There doesn't figure to be too much change at the top of District 6-A Division I in 2013. Last season's playoff teams appear to be locks once again for the postseason; the order just may be a little different.

Kerens returns the district's most explosive player in junior quarterback Nate Betts, Italy is bringing back 12 starters from last season's state semifinalist and Cayuga seems like a solid pick to return to the playoffs despite a coaching change and several key losses to graduation.

 

District 6-A Division I Preview

Cayuga's Payton Wallace. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • Brett Anderson, WR, Sr., Kerens
  • Nate Betts, QB, Jr., Kerens
  • Zain Byers, LB, Sr., Italy
  • Kyle Fortenberry, C, Jr., Italy
  • Payton Wallace, WR/DB, Sr., Cayuga

 

TOP GAMES

  • Cayuga at Kerens, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 11
  • Cayuga at Italy, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 25
  • Kerens at Italy, 7:30 p.m., Nov. 8

 

1. Kerens Bobcats

Coach: Russell Anderson

2012 finish: 5-6 (Class A Division I bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Nate Betts, Jr., 6-2, 175 (1,022 passing yards, 11 TDs; 1,288 rushing yards, 12 TDs)
  • WR Brett Anderson, Sr., 5-10, 150 (707 receiving yards, 8 TDs)
  • DB Zack Duncan, Jr., 5-9, 155
  • OL/DL Hunter Green, Soph., 6-3, 240
  • RB Rayvon Faulk, Sr., 5-9, 160

 

2013 outlook: Kerens returns more than half of its starters from last season, including the dual-threat QB Betts, who put up over 2,200 yards of offense as a sophomore. His favorite target is back with the return of Anderson, making it likely the Bobcats will improve on their average of 33 points per game in 2012. Kerens is even more experienced on the other side of the ball, which looks to improve its scoring defense that yielded 28 points a contest.

 

2. Italy Gladiators

Coach: Hank Hollywood

2012 finish: 9-5 (Class A Division I semifinalist)

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • DL Zain Byers, Sr., 5-10, 230 (82 tackles, 21 for loss, 5 sacks, 11 QB pressures)
  • C Kyle Fortenberry, Jr., 5-9, 200
  • WR Cody Boyd, Jr., 6-0, 170
  • LB Hunter Merimon, Soph., 5-9, 170 (32 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack, 3 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
  • LB Shadrach Newman, Sr., 5-7, 175 (104 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)

 

2013 outlook: Italy entered district last year with an unimpressive 1-4 mark, but reeled off eight consecutive victories to reach the state semifinals. While Italy welcomes back seven starters from its 2012 offense, most of the production was lost to graduation. So finding replacements will be Coach Hollywood's primary objective heading into the new season. The defense was hit hard by graduation as well, but the return of Byers up front gives Italy reason for optimism after his solid junior campaign.

 

3. Cayuga Wildcats

Cayuga's Stephen Slater. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

Coach: Russell Holden

2012 finish: 8-4 (Class A Division I area finalist)

Players to watch

  • WR/DB Payton Wallace, Sr., 5-9, 175
  • LB Aaron Foxworth, Sr., 5-10, 200
  • WR/DB Keyshawn Jackson, Jr.
  • K Stephen Slater, Sr.
  • RB/LB Brett Whitten, Jr.

 

Offense: Cayuga will be without last season's district Newcomer of the Year, QB Chander Rigdon, who transferred out of the district during the offseason. The Wildcats also lost several other pieces off last season's area-round playoff team. It remains to be seen

Cayuga's Blake Goldjord. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

what changes, if any, new coach Russell Holden will apply to the offense. But whatever he decides, there will be plenty of new faces that will need to step up. Wallace and Jackson are potential game-breakers on the edge, and Whitten should see a lot of the carries out of the backfield.

Defense: Cayuga's "D" was considered a strength in 2012, holding opponents to 20.5 points per game. But just like on offense, Coach Holden will be asking several newcomers to help shoulder the load on the defensive side of the ball. Ja'Shaun Epps will anchor the defensive front, while Foxworth and Whitten will man the middle at linebacker. The secondary is young and will be leaning on guys like Jackson, Wallace and Kolby Radford to get the job done.

2013 outlook: Cayuga has made the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons, and despite a new head coach and some heavy-duty personnel changes, it does not appear as if the Wildcats are in any real danger of missing out on the playoffs. The bottom three teams in the district last season -- Dallas Gateway, Cross Roads and Itasca -- combined to go just 7-23.

 

4. Cross Roads Bobcats

Coach: Jim Bradford

2012 finish: 2-8

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Justin Vaughan, Jr., 5-10, 150
  • OL Michael Corbell, Jr., 6-2, 150
  • WR/DB Aaron Arden, Soph., 5-11, 160
  • RB/LB Chace Lopez, Sr.
  • OL/DL Seth McGlaun, Sr.

 

Offense: The Bobcats struggled last season, averaging 18.7 points per game. The problem in the past has always been a shortage of skill-position players, and more of the same could be in store for Cross Roads in 2013. The O-line should be the most consistent part of the offense with the return of Corbell and McGlaun, but finding players to exploit the openings created up front will be the key.

Defense: The defensive side of the ball wasn't Cross Roads' strong suit either after the Bobcats allowed opponents to average more than 42 points per game. The one bright spot was Vaughan, who started every game at linebacker as a sophomore. But it will take more than one player to turn things around.

2013 outlook: The good news for Cross Roads, which finished fifth in the district last season, is that it has much more starting experience back than 2012's fourth-place finisher Dallas Gateway. But the gap between the Bobcats and the district favorites -- Kerens, Italy and Cayuga -- is palpable. In its games against those three, Cross Roads was outscored 152-28. Coach Bradford has a big task in front of him in year No. 1.

 

5. Dallas Gateway Gators

Coach: James Bevil

2012 finish: 4-6

Returning starters: 3 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Michael Jimmerson, Sr., 6-2, 200 (68 of 144, 772 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs; 96 carries, 559 yards, 4 TDs)
  • LB Kevin Williams, Jr., 5-9, 200 (63 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery)
  • OL/DL Javon Toney, Jr., 6-0, 217 (31 tackles, 2 INTs)
  • LB Mark Garcia, Jr., 5-9, 160 (20 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)
  • DL DeAndre Porter, Jr., 6-0, 270

 

2013 outlook: Graduation hit the Gators hard with just six total starters back from last season's 4-6 squad. Jimmerson is the only offensive impact player returning, and his numbers will need to improve drastically if Gateway wants to be in contention for a playoff spot come November. Williams will anchor a defense that was also decimated by turnover.

 

6. Itasca Wampus Cats

Coach: Mark Parsons

2012 finish: 1-9

Players to watch

  • QB Brandon Farquhar, Jr.
  • RB/DB Tamarcus Sheppard, Sr.
  • LB Cole Coleman, Sr.
  • LB Todd Willis, Sr.
  • RB/LB Khumbo Bailey, Sr.

 

2013 outlook: It was a season to forget for Itasca, which stumbled to its worst season since 1995's 0-10 team. New coach Mark Parsons is charged with changing the culture of a program that's won just seven games the last three years following a four-year stretch when the Wampus Cats compiled a 36-9 record. Farquhar has started at QB since his freshman year, so there is at least continuity at the most important position on the field.