It was a memorable 2012 for both Hughes Springs and Elysian Fields.

Hughes Springs breezed through the regular season, eventually reaching the state quarterfinals. EF, meanwhile, caught fire in the playoffs and defeated the Mustangs in the quarterfinals to reach the state semifinals for the first time since the Yellow Jackets played for a state title in 2007.

Both teams have significant holes to fill, while Waskom looks to recover from a devastating development that forced the Wildcats to forfeit seven wins that helped keep Waskom from the playoffs for the 20th consecutive season.

 

District 9-2A Division II Preview

Hughes Springs' Michael Martinez. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • Garrett Barton, RB, Sr., New Diana
  • Tanner Davis, RB, Sr., Elysian Fields
  • Kevin Johnson, RB, Jr., Waskom
  • Michael Martinez, FB, Sr., Hughes Springs
  • Chad McKinney, FS, Sr., Hughes Springs
  • Tanner Norman, LB, Sr., Elysian Fields
  • Justin Spurlin, DL/LB, Sr., Waskom
  • Mitchell Ward, DB, Jr., Paul Pewitt
  • Keynan Whetstone, ATH, Sr., Ore City

 

TOP GAMES

  • Waskom at Elysian Fields, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 18
  • New Diana at Paul Pewitt, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 18
  • Elysian Fields at Hughes Springs, 7:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., Oct. 25

 

1. Hughes Springs Mustangs

Hughes Springs' Kyre Lewis. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

Coach: Chris Edwards

2012 finish: 12-1 (Class 2A Division II Region III finalist)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • FB Michael Martinez, 5-9, 185, Sr. (275 carries, 1,933 yards, 29 TDs)
  • FS Chad McKinney, 5-11, 175, Sr. (7 INTs)
  • OL/DL Kyre Lewis, 6-3, 305, Sr.
  • LB Kane Sampson, Sr.
  • DL Hunter Smith, Jr.
  • RB Fred Hopkins, Jr.
  • OL Thomas Wallace, Sr.

 

Offense:It would've been hard to find a more productive running game anywhere in East Texas as the one Hughes Springs put on display in 2012. Led by Martinez's near-2,000-yard season, the Mustangs' powerful Slot-T attack controlled the line of

Hughes Springs' Kane Sampson. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

scrimmage and was responsible for Hughes Springs' scoring average of 44.9 points per game. Coach Edwards lost a few of those pieces to graduation -- the Mustangs have five offensive starters back -- but the ones he has to work with in 2013 should be more than capable of re-loading Hughes Springs' powerful machine. Along with Martinez, the Mustangs welcome back the 300-pound lineman Lewis, who's sure to move a few piles along the front line again this season.

Defense: As dominant a force as the Mustangs were on offense, they might've been even stronger on the defensive side of the ball a year ago. Hughes Springs pitched five shutouts in 2012, including four in a row to begin the district slate. And on the year, the Mustangs held opponents to a meager 12.5 points per game. Duplicating those numbers might be difficult this season with only three defensive starters returning, but those three -- McKinney, Sampson and Smith -- were all key impact players last year.

2013 outlook: Despite losing more than half of its starters off a team that cruised through the regular season before advancing all the way to the state quarterfinals, Hughes Springs still appears to be the front-runner for another district title. The biggest reason for that is the quality of the starters Coach Edwards does bring back. With that being said, don't expect the road to the league championship to be quite as easy for the Mustangs, who outscored district foes by a combined score of 361-40 in 2012.

 

2. Waskom Wildcats

Waskom's Kevin Johnson. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

Coach: Whitney Keeling

2012 finish: 0-10 (forfeited seven victories)

Returning starters: 9 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Kevin Johnson, Jr., 5-10, 165 (1,002 rushing yards, 20 TDs)
  • DL Justin Spurlin, Sr., 5-7, 160 (108 tackles, 30 for loss, 11 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovery)
  • RB June Bug Johnson, Jr., 5-8, 150
  • QB William McKnight, Jr., 6-0, 180 (687 passing yards, 8 TDs; 782 rushing yards, 9 TDs)
  • LB Chan Amie, Soph., 5-10, 160 (144 tackles, 15 for loss, 2 sacks)
  • LB Mike Reason, Jr., 5-9, 145
  • WR Raymond Purvis, Sr., 5-10, 175

 

Offense:What Waskom lacks in size, it definitely makes up for in speed and explosiveness. Despite not having a skill player over 180 pounds, the Wildcats' offense was one of the most productive in the region a season ago. Waskom averaged 38.4

Waskom's Justin Spurlin. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

points per game in 2012, but what seemed to be a solid 7-3 regular season turned into a winless campaign after it was discovered Waskom used an ineligible player in all seven wins. Running backs Kevin Johnson and June Bug Johnson are each capable of eclipsing the 1,000-yard plateau after both shined as a sophomores. McKnight also enjoyed breakout success as a sophomore dual-threat option at quarterback. Add Purvis and the receiving game to the mix, and Waskom could be a very dangerous offensive team to contend with this fall.

Defense: Waskom isn't big on the defensive side of the ball either, but Coach Keeling got outstanding production from his undersized group. Spurlin's quickness makes him a nightmare to block off the edge, while Amie is capable of chasing down plays all over the field from his linebacker spot. Waskom allowed just 22.7 points a game to opponents, and that number could drop even further with seven defensive starters returning. Reason is another playmaker at linebacker expected to do big things after a big sophomore season, while Kevin Johnson doubles as a tackling machine (122 tackles in 2012) in the secondary.

2013 outlook: News of Waskom's use of an ineligible player came in the week leading up to the regular-season finale when the Wildcats were very much alive for the school's first playoff berth since 1992. Coach Keeling took responsibility, chalking the situation to a miscommunication between the player in question's family and the school administration. The good news for Waskom is that last season proved they belong with the district's top tier of teams despite relying on a bevy of sophomores. With all that experience returning and a huge chip on the players' and coaches' shoulders, expect Waskom not only to reach the postseason for the first time in more than 20 years but also contend for a district title.

 

3. Elysian Fields Yellow Jackets

Coach: Scott Ford

2012 finish: 11-4 (Class 2A Division II semifinalist)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Tanner Norman, Sr., 6-0, 205 (225 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
  • RB Tanner Davis, Sr., 5-10, 185 (164 carries, 1,032 yards, 6 TDs)
  • DL Braden Jett, Sr., 5-9, 200 (79 tackles, 4 for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries)
  • DL Randall Wall, Sr., 6-0, 250 (126 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 3 recoveries)
  • OL Zack Holcomb, Sr., 6-2, 245
  • WR Brevin Manning, Soph., 5-11, 190
  • LB Colby Simmons, Sr. (66 tackles, 4 for loss)

 

Offense: Graduation hit Elysian Fields hard on offense. Not only did the Yellow Jackets lose quarterback Trevor Spear, who totaled 3,461 yards and 46 touchdowns, but EF also lost its four top receivers. Finding replacements in the passing game will be a big priority for Coach Ford in his first season in charge. EF does return Davis, a 1,000-yard rusher, and Holcomb which should keep the 'Jackets' running game strong. Elysian Fields averaged more than 220 rushing yards per game in 2012, but almost half of that came from Spear, so Davis will need some help from either another back or a quarterback capable of shouldering some of the rushing load.

Defense: The losses were just as rough for EF on the defensive side. The 'Jackets lost six starters, including four of their top six tacklers. Coach Ford will have EF's top tackler from 2012 at his disposal in Norman. Jett and Wall are good pieces to have up front as well, but there will be a ton of turnover in the secondary. EF came away with 16 interceptions a season ago, but 14 of them belonged to seniors. Safety T.J. Clark saw significant action and last season and finished with 87 tackles and two INTs. The 'Jackets will need a large group of fresh faces to help EF replicate last season's defensive scoring average of 24.4 points per game.

2013 outlook: Elysian Fields ISD decided to not to renew the contact of coach Eric King, but the 'Jackets did hire a veteran coach with East Texas ties in Ford, who was the head coach for Class 4A-Nacogdoches in 2010 and 2011. The new boss will have his work cut out in trying to follow up last season's run to the state semifinals, but EF has been one of East Texas' top programs for a number of years. The 'Jackets have missed out on the playoffs just four times since 1995 and have won 162 games in the last 18 years. And even though graduation took away several impact players from a season ago, EF should once again be in the mix for the playoffs.

 

4. Paul Pewitt Brahmas

Coach: Reggie Kumrow

2012 finish: 4-7 (Class 2A Division II bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • DB Mitchell Ward, Jr., 6-0, 170 (91 tackles)
  • RB Zane Mackay, Sr., 5-6, 155 (555 rushing yards)
  • RB Geromy Porter, Sr., 5-8, 160 (619 rushing yards, 4 TDs)
  • DL Santerris Younger, Sr., 6-1, 270 (48 tackles, 9 for loss)
  • OL Josh Perales, Sr., 5-10, 250
  • RB Isaiah Porter, Jr., 6-1, 170

 

Offense: It goes without saying, but Paul Pewitt fields one of the deepest and most productive running games in East Texas year-in and year-out. The Slot-T has become a staple over the years for the Brahmas and this season should be no different with the return of three quality backs in Mackay and Geromy and Isaiah Porter and O-linemen like Perales and Josh Hill. Pewitt struggled on offense a season ago, averaging less than 20 points per game, but expect those numbers to spike upward with seven offensive starters returning.

Defense: The Brahmas also have seven returning starters on defense, including Younger, who made a huge impact along the front line in 2012. Ward will anchor the defensive backfield after a breakout sophomore season. Part of Pewitt's struggles a season ago was because the Brahmas had difficulties keeping opponents off the scoreboard. Pewitt allowed foes a scoring average of more than 31 points per game, so clamping down on big plays and in the red zone will be a big key this year.

2013 outlook: Pewitt got off to a dreadful start last season, beginning 0-6. The Brahmas eventually got one of those wins back after Waskom was forced to forfeit its 35-22 win. Pewitt turned it around down the stretch by winning three straight to jump right back into playoff contention. Pewitt finished in a three-way tie with New Diana and DeKalb for the third and final postseason spot and reached the playoffs for the 19th time in 21 seasons by virtue of the district's tie-breaking rules. Consider the Brahmas a dangerous team in this district, and if everything falls into place, a big season could be on the horizon.

 

5. New Diana Eagles

New Diana's Garrett Barton. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

Coach: Brett Ratliff

2012 finish: 6-4

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Garrett Barton, Sr., 5-11, 180 (1,208 rushing yards, 9 TDs; 212 receiving yards)
  • LB Brandon Wesley, Sr., 5-11, 205 (88 tackles, 10 for loss, 3 sacks)
  • DB Dequailyn Hollins, Sr., 6-0, 170 (3 INTs)
  • RB K.J. Jeffery, Sr., 5-7, 185 (600 rushing yards; 200 receiving yards)
  • DL Cody Winn, Jr., 5-10, 195
  • LB Tim Perry, Jr., 5-10, 180 (117 tackles)

 

Offense:The first year in a new system always takes a little time getting used to, and that was evident in Coach Ratliff's first season in charge at New Diana. The Eagles sported a winning record, but struggled with consistency on offense. New Diana

New Diana's K.J. Jeffery. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

averaged a little more than 22 points per game in 2012, which usually doesn't yield much success in this day and age. Expect that number to increase in the fall with the return of a couple key pieces from last season's backfield in Barton and Jeffery. Those two should shoulder much of the offensive workload as the Eagles attempt to become a more dynamic unit.

Defense: As you would expect for a team that hovered around the .500 mark, the New Diana defense allowed the same number of points per game as its offense. Once again, another year under Coach Ratliff should give the five returning starters and newcomers more confidence heading into the new season. The strength on defense undoubtedly will be at linebacker where Wesley, Perry and Cody Holland (6-0, 170) all return after posting big 2012 campaigns. Hollins, a speed-burner that pulled down three interceptions a season ago, is also back to anchor the Eagles' defensive backfield.

2013 outlook: New Diana surprised a few people by coming within a district tiebreaker of making the playoffs in Coach Ratliff's first season in charge. Year two should bring more continuity to the program, making it probable the Eagles are once again a factor in the district's playoff chase. The fourth and final postseason spot could very well come down to New Diana, Paul Pewitt and DeKalb, which all tied for the last berth a season ago. New Diana lost to Pewitt by a touchdown, and defeated DeKalb 26-22 to close out the regular season. Another exciting finish could be on its way.

 

6. DeKalb Bears

Coach: Brandon Easterly

2012 finish: 4-6

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Chamichael Neal, Sr., 5-11, 175 (625 rushing yards, 7 TDs)
  • OL Cade Palmore, Sr., 5-10, 245
  • WR Colton Booth, Jr., 6-1, 180 (8 catches, 149 yards)
  • DB Thomas Culpepper, Jr., 5-9, 155 (61 tackles)
  • DB Jovan Forte, Soph., 5-10, 155

 

2013 outlook: DeKalb was on the doorstep of a playoff berth a season ago, and the Bears could be challenging for the postseason this year as well with a solid nucleus of players returning. A lot will hinge on the play of Neal at quarterback, who performed well in limited action as a junior. The Bears, which finished in a three-way tie for third in the district a season ago, split their meetings with their counterparts New Diana and Paul Pewitt. Another postseason slot is available this season, so the odds are greatly improved for DeKalb to reach the playoffs for the sixth time in nine years.

 

7. Ore City Rebels

Coach: Tracy Blankenship

2012 finish: 2-8

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • ATH Keynan Whetstone, Sr., 6-0, 170
  • TE Dakota Adair, Sr., 6-1, 205
  • WR Deste Tatum, Sr., 6-2, 190
  • LB Tyler Pendarvis, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • QB Matthew Casey, Jr., 5-8, 150

 

Offense: Things weren't much fun on offense for Ore City in 2012, Coach Blankenship's first season at the helm. It got off to a bad start when Whetstone, who put up monster numbers as a sophomore, was lost for the entire season because of injury. Now he's back and is expected to play a huge role in what the Rebels hope is a turnaround season. Without Whetstone, Ore City struggled to find the end zone, averaging just 14.1 points per game and being shut out on three occasions. But with Whetstone in the fold and the return of playmakers like Tatum, the Rebels could look a lot different in 2013.

Defense: Things may have been worse on defense for Ore City, which allowed opponents more than 40 points a game. But Coach Blankenship also eight starters back on the defensive side of the ball, which should at least bring that number down a little. Pendarvis is Ore City's top returner on defense, but it will take more than the stellar play of one to cure the Rebels' ills.

2013 outlook: If everyone stays healthy, this could be the first step in changing the culture in the Ore City program. The Rebels have just one playoff appearance (2011) to their name since 1995, but every great rise-to-greatness story has to start somewhere. Ore City may not make the playoffs this season, but it would be surprising if the Rebels aren't noticeably improved this fall.

 

8. Linden-Kildare Tigers

Coach: Todd Elliott

2012 finish: 1-9

Returning starters: 9 offensive, 9 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR Jordan Craver, Sr., 6-3, 165 (10 catches, 121 yards)
  • OL Justin Powell, Sr., 6-3, 240
  • WR Robbie West, Jr., 5-10, 165 (23 catches, 196 yards, 2 TDs)
  • QB Curt Wells, Soph., 6-1, 160 (36 of 85, 443 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs)
  • DL Fernando Ramirez, Jr., 5-10, 185 (57 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)

 

Offense: It was a slow-go for the Tigers on offense a season ago, averaging just 6.9 points per game. The serious lack of production was mostly because of an abundance of young and inexperienced players at the varsity level. But Coach Elliott enters the new year with a bevy of players that won't be new to the big stage on Friday nights. Nine starters are back, including Wells, who got most of the reps at quarterback a year ago as a freshman. He'll have a couple of proven targets to deliver the ball to in Craver and West, who accounted for most of the receiving yardage in 2012.

Defense: While the offense struggled to score points, the Linden-Kildare defense wasn't very good at keeping opponents out of the end zone. The Tigers gave up right at 40 points per game, but with nine players with starting experience back, conventional wisdom says they'll be better.

2013 outlook: No one is expecting Linden-Kildare to challenge for a playoff spot after last season's disappointment. The Tigers' lone win of the year came via a Waskom forfeit, so there was nothing L-K could hang its hat on in 2012 in the way of positive momentum. The only thing fans of Linden-Kildare can hope for is a greater level of consistency from a more seasoned group of players, and that it leads to something in the future.