduation.

The question is, will they fill them well enough to contend with district foes Alto and West Sabine, which return the majority of their offenses and big-time playmakers?

2013 Outlook: In a lot of districts, San Augustine would probably be considered the favorite even after graduating 14 starters. But in 10-A D-I, the Wolves could finish third because of Alto and West Sabine returning so many starters from multiple-round playoff teams.

Nevertheless, San Augustine, which TheOldCoach.com ranks 23rd in D-I entering the fall, is not a team to sleep on. The Wolves are the defending district champions having beaten Alto and West Sabine by two scores apiece in 2012. Obviously, if the Wolves are to do that again, they'll have to with a mostly new cast of characters.

Jenkins will be fun to watch on defense, and that offensive line should make the transition for the new skill players much easier. It's fair to call San Augustine a dangerous darkhorse squad in Region III.

 

4. Shelbyville Dragons

Coach: Jason Ferguson

2012 finish: 3-7

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR Dee Osby, Jr., 5-8, 160 (11 carries, 86 yards, 1 TD; 17 catches, 204 yards)
  • RB/LB Octavian Burrell, Soph., 5-10, 190 (19 carries, 83 yards, 1 TD; 11 catches, 168 yards; 65 tackles, 1 sack, 5 forced fumbles, 1 recovery)
  • ATH C.J. Watson, Jr., 5-10, 175 (20 catches, 219 yards, 3 TDs)
  • OL/DL Colton Brown, Sr., 5-10, 190 (77 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 6 recoveries)
  • DL Blayze Kowalski, Sr., 6-0, 170 (22 tackles, 2 sacks)
  • RB/DB Jessie Rose, Sr., 5-8, 155
  • WR Travis Henkle, Jr.

 

Offense: Replacing 1,000-yard rusher Dillon Brown and 1,300-yard passer James Bradford are the main concerns for new head coach Jason Ferguson.

Shelbyville appears to have a few options at the skill spots. Dee Osby got valuable playing time and averaged 10.4 yards on his 28 touches as a junior. C.J. Watson had a strong sophomore debut and finished second on the team in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches.

Shelbyville will need to find a new backfield fast if it wants to improve on the 16.5 points per game it averaged last season.

Defense: Perhaps none of the returning five defensive starters could have as big of an impact as Octavian Burrell, who had a breakout freshman season in 2012.

Burrell finished third on the team in tackles and led the squad in forced fumbles. Colton Brown is also back for his senior season after finishing second on the roster in tackles a year ago.

Those two will have to perform well for the Dragons to improve on the 31.1 points per game they allowed in 2012.

2013 Outlook: Shelbyville graduated 82.8 percent of its rushing yards and all but six of its 1,391 passing yards. Plus leading receive Blane Deal is also gone.

The Dragons seem to have some promising younger players ready to step up, but losing that many valuable pieces is not the recipe you hope for in a district as tough as 10-A D-I, which looks like it very likely will have a clear dividing line between the top three and bottom three again in 2013 -- Alto, West Sabine, and San Augustine in the playoffs, Shelbyville, Grapeland, and Cushing out.

 

5. Grapeland Sandies

Coach: Sean Brown

2012 finish: 2-8

Players to watch

  • ATH Patrick Walker, Sr., 6-1, 165
  • RB Demetri Walker, Sr., 5-11, 165
  • WR/DB Jacolby Simpson, Sr., 6-1, 175
  • OL Mandre Williams, Sr., 5-10, 270
  • QB Jaques Faulk, Soph., 5-6, 130
  • LB Hunter Collins, Sr., 5-10, 165
  • OL Jay Music, Sr., 6-1, 175
  • DB Issac Lewis, Jr.

 

Offense: Grapeland averaged only 18.1 points per game in 2012, but the pieces are there at the skill spots to improve on that number this fall.

Versatile athlete Patrick Walker is back for his senior year. He accumulated about 1,400 yards of total offense and was responsible for more than 20 touchdowns as a junior. Demetri Walker is also back at his tailback spot after rushing for almost 400 yards a year ago.

One player to keep an eye on is the diminutive but athletic Jaques Faulk, who could take over full-time quarterbacking duties. He split time as a freshman last season with Patrick Walker and threw for more than 300 yards in limited playing time.

Whoever's playing quarterback will have a reliable receiver in Jacolby Simpson, who led the Sandies in receiving as a junior.

Defense: Grapeland has plenty of room to improve defensively. The Sandies yielded 39.8 points per game last season and surrendered at least 41 points six times.

One thing's for sure: Grapeland should have an athletic secondary with the the skill guys flipping sides and playing some defense. Grapeland must find players to fill roles in the front seven, especially in a district that has as many talented rushers as 10-A D-I.

2013 Outlook: Grapeland has the athletes to compete with the better teams in the district on the perimeter, but the Sandies must develop their line play to be able to go to toe-to-toe with teams like San Augustine, which can put four 250-plus players on its offensive front.

Sean Brown and the new Grapeland coaching staff face a tough task breaking into the playoffs in such a stacked district.

 

6. Cushing Bearkats

Coach: Bill Jehling

2012 finish: 1-9

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/LB Jacob Smelley, Jr., 5-9, 150
  • WR/DB Cameron Burk, Jr., 5-8, 140
  • OL/DL Jessie Williamson, Sr., 5-8, 215
  • RB/LB Collin McGinnis, Jr., 5-10, 165
  • OL Austin Cruz, Jr., 5-9, 200

 

Offense: Cushing needs big performances from veterans like Jacob Smelley and Cameron Burk, who gained valuable varsity experience as sophomores. Jessie Williamson and Austin Cruz give Cushing experience on the offensive line.

The Bearkats averaged only 9.1 points per game in 2012, when they scored a total of 18 points in the final six games of the season.

Defense: Seven starters return from a defense that yielded 32.1 points per game a year ago, a number that's not all that bad considering how little help the unit got from the offense.

Several of the players who Cushing need big offensive performances from will be the same guys the Bearkats will lean on defensively, so conditioning will be crucial as always when dealing with small-school two-way players.

2013 Outlook: Cushing has suffered through five consecutive losing seasons and hasn't reached the playoffs since 1997. In a District 10-A Division I race that appears loaded at the top, the Bearkats will have a tough time changing that trend in 2013.