The 2012 season featured a District 9-2A Division I race that ended with three teams tied atop the league standings at 4-1 apiece.

Tatum, White Oak, and Troup were those teams, and ETSN.fm expects that trio to once again lead the way in the district race this fall.

All three teams have key playmakers back and can make a case to be the 9-2A D-I favorite entering the season, but don't forget about Jefferson and Harmony, which were competitive district foes a year ago and have even more incentive this year with a fourth playoff spot added to the equation.

 

District 9-2A Division I Preview

Troup's Blake Lynch fires a pass during 7-on-7 league competition at Bullard's Panther Stadium on June 17. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • Qwaylen Chumley, Sr., FB/LB, Sabine
  • Ryan Cox, Jr., OL, Jefferson
  • Dylan Gale, Sr., QB, White Oak
  • Blake Lynch, Jr., QB, Troup
  • Tim McCoy, Sr., DB, Harmony
  • Jansen McCurdy, Sr., WR, White Oak
  • Deyanta Roberson, Jr., WR, Tatum
  • Chris Smith, Sr., LB, Jefferson
  • Kyshaun Smith, Jr., LB, Tatum
  • Tristen Walsworth, Sr., OL, Troup

 

TOP GAMES

  • Oct. 11 -- White Oak at Tatum
  • Oct. 11 -- Troup at Jefferson
  • Oct. 18 -- Tatum at Troup
  • Oct. 25 -- Troup at White Oak
  • Oct. 26 -- Harmony vs. Jefferson (Saturday, Longview's Lobo Stadium)

 

1. Tatum Eagles

Tatum LB Kyshaun Smith. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Andy Evans

2012 finish: 9-3 (Class 2A Division I Region III semifinalist)

Returning starters: 2 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Kyshaun Smith, Jr., 6-1, 175 (80 tackles)
  • WR Deyanta Roberson, Jr., 6-1, 175
  • DT Keaton Blanton, Sr., 6-3, 310
  • LB Devon Boyd, Jr., 5-10, 175 (60 tackles)
  • ATH Klifton Willis, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • RB/DB Jaylen Shans, Sr., 5-10, 170 (400 rushing yards)
  • RB/LB Demetrius Hill, Sr., 5-11, 190
  • DT Collin Gage, Sr., 5-11, 200 (64 tackles)
  • QB J.D. Taylor, Soph., 6-1, 175
  • OL Dillon Moore, Sr., 6-0, 240
  • WR Dyllan Fields, Sr., 6-1, 170
  • OL Jaylon Ward, Sr.
  • ATH Chris Starling, Sr.
  • DB Jordan Nelson, Jr.
  • QB Chaston Brooks, Jr.

 

Tatum RB/LB Demetrius Hill. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Tatum averaged 32.5 points per game in 2012 and nine of those 11 starters are gone.

But as with any other year, Tatum should be very athletic. Coach Andy Evans ushers in a new crop of playmakers, including sophomore quarterback J.D. Taylor, who will have veterans such as Jaylen Shans and underclassmen like Deyanta Roberson to depend on as he takes the quarterbacking duties from the graduated Darian Brooks.

While Shans ran for 400 yards last season, much of the offseason buzz concerning the Eagles' ground game, which lost leading rusher Shaq Johnson to graduation, has centered on senior Demetrius Hill. Hill is a big, physical, fast runner who could give Tatum the type of game-breaker the Eagles are accustomed to having.

Two things are certain: Roberson will give Tatum a serious vertical threat in the passing game, and the Eagles should once again have plenty of options to hand the ball.

Tatum WR Deyanta Roberson. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Five starters return from a defensive unit that yielded 21.2 points per game a year ago, although that number was only 18.6 prior to the 49 points Franklin scored in a 19-point third-round victory to eliminate the Eagles.

If Tatum is to once again holds its District 9-2A Division I foes to 17.0 points per game as it did in 2012, then the Eagles need a big season out of defensive tackle Keaton Blanton. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound mammoth in the middle must compensate for the loss of Tristan Durden, a similarly-sized tackle who signed with Grambling State.

If Blanton and Collin Gage play well up front, that should make the Eagles' linebackers and secondary that much more effective. Tatum's back seven is perhaps the strength of its team. Kyshaun Smith, Devon Boyd, and Klifton Willis lead one of Class 2A's most athletic secondaries. Smith, who had 80 tackles as a sophomore, is primed for a huge junior season.

Tatum DT Keaton Blanton. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

2013 Outlook: Two-thirds of Tatum's starters are gone from last year's nine-win club, but the Eagles will likely once again reload. There is no doubt a significant amount of inexperience on both sides of the ball, but the ceiling is very high for this Tatum team, as it always seems to be.

Tatum's first two games of the 9-2A D-I schedule could decide the Eagles' league championship hopes. Tatum edged White Oak 28-21 in last year's district opener before falling 14-10 to Troup. Those three teams tied at 4-1, but Tatum got the top playoff seed via points tiebreaker.

Don't be surprised if the district title once again comes down to those three. White Oak has the most experience, Troup might have the best player (junior quarterback Blake Lynch), but Tatum could have the most athleticism team-wide and the highest potential of the bunch. That's no surprise to anyone who has ever followed Tatum football. Tatum will once again be dangerous in the postseason and should be a legitimate contender for the Region III crown.

 

2. White Oak Roughnecks

White Oak QB Dylan Gale. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Gerry Stanford

2012 finish: 9-3 (Class 2A Division I Region III area finalist)

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Dylan Gale, Sr., 5-8, 165 (124 of 244, 2,281 yards, 24 TDs, 8 INTs; 2 rush TDs)
  • WR/DB Jansen McCurdy, Sr., 6-0, 165 (49 catches, 1,268 yards, 18 TDs; 22 tackles, 4 INTs)
  • WR/DE Hayden Nichols, 6-3, 215 (17 catches, 278 yards; 41 tackles, 1 sack, 2 recoveries)
  • WR/S Gabe Michael, Sr., 6-1, 175 (26 catches, 499 yards, 3 TDs; 66 tackles, 3 INTs)
  • OL/DL Jason Heim, Sr., 6-1, 260 (46 tackles, 2 sacks)
  • DT D'Quantis Sutton, Sr., 5-11, 260 (89 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 recovery)
  • DT Kris Layman, Sr., 5-9, 245 (77 tackles, 3 sacks)
  • DB Jake Pullen, Jr. (63 tackles, 1 INT)
  • DB Cass Carr, Sr. (31 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
  • OL Mickey McFall, Sr.
  • RB/LB Riley Lakin, Sr. (101 tackles, 1 INT)

 

White Oak WR/DB Jansen McCurdy. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Head coach Gerry Stanford has transformed White Oak from an old-fashioned, run-heavy offense to the shotgun-based spread attack that has taken over football on all levels. White Oak has transitioned well, as evidenced by returning starting quarterback Dylan Gale's almost 2,300 passing yards and two dozen scoring tosses a year ago.

That's when Gale and company averaged 32.3 points per game. Seven of those starters are back, including big-play receiver Jansen McCurdy, who averaged a staggering 25.9 yards per catch last season. McCurdy's 18 touchdown catches were third in East Texas behind recent Baylor commit K.D Cannon of Mount Pleasant (25) and Mississippi State signee Fred Ross of John Tyler (22).

But just because White Oak throws the ball much more than it once did doesn't mean the Roughnecks aren't running the ball. Perhaps White Oak's most important offensive task entering 2013 is replacing last season's district MVP, Hunter Owens, who ran for 1,129 yards. Riley Lakin could get the first crack at replacing Owens, who accounted for 16 total touchdowns.

White Oak DT D'Quantis Sutton. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: White Oak returns eight starters from a unit that surrendered 23.8 points per game last season, when the Roughnecks reached the second round of the Region III playoffs.

Stanford recently said that replacing Tyler Loven and Owens -- White Oak's top two 2012 tacklers with 190 and 127, respectively -- may be the most important item on the Roughnecks' to-do list. Both were all-state selections at linebacker.

Whoever replaces them will have experienced playmakers in front of and behind them. Hayden Nichols, D'Quantis Sutton, Kris Layman, and Jason Heim got a lot of playing time on the defensive line last season, while a slew of defensive backs return. Twelve of the Roughnecks' 16 interceptions are back, including four from McCurdy and three apiece from Gabe Michael and Cass Carr.

White Oak WR/DB Gabe Michael. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

2013 Outlook: With 15 returning starters from last year's nine-win squad, White Oak has the most experience back of District 9-2A Division I's top contenders.

The Roughnecks' only league loss last season was the 28-21 home defeat in the district opener to Tatum, which hosts this year's game Oct. 11 at Eagle Stadium. An Oct. 25 home game against Troup is also a key meeting.

Stanford's Roughnecks have as good a chance as anybody to claim the league crown. Tatum may have more speed at more positions, but the difference in 15 returning starters and seven, which is how many Tatum has, has to count for something. Regardless of which team finishes atop the league standings, ETSN.fm expects both to be very tough outs come November in the Region III playoffs.

 

3. Troup Tigers

Troup RB Marcus Kincade. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Dennis Alexander

2012 finish: 9-2 (Class 2A Division I Region III bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/S Blake Lynch, Jr., 6-3, 193
  • OL Tristen Walsworth, Sr., 6-0, 255
  • RB Marcus Kincade, Jr., 6-0, 160
  • ATH Hitachi Lydia, Sr., 6-0, 170
  • RB D'Luis West, Jr., 5-8, 200
  • ATH Marquis Davis, Sr., 5-11, 210
  • WR/DB Brandon Hearon, Sr.
  • DB Anfernee Ross, Sr.
  • RB Marcus Davis, Jr., 5-10, 180
  • LB Dakota Deese, Sr.

 

Troup OL Tristen Walsworth. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: One look at who Troup has lining up at the skill positions and it's obvious that Tatum and White Oak don't have a monopoly on District 9-2A Division I's playmakers.

Blake Lynch is back after a breakout sophomore season that saw the big, athletic quarterback account for more than 1,500 total yards. He owns offers from Baylor and Mississippi State and should continue to collect offers, especially after measuring 6-foot-4 in shoes and running a laser-timed 4.51-second 40-yard dash in May at the ETSN.fm Football Recruiting Combine at APEC training facility in Tyler.

Speaking of the combine, Troup offensive lineman Tristen Walsworth benched 225 pounds 20 times at the event. He'll be a key blocker for a bevy of ball-carrying options, including juniors Marcus Kincade and D'Luis West, who arrives in Troup after rushing for 407 yards at Bullard Brook Hill last season. Then there's Hitachi Lydia on the perimeter as a legitimate threat in the passing game.

Troup RB D'Luis West. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

While six starters are gone from last year's offense that averaged 30.6 points per game, the five who are back are more than capable of helping the Tigers match that production in 2013.

Defense: On the other hand, losing eight starters from last year's defense will likely make for some growing pains on that side of the ball. Troup limited its opponents to 16.3 points per game in 2012, a number that will be difficult to match with only three returning starters.

There is, however, some experience in the secondary, which should come in handy against an opponent such as White Oak. Don't be surprised if Lynch gets some playing time at safety, where his combination of size and athleticism should make him dangerous.

Troup ATH Hitachi Lydia. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

2013 Outlook: With much of the offseason hype in 9-2A D-I surrounding the Tatum vs. White Oak matchup, Troup has seemed to somewhat fly under the radar. After all, the Tigers were the only district opponent to beat Tatum last year, when they notched a 14-10 victory in the second week of league play.

Troup could once again be a dangerous team in the district race, especially if the Tigers' new defensive starters quickly transition into their roles. Lynch, Kincade, West, Lydia, and the Tigers' offense should be able to put up some serious numbers.

Troup beat Jefferson, Tatum, and Harmony by four points apiece last season, averaging only 20.0 points per game in those wins and scoring only 28 in a 10-point loss to White Oak. If the Tigers can get better production -- which is very possible considering the offensive playmakers veteran coach Dennis Alexander will have at his disposal -- they will once again contend for the league championship and should make it beyond the first round of the playoffs, which they couldn't quite accomplish a year ago.

 

4. Jefferson Bulldogs

Coach: Derek Simmons

2012 finish: 7-3

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL Ryan Cox, Jr., 6-5, 293
  • LB Chris Smith, Sr., 5-10, 185 (132 tackles, 24 for loss, 5 sacks)
  • DT Landon Templin, Sr., 6-2, 272 (71 tackles)
  • QB Braydon Varnell, Sr. (1,128 passing yards, 10 TDs; 223 rushing yards, 3 TDs)
  • DB Terrence Whitaker, Sr. (6 INTs)
  • DB Corey Smith, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • DT Rod Smith, Sr., 6-0, 276
  • OL Kemerick Luster, Jr., 6-2, 270
  • RB Zhymell Bowie, Jr., 5-10, 180

 

Jefferson OL Ryan Cox. (Courtesy 247Sports.com)

Offense: Jefferson's biggest task is replacing Deion Williams, the tailback who signed with Southern Arkansas after leading the Bulldogs in rushing each of the last three seasons.

Williams averaged 143.4 rushing yards per game last season, when he ran for 23 touchdowns and gained 8.4 yards per carry. That leaves a significant hole on offense, but the Bulldogs have shown in the past that they can find new faces to tote the rock.

Whoever takes over those duties -- perhaps junior Zhymell Bowie -- has a burly offensive line and a veteran quarterback to help him. Ryan Cox is a Division I FBS prospect at offensive tackle, while Braydon Varnell had a solid season as a junior. They will be key pieces in Jefferson's quest to replace seven graduated offensive starters.

Defense: Jefferson returns five starters from a unit that allowed 22.6 points per game. That figure jumped to 28.6 during the Bulldogs' 2-3 District 9-2A Division I performance, which ended in 31-14 and 44-27 losses to Tatum and White Oak, respectively.

Nevertheless, the front seven should be strong. Linebacker Chris Smith is back after a huge junior season. He'll once again have plenty of protection up front from a big defensive line that includes Landon Templin and Rod Smith.

That strong defensive front should serve the Bulldogs well in a district that features potent rushing attacks from just about everyone Jefferson will face. Terrence Whitaker should be one of the district's top defensive backs after picking off half a dozen passes a year ago.

2013 Outlook: The UIL's addition of a fourth playoff spot is a welcomed sight for teams from leagues such as 9-2A D-I, which has what are probably at least five postseason-caliber squads.

Jefferson started last season 7-1 before the aforementioned season-ending losses to Tatum and White Oak, but with an extra playoff spot available this fall, matching that 2-3 district record could get the Bulldogs in the playoffs. Coming from such a strong league might even mean that Jefferson could give a No. 1 seed from another district a tough time in the bi-district round.

Oct. 26 at Harmony is a key date for Jefferson. That game has the potential to decide one of the four playoff spots from 9-2A D-I.

 

5. Harmony Eagles

Harmony DB Tim McCoy. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Tim Russell

2012 finish: 5-5

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 9 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/DB Tim McCoy, Sr., 6-0, 190 (74 carries, 297 yards, 7 TDs; 99 tackles, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries)
  • LB Levi Thompson, Sr., 5-11, 210 (121 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery)
  • RB Juan Montoya, Sr., 5-10, 185 (79 carries, 567 yards, 6 TDs)
  • WR/P Jacob Fielden, Sr. (19 catches, 245 yards)
  • OL Brandon Murphy, Sr., 6-2, 300
  • OL Riley Henson, Sr., 6-1, 280
  • LB Ethan Edwards, Sr. (86 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 sack, 3 forced fumbles)
  • DL John Phillips, Sr. (49 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 5 recoveries)
  • RB/DL Eric Contreras, Jr. (45 carries, 333 yards, 1 TD; 17 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 recovery)
  • LB Kevin Reeves, Jr., 6-0, 220 (18 tackles, 1 recovery)
  • ATH Micah Ross, Soph., 6-0, 175
  • QB/DB Zach Smith, Jr., 6-0, 190 (23 tackles, 1 recovery)
  • DL Landon Wiggington, Jr. (29 tackles, 7 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)

 

Harmony RB Juan Montoya. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Harmony averaged 25.8 points per game during last year's .500 season, but the Eagles return seven starters who aim to improve on that number.

The biggest losses to graduation are quarterback Alan Peralta and receiver Lucas Askew, who signed with Texas State. Peralta accounted for almost 1,600 total yards, including a team-high 676 rushing yards, plus eight touchdown passes and nine rushing touchdowns. The 6-foot-6 Askew led Harmony with 32 grabs for 378 yards and five touchdowns.

The good news is 63.5 percent of Harmony's 2,128 rushing yards are back. Juan Montoya, Tim McCoy, and Eric Contreras give head coach Tim Russell multiple ground-game options. Harmony also has some hefty linemen back, including Brandon Murphy and Riley Henson.

Harmony OL Riley Henson. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

If Harmony gets good quarterback play from a new starter, the Eagles should be solid offensively.

Defense: Harmony should be even more consistent on defense, where they return nine starters from a unit that held opponents to 18.5 points per game. Linebacker Levi Thompson and McCoy, a safety, are back after leading Harmony in tackles, combining for 220 stops as juniors.

Linebacker Ethan Edwards is also back to give Harmony three of its top four tacklers from 2012.

Harmony should have a solid defensive front with the return of Landon Wigginton, John Phillilps, and Contreras. The Eagles will need the front six of their 4-2-5 scheme to perform at a higher level this fall after Harmony surrendered 26.8 points per game in last year's five district contests.

Jacob Fielden will be a special teams weapon at punter after earning ETSN.fm Super Team Second Team honors as a junior, when he averaged 43.8 yards on 19 punts, seven of which he put inside 20-yard line.

Harmony WR/P Jacob Fielden. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

2013 Outlook: With the most returning starters (16) of any team in District 9-2A Division I, Harmony could be the darkhorse in the league race. The Eagles played competitive contests in 14- and 16-point losses to Jefferson and Tatum, respectively, and dropped a 20-16 decision to Troup.

Combine those results with how much more returning experience Harmony has than those schools -- none has more than nine starters back -- and the Eagles suddenly look like a playoff contender.

Harmony may not be able to match athletes with the projected top four schools in 9-2A D-I, but Russell and company may not have to if they get good quarterback play, protect the ball, and prevent those opposing athletes from big plays. The fourth playoff berth will make Harmony an even greater threat to reach the postseason for the second time in three seasons. The Oct. 26 home game vs. Jefferson should be a pivotal contest.

 

6. Sabine Cardinals

Sabine QB Collin Gray. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Mark Comfort

2012 finish: 3-7

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • FB/LB Qwaylen Chumley, Sr., 6-0, 205 (1,237 rushing yards, 15 TDs; 7 forced fumbles)
  • QB Collin Gray, Sr., 5-9, 140
  • LB Sam Smith, Sr., 5-8, 190
  • RB/LB Tanner Sharp, Sr.
  • OL/DL Tell DeFreece, Sr.
  • ATH Austin Russell, Sr.
  • ATH Mason Graham, Fr.
  • TE/LB Chase Clifford, Sr.
  • OL/LB Grant Key, Jr.
  • OL/DL Grant Stansberry, Soph.
  • RB Billy Barton, Sr.

 

Sabine TE/LB Chase Clifford. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Sabine will need another big season from Qwaylen Chumley, who led the Cardinals in rushing each of the last two years. Sabine averaged only 17.0 points per game in 2012 and scored 12.5 per game in the final eight games of the year, which saw the Cards go 1-7 (the only win coming from a Waskom forfeit of a 32-0 Wildcat win).

Chumley joins Collin Gray as head coach Mark Comfort's top offensive weapons, but don't overlook Tanner Sharp, who accounted for 109 total yards of offense and one touchdown in a limited role for White Oak last season.

Comfort believes his skill positions will be his team's strength, which is a good sign considering the Cardinals also have a few veteran offensive linemen, including Tell DeFreece, blocking for those ball-carriers.

Sabine LB Sam Smith. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Sabine yielded 33.1 points per game last season, and seven starters return from that unit. Linebacker Sam Smith should be a stalwart in the middle of the Cardinals' defense, while Chumley could also make an impact on the defensive side of the ball after forcing a team-high seven fumbles as a junior.

Chumley and Sharp could man the edges of Sabine's 3-4 scheme with Smith in the middle, giving the Cardinals a solid group of linebackers against District 9-2A Division I's various potent rushing attacks.

2013 Outlook: Sabine made significant strides a year ago in Comfort's first year at the helm. The three victories marked only the second time in the last 10 years that the Cardinals had won that many games in a season, and they were definitely a big improvement over Sabine's 0-10 season in 2011.

Sabine RB Billy Barton. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Obviously the next step for Sabine is making a push for playoff contention. The Cardinals' average margin of defeat in 9-2A D-I play a year ago was 28.2 points, so there's a long way to go.

Sabine must remain consistent when the schedule gets tougher at the end of the non-district slate and into the 9-2A D-I calendar. That, of course, is easier said than done, especially considering that the Cards' district is among the best in 2A in the entire state. In other words, fighting for that fourth playoff spot is probably too much to ask of the 2013 Cardinals, but don't be surprised if they continue to move the program in the right direction under Comfort and his staff.