2013 Football Preview: Gilmer + Kilgore Head Another Strong “District of Doom” Race
Teams from the "District of Doom" have played for state championships two of the first three seasons of its existence.
The 2013 season probably will bring at least another title contender from what many football folks across the state believe is East Texas' deepest league.
Gilmer and Kilgore are consensus preseason top 10 teams after reaching the Division II state title and Division I state semifinals, respectively, a year ago. These perennial powers will lead what is once again a strong district top to bottom.
District 16-3A Preview
- LaDarrin Anthony, Sr., DL, Kilgore
- Tanner Barr, Sr., QB, Gilmer
- Kris Boyd, Jr., RB/CB, Gilmer
- Joseph Clark, Sr., RB/LB, Chapel Hill
- Benny Colbert, Sr., ATH, Kilgore
- Brentavian Henderson, Jr., RB, Bullard
- Morgan Knight, Sr., OL/DL, Spring Hill
- Daylon Mack, Jr., DT, Gladewater
- D.D. Mumphrey, Sr., DB, Chapel Hill
- Wesley Thompson, Sr., LB, Chapel Hill
- Josh Walker, Sr., RB/LB, Gilmer
- Clay Wiley, Sr., OL, Kilgore
- Sept. 27 -- Chapel Hill at Henderson
- Oct. 4 -- Gilmer at Chapel Hill
- Oct. 12 -- Henderson vs. Gilmer
- Oct. 25 -- Chapel Hill at Kilgore
- Nov. 1 -- Kilgore at Henderson
- Nov. 8 -- Gilmer at Kilgore
- Nov. 8 -- Henderson at Gladewater
1. Gilmer Buckeyes
Coach: Jeff Traylor
2012 finish: 14-2 (Class 3A Division II state finalist)
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/OLB Josh Walker, Sr., 6-1, 220 (committed to Texas A&M; 92 carries, 622 yards, 15 TDs; 19 catches, 275 yards, 3 TDs; 114 tackles, 9 sacks, 31 QB pressures, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries)
- RB/DB Kris Boyd, Jr., 6-0, 175 (161 carries, 1,276 yards, 19 TDs; 20 catches, 226 yards, 2 TDs; 18 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 3 PBUs)
- QB Tanner Barr, Sr., 6-1, 180 (244 of 404, 2,946 yards, 25 TDs, 14 INTs; 140 carries, 903 yards, 5 TDs)
- HB/LB Jaidon Parrish, Sr., 6-0, 185 (38 catches, 493 yards, 4 TDs)
- RB Jamel Jackson, Jr., 5-8, 170 (82 carries, 635 yards, 8 TDs)
- WR/DB Devondrick Dixon, Sr., 5-9, 180 (committed to Texas State; 13 catches, 290 yards, 3 TDs; 22 carries, 226 yards, 1 TD; 37 tackles, INT, 11 PBUs)
- WR Chase Tate, Jr., 5-7, 150 (56 catches, 491 yards, 3 TDs; 40 carries, 265 yards, 1 TD)
- OLB Demarco Boyd, Soph., 6-0, 205 (60 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 23 QB pressures)
- LB Ardarius Johnson, Sr., 5-9, 160 (72 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries, 3 PBUs, 5 QB pressures)
- WR Desmond Pollard, Jr., 6-1, 180
- K Pablin Olivares, Sr., 5-9, 165 (4 of 5 FGs, 64 of 67 PATs)
Offense: Last season was supposed to be a down-year for Gilmer offensively, but all the Buckeyes did was average 37.4 points per game. Some might consider those numbers to be a significant departure from what Gilmer normally produces, but the offense really picked up steam as the season progressed. Through the first five games of 2012, Gilmer scored 28.2 a game. After that, the Buckeyes averaged more than 41 points.
Barr, who starred at safety as a sophomore, took to the new QB role nicely and accounted for almost 4,000 total yards. He'll have multiple of weapons at his disposal in 2013, including Kris Boyd, who burst onto the scene as a sophomore. Walker, who played full-time on defense, also enjoyed great rushing success in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Just like in recent years, the Buckeyes are very deep at receiver. Parrish, Tate, and Dixon should see most of the action, but Traylor and his staff always do a phenomenal job of spreading the wealth in the passing game. One name to watch is Desmond Pollard, who had a monster 7-on-7 summer.
Defense: Gilmer allowed more than 24 points per game in 2012, but expect that number to come down with six defensive starters returning. Walker is the jewel at linebacker. His ability to rush the passer off the edge of Gilmer's 3-4 scheme and make plays sideline-to-sideline against the run make him one of the best defenders in East Texas. He and Chapel Hill's Joseph Clark are two of the region's hardest hitters.
Demarco Boyd had breakthrough success last season as a freshman lining up opposite Walker and should be a tough matchup for opposing offensive lines. Parrish and Johnson are quick to the ball and should give Gilmer one of the most complete linebacking corps in the district.
The secondary, just like receiver, is extremely deep and talented. It remains to be seen how much Kris Boyd plays at corner after starting at running back in 2012, but conventional wisdom has him playing much more of role on defense, where he already holds four Big 12 offers. Dixon is also a two-way threat, capable of making big plays in the secondary.
2013 outlook: Some football fans believed that Gilmer may have been a year ahead of schedule in 2012. The Buckeyes developed quickly and reached the state championship game with the help of several underclassmen.
Now that many of those players are seniors, there's one goal on the minds of Buckeyes players and fans: Gilmer's third state title since 2004. A tough non-district schedule coupled with having a big target on its back in arguably the deepest district in the state should once again prepare the Buckeyes for a long run through the postseason. Don't be surprised if Gilmer, which starts the season ranked No. 3 by the Associated Press, reaches the Division II state championship game.
-- by Clint Buckley
2. Kilgore Bulldogs
Coach: Mike Wood
2012 finish: 11-2 (Class 3A Division I state semifinalist)
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- ATH Benny Colbert, Sr., 5-10, 170 (9 catches, 123 yards; 11 carries, 39 yards, 1 TD; 54 tackles, 6 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 7 PBUs, 2 kick blocks)
- DL LaDarrin Anthony, Sr., 6-0, 257 (114 tackles, 24 for loss, 12 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries)
- OL Clay Wiley, Sr., 6-2, 285
- WR/DB Aaron Foy, Sr., 5-11, 165 (22 catches, 479 yards, 5 TDs; 16 tackles, 1 forced fumble)
- DL D.Q. Scott, Sr., 6-0, 252 (51 tackles, 12 for loss, 8 1/2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 15 QB hurries)
- S Jake Brantley, Sr., 5-10, 185 (109 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
- RB/LB Kevrin Justice, Jr., 5-11, 170 (64 carries, 569 yards, 7 TDs; 56 tackles, 9 for loss)
- OL Blake Guthrie, Jr., 6-2, 251
- TE/DE Jarod Wood, Jr., 6-3, 180 (7 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD)
- C Nolan Grush, Jr.
- LB Kris Haynes, Jr. (83 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
- WR/DB Joseph Shepherd, Sr. (1 receiving TD; 23 tackles, 4 INTs)
- RB/DB Davieonta "JuJu" Brown, Sr. (156 carries, 753 yards, 9 TDs; 19 tackles)
- LB Chad Bornes, Sr. (41 tackles, 5 for loss, 2 1/2 sacks)
- WR Nick Orange, Jr., 6-3, 180 (11 catches, 176 yards, 3 TDs)
- QB/ATH Xaviar Gaona, Jr., 6-4, 165
Offense: Kilgore's brand of offense -- big, physical offensive linemen leading the way for athletic running backs -- should be alive and well in 2013.
Replacing Cooper Coldiron is the top priority after Kilgore's 2012 starting quarterback accounted for more than 1,600 total yards and 18 total touchdowns. Coldiron took care of the ball and embodied the "game manager" role Kilgore often wants from its quarterback.
Benny Colbert is the early frontrunner to replace him. Kilgore's best cover corner in 2012, Colbert will give the Bulldogs a very athletic option under center. Throw in tailbacks JuJu Brown and Kevrin Justice behind a veteran offensive line led by Clay Wiley, and the the 'Dogs have a good chance at improving on the 31.6 points per game they averaged in 2012.
Don't forget about Aaron Foy on the perimeter. He just might be Kilgore's most athletic player and is a serious threat in the passing game.
Defense: Kilgore had arguably the best defense in East Texas last season. The Bulldogs allowed 7.4 points per game in the regular season and 11.1 per contest for the entire season.
Seven starters return from that unit, which will boast a talented defensive line and a stingy secondary. LaDarrin Anthony and D.Q. Scott combined for 20 1/2 sacks as juniors and are back to head the front of Kilgore's 4-3 scheme. Outside linebacker Jake Brantley has moved to safety in the offseason and joins Colbert, Foy, Joseph Shepherd, and others to give head coach Mike Wood what should be one of the best secondaries in Class 3A.
The big hole is middle linebacker, the spot that A.J. Davis' graduation left vacant. The Sam Houston State signee led Kilgore in tackles each of the last three seasons and was the backbone of the Bulldogs' defense. Kris Haynes and Chad Bornes could be the next players to step up at linebacker after solid 2012 campaigns.
2013 Outlook: A mistake-filled 42-32 Division I state semifinal loss to Stephenville left the Bulldogs aching for what could have been last December. Despite the graduations of Coldiron, Davis, and a few other key veterans such as Hector Peralez and Cornelius "Spike" Bell, expectations are very high entering 2013.
Kilgore may very well get a shot at redemption this December. The usual Bulldog strength and physicality exists along both lines, while the perimeter athletes are almost all back. Kilgore starts the season ranked No. 6 by the Associated Press and is a serious contender to repeat as Region II champion in the Division I bracket, though the addition of a fourth playoff team from each district could bump a team like Argyle into the D-I bracket this fall.
Even if it does, Kilgore probably likes its chances. The Nov. 8 home game against Gilmer could be for the District 16-3A championship, like it was last year at Buckeye Stadium. Win or lose, Kilgore will enter the playoffs as one of the most feared teams in its bracket and will likely get a chance to defend its Region II crown.
Who knows ... maybe the 'Dogs will get a second state semifinal shot at Stephenville.
-- by Gabe Brooks
3. Chapel Hill Bulldogs
Coach: Thomas Sitton
2012 finish: 3-7
Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/LB Joseph Clark, Sr., 5-9, 180 (committed to Texas Tech; 94 carries, 712 yards, 6 TDs; 104 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack, 3 INTs, 3 forced fumbles)
- RB/LB Wesley Thompson, Sr., 6-1, 185 (37 carries, 221 yards, 2 TDs; 94 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs)
- QB Andrew Black, Sr., 6-1, 180 (66 of 147, 1,070 yards, 12 TDs, 10 INTs; 80 carries, 393 yards, 2 TDs)
- DB D.D. Mumphrey, Sr., 6-0, 185
- ATH Reggie King, Soph., 5-10, 175 (16 catches, 245 yards, 2 TDs; 17 tackles)
- OL/DL Keith Minor, Sr., 6-3, 237 (67 tackles, 7 for loss, 1 forced fumble)
- TE/DL Kevone Kennedy, Sr., 6-2, 230
- WR/DB Sammy Guzman, Sr., 6-0, 180 (8 catches, 103 yards, 3 TDs; 1 INT)
- WR/DB Gabriel Robinson, Sr., 5-8, 160 (14 catches, 200 yards, TD; 19 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PBUs)
- OL Shaquille Warren, Sr., 6-3, 235
- OL Thad Bevis, Sr.
- OL Jeremy West, Soph., 6-4, 250
Offense: Chapel Hill's offense took a step back from the level it performed in 2010 and 2011, averaging only 21.4 points per game a season ago. But considering the Bulldogs were playing with 11 new starters in one of the toughest districts in the state, that number doesn't seem so low.
Six offensive starters are back in 2013, and big things are expected. Black struggled with consistency last season after a strong sophomore season at Jacksonville and figures to be the key on this side of the ball if the Bulldogs are to return to their former offensive prowess. King could be a big factor in the passing game from his fullback/H-back position.
The strength of Chapel Hill's spread attack has always been its ability to run the ball with authority. Sitton is hopes his backs can pick up where they left off in district a season ago. In six 16-3A games, the Bulldogs averaged almost 250 rushing yards. Chapel Hill returns three of its top four rushers in 2013, including Clark, who averaged 7.6 yards per carry. The offensive line will be a strength as well with the return of Warren, Minor, and Bevis.
Defense: This is where Chapel Hill should be especially sound. Half a dozen starters return on this side of the ball, several of whom who happen to be their best overall athletes.
Minor and Kennedy could be forces up front, while Thompson teams with Clark, a Texas Tech defensive back pledge, to form one of the fastest and most physical linebacking tandems in the area. The secondary could be the best thing about the Chapel Hill defense. Mumphrey and Guzman are rangy and hard-hitting safeties, while Robinson is capable of locking down opposing receivers on a consistent basis.
With so many defensive playmakers on the field, expect Chapel Hill to improve upon the 29.9 points per game the Bulldogs allowed in 2012.
2013 outlook: Many predicted a fall-off from 2011 after Chapel Hill lost all but two starters from its 3A Division I state championship team. Wholesale personnel changes and a brutal schedule all added up to a 3-7 finish, the worst in Sitton's four-year tenure.
But expectations have risen, and many are anticipating a turnaround season for the Bulldogs this fall. If the offense can limit mistakes and the defense can cut down opponents' big plays, Chapel Hill will once again be a factor.
Even if the Bulldogs lose a few games during the regular season, they could be a threat for a deep run in the Division I Region II playoff bracket.
-- by Clint Buckley
4. Henderson Lions
Coach: Phil Castles
2012 finish: 9-5 (Class 3A Division II Region II finalist)
Returning starters: 3 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- DT Brandon Armstrong, Sr., 5-9, 260 (56 tackles, 6 for loss, 3 sacks)
- WR/DB Tre' Hollins, Sr., 5-11, 175 (11 catches, 161 yards, 1 TD; 32 tackles, 1 INT)
- TE Jordan Dickeson, Sr., 6-0, 175 (10 catches, 80 yards, 1 TD)
- RB/DB Randy Davis, Jr., 6-0, 175 (56 carries, 300 yards, 1 TD; 12 tackles, 1 recovery)
- LB Dalton Goode, Jr., 5-11, 190 (42 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 1/2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble)
- FS Conner Dotson, Sr. (51 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs)
- DE Jake Staneart, Sr., 6-3, 200 (20 tackles, 5 for loss)
- DE Ta'Ondrick Thurkill, Sr., 6-1, 220 (17 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 sacks, 2 recoveries)
- RB Zedrick Lister, Sr., 5-9, 170
- RB Jeremiah Boone, Soph., 6-0, 200
- QB Zane Boles, Jr., 6-5, 200
Offense: Henderson will experience an offensive overhaul for the 2013 season, which is its first since 2009 without Patrick "Monsta" Brown running routes, taking handoffs, or throwing passes.
Brown will be greatly missed after accounting for almost 2,000 total yards of offense last year, when he ran for 1,391 yards and 19 scores. Diamante Wright is also gone after rushing for 1,372 yards and 17 scores.
New head coach Phil Castles will install a multiple I-formation attack after the Lions were a shotgun-based team under previous head coach Dickey Meeks, who led the Lions to a 33-10 record during the last three years, the first of which ended in Henderson's only state championship (2010 Class 3A Division I). While only three starters return, Castles should have options in the ground game, including Randy Davis, who flashed potential in limited action last year. Zedrick Lister and Jeremiah Boone could also emerge as ball carriers.
Matching the 33.3 points per game Henderson averaged a year ago may be difficult, especially early in the season, for eight new starters working under a new staff.
Defense: Graduation cost Henderson some defensive playmakers as well, including leading tackler Jamaal Kind and athletic veterans Arqez Walton and J'Korrie Centers. Bo Brady is also gone from his defensive end spot, where he racked up 30 sacks during the last two seasons.
But multiple defensive line veterans return. Brandon Armstrong is the anchor of the five returning starters after accumulating almost 60 tackles from the interior a year ago. Jake Staneart and Ta'Ondrick Thurkill also gained valuable experience last season. Linebacker Dalton Goode and safety Connor Dotson could be two of the Lions' top tacklers this fall.
Henderson held opponents to 22.3 points per game last year. While more than half of those starters are gone, that's not an unrealistic goal this fall, especially considering that athletic players such as Davis could see more playing time on this side of the ball.
2013 Outlook: With 14 starters gone from last year's Division II state quarterfinalist team, Henderson faces an uphill battle reaching the same heights as the last three years. The Lions have played at least four playoff games three years in a row, but aiming for a playoff run of similar length is probably too much to ask of Castles and his staff, who must rebuild the Lions' graduation-depleted roster.
Nevertheless, there's talent in Henderson, as always. Davis and Boone are names to remember for the next couple of seasons. Zane Boles could join them in that group if he wins the starting quarterback job. He certainly has the frame at 6-foot-5.
Henderson will be tough up front defensively, but won't have Air Force signee Nick Siler and company on the O-line. If a rebuilt offensive front succeeds early, the Lions should once again be tough. But the most realistic expectations entering the season are probably for the Lions to be in strong contention for the third or fourth playoff berth from 16-3A and be a difficult first-round matchup for a District 13-3A opponent. The Lions' playoff chances likely boil down to beating the teams that they should (Spring Hill and Bullard) and at least one of the other two teams that may be in contention for the final two playoff spots (Chapel Hill and Gladewater).
-- by Gabe Brooks
5. Gladewater Bears
Coach: Jerrod Baugh
2012 finish: 3-7
Returning starters: 1 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- DT Daylon Mack, Jr., 6-1, 311 (62 tackles, 16 for loss, 6 sacks, 6 recoveries, 1 defensive TD)
- LB Clint Sorrells, Sr., 5-11, 175 (28 tackles, 2 sacks)
- DL Kenneth Gossett, Sr., 5-7, 165 (13 tackles, 1 sack)
- RB James Reese, Jr., 5-9, 155
- QB Nick Canaguier, Jr., 5-10, 140
- OL Thorn Berry, Jr., 6-2, 250
- OL Cody Brackeen, Jr., 6-0, 205
- OL Justin Stadtfeld, Sr., 6-3, 310
- LB Austin Blanco, Soph., 5-10, 180
- DB Daylon Gordon, Jr., 5-10, 155
- DB Jazsten Tyiska, Jr., 5-7, 150
- WR Bailey Glenn, Jr., 5-7, 130
Offense: Almost all of Gladewater's 2012 offense is gone, which you can look at as a good thing or a bad thing. The bad: Derrick Daniels and Tyler Price combined for 1,891 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns last year before graduating. Daniels accounted for 1,707 total yards of offense and 15 total scores. Graduated receiver Nick Johnson gained 478 total yards and scored six touchdowns.
The good: Gladewater averaged only 17.2 points per game last season. Meaning, perhaps the Bears' fresh start in 2013 could kickstart the offense. After starting the year 3-0, Gladewater lost its final seven games and a lack of offensive production was a major factor. The Bears averaged only 11.6 points in that stretch, including 10.2 per contest in a winless District 16-3A performance.
Gladewater appears to have decent size up front, especially in Jordan Stadtfeld and Thorn Berry. They should create holes for new ball carriers James Reese and Darryl Polk, small but speedy run-game options.
Defense: No player in East Texas has more buzz surrounding him entering the 2013 season than Gladewater's monster in the middle, Daylon Mack.
The 311-pound junior was a beast in his debut varsity season last year. He now holds 13 Division I FBS offers -- the most of any East Texan in the 2015 class -- as he's the consensus No.1 player in the region and a nationally-recognized college prospect. Scout.com recently ranked him the nation's 10th overall recruit in the 2015 class. Orangebloods.com lists Mack as the state's No. 1 recruit in that class, while 247Sports.com and Scout.com both call Mack the No. 2 player in Texas in 2015. Mack's offer list is a veritable who's who of major college football programs: Alabama, Arkansas, Baylor, Clemson, Florida State, LSU, Miami, Oklahoma, SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech.
Teaming with fellow 300-pound tackle LaDarrian Anthony, he gave head coach Jarrod Baugh a Class 5A-caliber interior defensive duo in 2012. Mack won't have Anthony beside him this year, but he will once again anchor Gladewater's defense, which performed well most of 2012 despite the offense's struggles. Gladewater held opponents to 24.3 points per game last year. With an improved offensive effort, that number should continue to decline.
2013 Outlook: Mack is the cornerstone of a 2015 class at Gladewater that has given hope to coaches and fans alike. In most other 3A districts, this Gladewater team is all but assured a playoff spot this fall. But in District 16-3A, the Bears will start the year as a darkhorse candidate to knock off at least one of the "big four" in hopes to reach the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Most of that 2015 class played junior varsity ball last year and went 9-0-1, while the 2016 class went 8-1 at the freshman level. In all, Gladewater's four sub-varsity teams went a combined 33-1-1 last fall. Yes, that means the seventh- and eighth-grade squads were each 8-0.
As you know, sub-varsity success doesn't always mean varsity success, but the Bears can't be anything but encouraged by their younger classes. With the majority of the 2015 group getting its first big taste of varsity ball this fall, the Bears might still be a year away from contending for a playoff spot. But, if Mack and company mature quickly and get better offensive consistency, Baugh could possess a new threat to the "District of Doom" establishment.
-- by Gabe Brooks
6. Bullard Panthers
Coach: Shannon Wilson
2012 finish: 7-3
Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/LB Brentavian Henderson, Jr., 5-10, 170 (747 rushing yards, 15 TDs; 67 tackles)
- OL Aaron Johnson, Sr., 5-11, 165
- QB Connor Mebane, Sr., 6-0, 170
- WR Brooks Conlee, Sr., 5-11, 160
- OL Dorian Schutt, Jr., 6-2, 235
- OL Caleb Hallford, Jr., 6-1, 230
- RB Austin Skelton, Sr., 5-10, 180
- WR Zach Eschberger, Jr., 6-2, 175
Offense: Graduation wasn't kind to Bullard, which must replace seven starters from an offense that averaged 38.1 points per game in 2012. The two biggest pieces lost were quarterback Colton Mebane and receiver Haden Bryant, who formed one of the top pass-catching duos in the district.
Head coach Shannon Wilson is expected to hand the offense over to Colton's younger brother Connor Mebane, while the receiving slack will be left to several unproven commodities. Henderson was a star on both sides of the ball last season, and a lot will be on his shoulders in the running game after he produced 15 touchdowns as a sophomore. Skelton could provide Bullard with a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield, which may be needed until Mebane and his new fleet of receivers come along.
Up front, Johnson isn't the biggest lineman but his quickness and versatility will be key when Bullard matches up with bigger defensive lines in district. Schutt and Hallford give the Panthers some semblance of size along the front line.
Defense: Bullard had one of the top scoring defenses in the area last season after allowing 17 points per game. But just like the offense, seven starters from 2012's unit must be replaced.
The Panthers have never fielded large defenders, instead relying on quickness and discipline to keep opponents at bay. Henderson could play a big part on defense after giving the Panthers a spark a season ago. Bullard must find playmakers on the line and in the secondary to follow up on last season's success.
2013 outlook: Had this year's format of four playoff teams per 3A district been in place last season, Bullard would've been in the postseason consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992-93. Instead, Bullard finished a game out of the playoffs despite a 7-3 record.
Wilson has his work cut out if the Panthers are to maintain the same level of play from the last two years, but if there's one thing Bullard has proven of late it's this: don't sleep on the Panthers. Even still, with so many personnel changes on each side of the ball, it might be difficult for Bullard to keep up with the rest of the rough-and-tumble District 16-3A.
-- by Clint Buckley
7. Spring Hill Panthers
Coach: Mark Sartain
2012 finish: 3-7
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- OL/DL Morgan Knight, Sr., 6-1, 250 (63 tackles, 3 sacks)
- LB James Wallis, Jr., 6-0, 175 (19 tackles)
- LB Hagen Tucker, Jr., 6-0, 205 (21 tackles)
- QB Jacob Rooney, Sr. (15 of 23, 163 yards, 2 INTs; 38 carries, 84 yards)
- RB Nicolas McKee, Sr. (25 carries, 153 yards, 1 TD; 6 catches, 76 yards)
- RB/LB Trevor Martin, Sr. (15 carries, 82 yards, 1 TD; 5 catches, 53 yards; 36 tackles, 1 sack)
- TE/DE Nick Irwin, Sr., 6-4, 200 (19 tackles, 1 sack)
- DB Garrett Plumlee, Jr., 5-9, 150
- RB/WR Chris Fisher, Sr. (2 receiving TDs)
- OL/DL Mason Jones, Sr.
Offense: Seven starters return for new head coach Mark Sartain, an East Texas veteran with head coaching stops at Cross Roads, Eustace, White Oak, Trinity Valley Community College, and ETBU.
But not among those seven returnees is Ben Hollas, who accounted for 50.4 percent of Spring Hill's total yards last season. Hollas graduated after rushing for 1,180 yards and throwing for 250, tallying 12 rushing touchdowns and throwing for another.
Jacob Rooney is the frontrunner to take over the full-time starting quarterback duties after getting some experience late in the 2012 season. Nicolas McKee and Trevor Martin will be ball-carrying options for Sartain, who led White Oak to a 43-41 record and three playoff appearances during his eight-year tenure from 1995-2002, the last time he was a high school head coach.
Spring Hill averaged only 283.6 total yards and 15.5 points per game last season, when they went 1-5 in District 16-3A. The Panthers' lone win was a 10-6 defensive struggle vs. Gladewater.
Defense: Spring Hill has only three starters back from a defense that yielded 34.3 points per game in 2012, when the Panthers allowed 41 or more points in five of their final six games of the year.
Fortunately for the Panthers, Morgan Knight is back. The two-way lineman is probably Spring Hill's best player and is coming off a strong junior season that saw him record 63 tackles and three sacks from the defensive front. Knight and Nick Irwin could give Spring Hill a strong front-line tandem, while James Wallis and Hagen Tucker could be the Panthers' answers at two linebacker spots.
The inexperience in the secondary will hurt against spread teams like Gilmer, Chapel Hill, and Bullard that like to put the ball in the air often, not to mention in a non-district matchup with pass-happy rival White Oak on Sept. 13.
2013 Outlook: As it has for the first three years of its "District of Doom" experience, Spring Hill will likely fight an uphill battle in 2013. There's plenty of inexperience on both sides of the ball, coupled with Hollas' graduation, which is a huge blow to the Panthers' offensive production.
Spring Hill hasn't reached the playoffs since 2007, which is also the last time the Panthers had a winning record. Being in a loaded district for three of the five seasons since is a big reason for the lack of success.
If you were to handicap the district race right now from Spring Hill's perspective, you would assume that two playoff berths belong to Gilmer and Kilgore. After that, the Panthers would have to compete with typically strong programs in Chapel Hill and Henderson, as well as a young but talented Gladewater team and recently-improved Bullard program, for one of the final two spots. Of those four opponents, Spring Hill faces only one -- Chapel Hill -- at home.
This season is likely not one to end the Panthers' playoff drought, but the veteran Sartain could lay the foundation for Spring Hill's future turnaround.
-- by Gabe Brooks