2013 Football Preview: District 15-3A About As Wide Open As It Gets
There doesn’t appear to be too much separation between District 15-3A’s top tier of teams, which could make for an exciting race to the district championship this fall.
Defending league champ Van and runner-up Canton should once again field strong teams, while Athens — last season’s third-place squad — brings back a district-best 18 starters.
District 15-3A Preview
- Brice Borgeson, LB, Jr., Van
- Jacob Busch, OL, Jr., Canton
- K.J. Cumby, LB, Sr., Athens
- Chandler Eiland, QB, Jr., Canton
- Chris Jefferson, LB, Sr., Athens
- Anthony Sanders, QB, Sr., Athens
- Wyatt Santos, OL, Jr., Van
- Matt Savis, RB, Jr., Van
- Tyler Thomison, WR, Sr., Brownsboro
- Athens at Canton, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 11
- Brownsboro at Mineola, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 18
- Van at Canton, 7:30 p.m., Nov. 8
1. Van Vandals
Coach: Jared Moffatt
2012 finish: 9-2 (Class 3A Division II bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Matt Savis, Jr., 5-9, 175 (1,300 rushing yards, 16 TDs)
- LB Brice Borgeson, Jr., 6-2, 220
- OL Wyatt Santos, Jr., 6-1, 295
- DB Layton Myers, Sr., 5-10, 165 (33 tackles, 5 INTs, 10 pass break-ups)
- LB Hunter Redmond, Sr., 6-2, 170 (123 tackles)
- WR Andrew Platter, Jr., 6-2, 180 (34 catches, 562 yards, 5 TDs)
- DB Alphonso Thomas, Soph., 5-11, 175 (52 tackles)
Offense:Van will have to replace its top two offensive weapons from 2012 in quarterback Garrett Smallwood and receiver Carson Rucker, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Vandals’ offense in 2013. Peter Maddox and Brett Doring are expected to battle it out for the starting QB job, but whoever wins the spot will have the 1,300-yard rusher Savis with them in the backfield.
Platter was the district’s top newcomer a season ago and should receive most of the action in the passing game, but Luke McGowan is also a proven playmaker on the outside. The offensive line also appears to be in pretty good shape with Wyatt Santos, the younger brother of Texas linebacker and former Van standout Dalton Santos.
Van averaged 39.5 points per game last season and an incredible 53 a game during district. So despite graduating a few key pieces, Van enjoyed a rather wide gap between itself and the rest of the league in 2012.
Defense: Van lost standout defensive lineman Syd Moore (North Texas), but plenty of firepower returns on this side of the ball.
The strength appears to the Vandals’ back seven. Redmond is back after averaging more than 10 tackles per game last year, and Borgeson transferred in from Tyler All Saints, which could give Van one of the top linebacking tandems in the area.
The defensive backfield should be solid as well. Myers made a ton of plays in the secondary in 2012 as did Brock Moore, while Coach Moffatt believes the future is bright for Thomas. Most of the question marks on defense center around the defensive line, which was a big reason why the Vandals had so much success a season ago. However Van goes about shoring up its defensive front, the Vandals would like to improve its scoring defense, which allowed more than 26 points per game in 2012.
2013 outlook: If Van can find consistency at the quarterback position and uncover new talent along the defensive line, this could be another district-championship caliber season. The Vandals are solid just about everywhere else, and the closest a 15-3A foe came to Van during last season was 14 points.
Van has made the playoffs five consecutive years and eight of the past 11, and it seems highly unlikely the Vandals will miss out this year. The biggest question will come during the first round of the playoffs against a “District of Doom” opponent. Van drew 16-3A’s third-place team (Henderson) a year ago and was soundly beaten 48-21, so there’s work to be done in order for the Vandals to take the next step with its program.
2. Athens Hornets
Coach: Paul Essary
2012 finish: 4-7 (Class 3A Division I bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 9 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
- LB K.J. Cumby, Sr., 6-1, 215 (138 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 INT)
- LB Chris Jefferson, Sr., 6-2, 200 (23 tackles; committed to SMU)
- QB Anthony Sanders, Sr., 6-0, 185 (50 of 131, 835 yards, 10 TDs, 7 INTs; 622 rushing yards, 3 TDs)
- TE/DL Nic Fincher, Sr., 6-2, 245 (63 tackles)
- LB Adam Stallings, Sr., 5-9, 220 (53 tackles)
- DE Tyler Russell, Jr., 6-2, 240
- DE Chris Prox, Jr., 6-2, 200
- RB Devin Hall, Jr., 5-9, 170 (157 carries, 812 yards, 12 TDs)
Offense: Athens averaged just a shade over 23 points per game in 2012, but expect that number to rise as the Hornets bring back nine offensive starters. Sanders is a true dual-threat option at quarterback and is expected to make a big jump in his third year as the starter. Hall put together a solid sophomore season and will likely become the featured back in the Hornets’ run-heavy attack. Fincher is an excellent blocker at tight end and can be a factor in the passing game as well.
Most of the offensive line returns intact, so expect a more forceful and confident group this year after gaining valuable experience in 2012. Athens plays in a very offensive-minded district, so keeping its own offense on the field for extended periods of time could serve as the Hornets’ best defense.
Defense: There’s no question the strength for Athens lies on the defensive side, and especially at linebacker. It would be hard to find a bigger set of linebackers in the area than the Hornets’ trio of Cumby, Jefferson and Stallings.
The front line is impressive in its own right. Fincher and Russell are big bodies capable of moving the piles, while Prox — 2012’s district Defensive Newcomer of the Year — has a good combination of size and speed off the edge to cause matchup concerns for opposing offensive lines.
Athens should be able to stop the run and rush the passer pretty effectively, but big plays in the passing game are something to keep an eye on in a district notorious for excellent quarterback play.
2013 outlook: It was an interesting 2012 season to say the least for Athens. A five-game losing streak in the middle of the season resulted in a 1-6 start, but the Hornets recovered to win their final three games and reach the postseason for just the fourth time in the last 16 years.
After losing to Canton and Van to begin district, the Hornets outscored its three next three league foes by a combined score of 128-40. That kind of finish can lend itself to positive momentum to take into the offseason, especially with a team that had so many underclassmen play such big roles. The Hornets should definitely be a factor in the district-championship race.
3. Canton Eagles
Coach: Robert Ivey
2012 finish: 8-3 (Class 3A Division II bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Chandler Eiland, Jr., 6-1, 170 (125 of 214, 1,984 yards, 23 TDs, 11 INTs; 106 carries, 414 yards, 10 TDs)
- OL Jacob Busch, Jr., 6-4, 270
- TE/DE Samuel Miller, Jr., 6-3, 210 (60 tackles)
- WR Garrett Denbow, Jr., 6-1, 155 (5 catches, 74 yards, TD)
- DB Ryan Slider, Sr., 5-10, 130
- DB Marquise Harris, Sr., 5-7, 140
- DL Ke’Adric Nelson, Sr., 5-11, 240
Offense: The Eagles must replace several pieces from their 2012 offense, but Eiland isn’t one of them. The QB enjoyed breakout success as a sophomore, and after leading Canton to a successful run during 7-on-7 this summer, he seems primed for a big junior season. He’ll be without his favorite target from a season ago — brother Connor Eiland — but Denbow and Miller are big targets capable to picking up the slack.
The front line will be anchored by Busch, who could end up being a high-major Division I prospect in the coming months. Canton averaged 38 points per game a season ago, and improving on those numbers in 2013 will depend on how quickly the new faces step up on offense.
Defense: There is just as much work to be done on the defensive end as the Eagles are replacing seven starters from 2012’s unit. Miller has a good size and quickness and will be counted upon to apply a heavy rush on the quarterback. The secondary has the potential to be solid with the likes of Slider and Harris, but heavy personnel change at linebacker could be a sticking point.
If Canton can get strong play from its new linebacking corps, the Eagles stand a chance of really improving their defense, which gave up 24.7 points per game to opponents last year.
2013 outlook: While Canton has more pieces to replace than either Van or Athens, the Eagles should once again be a contender for the district title after finishing as runner-up a season ago. Eiland is a game-changer, capable of elevating other players around him.
With that being said, Canton must find answers to a defense full of question marks if the Eagles are to seriously challenge for a league title. The Eagles always score a ton of points, so that’s unlikely to change in 2013, but the pressure will be on the defense to raise its game to the level of its offense.
4. Brownsboro Bears
Coach: Jason Hooker
2012 finish: 5-5
Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- WR Tyler Thomison, Sr., 5-9, 160 (29 catches, 560 yards, 8 TDs)
- DL Swaide Houston, Sr., 6-3, 220
- DL Quentin McKenzie, Sr., 6-0, 230
- RB Quintus Lee (37 carries, 235 yards, 3 TDs)
- WR Tamarick Pace, Soph., 6-2, 160
- DL Lane Harrison, Jr., 5-11, 215
- QB Jared Bragdon, Sr., 6-3, 210
- QB Will Bailey, Jr., 6-3, 180
Offense: The Brownsboro offense will feature a new look as first-year coach Jason Hooker plans to move away from the spread into a multiple-I base formation. The new ground game will most likely feature Lee as the primary back, but the Bears could also use Mitchell Penney in spurts. There’s also a battle at quarterback to replace the graduated Shelby Rogers. Bragdon and Bailey both have good size and whoever wins the job will have a solid deep threat to work with in Thomison, who averaged 19.3 yards per catch in 2012. Getting the offensive linemen used to running an entirely new scheme that’s tailored to power running may be a challenge, but Coach Hooker has a proven track record with great rushing attacks from his days as the offensive coordinator at Liberty-Eylau.
Defense: The Bears allowed 35.2 points per game on defense a season ago, so improvement will be the name of the game in year No. 1 for Coach Hooker and his staff. Brownsboro should be solid up front with the return of Houston, McKenzie and Harrison, but the Bears might be a little thin at linebacker. There may also be a shortage of depth in the secondary as Brownsboro figures to start several two-way players in the fall. With a brand-new coaching staff and several newcomers to the fray, it might take some time for the defensive until to gel, but if the front line can live up to its potential, some pressure may be taken off the rest of the defense.
2013 outlook: It was a rough ending to the 2012 season for Brownsboro, which lost its final three games to miss out on the playoffs after getting off to a 5-2 start. A new coaching staff could re-energize the program, but the Bears will likely be relying on a reversal of fortune this season. The start might be slow, but as the season progresses, expect Brownsboro to start feeling more comfortable with its surroundings and make a late-season push to the playoffs, a place Brownsboro hasn’t been since 2010.
5. Mineola Yellow Jackets
Coach: Joe Drennon
2012 finish: 4-6
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Rhett Self, Sr., 5-6, 155 (700 rushing yards)
- TE/DE Casey Gilbreath, Jr., 6-2, 195 (10 catches, 250 yards, 5 TDs)
- DE Trevor Keener, Jr., 6-3, 220
- OL/DL Austin Anderson, Soph., 6-2, 235
- LB Brandon Melo, Sr. (58 tackles)
- OL Hunter Creech, Sr.
- QB Blake Whitney, Sr., 5-10, 150
Offense: Mineola averaged 26.1 points per game in 2012, but struggled down the stretch, managing less than 20 a week in district. Self had a solid junior season, serving as the secondary back to the graduated Dac Shaw (TCU), but now he’ll be counted on to shoulder most of the load this season.
The offensive line is a strength as both Anderson and Creech are back after nice seasons last fall. Whitney is expected to take over at quarterback, but the Jackets will need to find some depth at both running back and receiver to become a more consistent and efficient offensive attack.
Defense: Shaw’s presence on defense will definitely be missed, but a few playmakers from last season are returning, which should make for a smooth transition. Gilbreath, Keener and Anderson are big, quick and strong and give Mineola a pretty formidable front line.
The linebacking corps, for the most part, will be full of fresh faces with the exception of Melo, who had a solid junior season playing alongside Shaw in 2012. The secondary has a few question marks, but Phillip Howell returns to anchor a defensive backfield that will need to come along quickly.
Mineola seeks big-time improvement on this side of the ball after it allowed 32 points per game a season ago.
2013 outlook: The move up from Class 2A was not kind to Mineola, which went 17-6 in 2010 and 2011 competing down in classification. As is usually the case with some of the smallest schools in 3A, depth is a major issue at Mineola.
The Jackets have some solid pieces in place, but keeping them healthy has to be objective No. 1 for Coach Drennon and Co. It was a struggle in district a season ago as the Jackets were outscored in their four 15-3A losses a combined 193-75, so reaching the playoffs this season will take some doing.
6. Mabank Panthers
Coach: Jared Wingfield
2012 finish: 1-9
Returning starters: 5 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- OL Caleb Lowry, Jr., 6-3, 280
- RB Clay Gaddis, Jr., 6-1, 185 (151 carries, 623 yards, 4 TDs)
- RB Dylan Schneider, Sr., 6-2, 190 (14 carries, 171 yards)
- DL Josh Demayo, Sr., 5-10, 260 (65 tackles)
- ATH Colt Conway, Jr., 5-10, 159 (9 catches, 103 yards; 55 tackles)
- LB Zane Koskelin, Soph., 5-9, 170
2013 outlook: It wasn’t a very fun 2012 for the Panthers, who suffered through their fifth consecutive losing season. Mabank failed to win a district game as it was outscored 188-35 by 15-3A opponents. The Panthers bring back only eight starters from last year’s group, but that could be a good thing as Mabank’s junior varsity posted a 6-4 record last fall.
However, major improvement for this season may be difficult with the amount of talent league opponents are bringing to the field every Friday night. A postseason berth could be difficult to come by, but fielding a more competitive team on a consistent basis would be a step in the right direction.