Joaquin ran the regular-season table in 2012 before a one-point second-round loss to Bosqueville ended a strong season.

The Rams lost a lot to graduation, but ETSN.fm expects veteran coach Wayne Gandy to reload for what could be highly competitive District 9-A Division I championship race.

District 9-A Division I Preview

Big Sandy QB Travis Willoughby. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • Haston Adams, Sr., DL, Beckville
  • Chase Duncan, Sr., LB, Harleton
  • Jason Ferguson, Sr., DE, Joaquin
  • Lance Lawson, Sr., QB/LB, Joaquin
  • Colton McSwain, Sr., RB, Timpson
  • Michael Savalla, Soph., LB, Carlisle
  • Travis Willoughby, Sr., QB, Big Sandy

 

TOP GAMES

  • Oct. 11 -- Timpson at Harleton
  • Oct. 25 -- Harleton at Big Sandy
  • Nov. 1 -- Joaquin at Timpson
  • Nov. 8 -- Harleton at Joaquin

1. Joaquin Rams

Joaquin QB/LB Lance Lawson. (Courtesy photo)

Coach: Wayne Gandy

2012 finish: 10-1 (Class A Division I Region III area finalist)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/LB Lance Lawson, Sr., 6-3, 210 (1 receiving TD; 116 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 8 pass breakups)
  • RB/DB Gage Belrose, Sr., 6-1, 170 (26 carries, 169 yards, 2 TDs; 1 receiving TD; 35 tackles, 3 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 5 pass breakups)
  • DE Keith Ferguson, Sr., 6-0, 200 (54 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
  • OL/DL Adam Mason, Jr., 5-8, 190 (55 tackles)
  • OL Nathan Boyter, Sr., 6-3, 230
  • RB Jonathon Rico, Jr., 5-8, 157 (33 carries, 221 yards, 2 TDs)
  • LB Marzaveon Cooper, Sr., 6-0, 180 (27 tackles, 1 recovery)

 

Joaquin RB/DB Gage Belrose. (Courtesy photo)

Offense: At first glance, 2013 appears to be a rebuilding season on the offensive side of the ball, but players that got playing time at other positions could come up big at the skill spots for the Rams.

Lance Lawson led Joaquin in tackles last season and could be the Rams' new quarterback. Jonathon Rico and Gage Belrose got some ball-carrying experience and will likely be the Rams' next 1-2 running back punch behind an experienced offensive line.

But what Joaquin lost to graduation cannot be ignored.

The Rams' top four rushers -- Wyatt Hairgrove, Nick Cheatwood, Will Vaughan, and Tra Rogers -- are gone. Joaquin graduated 3,383 rushing yards, or 89.5 percent of its 2012 ground game.

Joaquin LB Marzaveon Cooper. (Courtesy photo)

Defense: Lawson will once again be a centerpiece of the Rams' defense, which returns even fewer starters -- only three -- than the offense (five).

Keith Ferguson and Adam Mason will help ease the transition that so many new starters will face. They combined for more than 100 tackles on the defensive line in 2012.

Joaquin held opponents to 16.3 points per game last season. That could be tough to match early on with so many new faces.

2013 Outlook: While Joaquin graduated 14 of its 22 starters, the Rams still have enough talent and experience in key places to make a run at another District 9-A Division I championship.

Joaquin won their five league games last season by an average of 16.0 points. That may be tough to duplicate this fall, but even with the heavy offseason losses, the Rams appear ready to defend their district crown in 2013.

 

2. Timpson Bears

Timpson OL/DL Dimric Caraway. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: James Conway

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

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Colton McSwain, Sr., 5-11, 205 (150 carries, 700 yards, 8 TDs)
  • OL/DT Dimric Caraway, Sr., 6-2, 260
  • OL Alberto Cuero, Jr., 6-0, 215
  • RB Michael Fountain, Jr.
  • DB Shakur Johnson, Sr.
  • ATH Chandler Burgay, Soph.
  • RB Joseph Parker, Jr., 5-8, 175
  • OL/LB Rushton Bush, Sr.
  • LB Tanner Murdock, Sr.

 

Timpson RB/LB Colton McSwain. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Timpson's running game should once again be strong with the return of Colton McSwain and a veteran offensive line, including senior Dimric Caraway and junior Alberto Cuero.

Eight starters return from an offense that averaged 28.5 points per game. Non-seniors Joe Parker and Chandler Burgay could give head coach James Conway more weapons to complement McSwain.

Defense: The question marks come on defense.

Timpson returns only five starters from a stingy unit that allowed 14.8 points per game in 2012, a season that saw the Bears hold 7 of 11 opponents to 13 or fewer points. Six of those opponents score no more than nine points.

But Conway's cupboard isn't bare on this side of the ball. He has Caraway to lean on up front, along with veteran linebackers in Rushton Bush and Tanner Murdock. Timpson may have a tough time early in the season stifling opponents the way the Bears did in 2012, but the pieces could be there to have a similar performance over the course of the year.

Timpson DB Shakur Johnson. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

2013 Outlook: Timpson's offensive experience will give the Bears a great chance in the District 9-A Division I championship race. Joaquin beat Timpson 48-14 a season ago, but with the number of key players the Rams graduated on each side of the ball, this year's contest -- which comes Nov. 1 in Timpson -- could be much closer.

The Oct. 11 and Nov. 8 dates with Harleton and Big Sandy, respectively, will likely have significant impacts on the district race as well.

 

 

3. Harleton Wildcats

Coach: Jackie Lloyd

2012 finish: 7-4 (Class A Division I Region III bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Chase Duncan, Sr., 5-10, 175 (143 tackles)
  • QB Taylor Henson, Sr., 5-11, 150 (934 passing yards, 11 TDs)
  • RB Jack Underwood, Sr., 5-9, 180 (81 carries, 449 rushing yards, 5 TDs)
  • DL Payton Alexander, Jr., 6-2, 265 (43 tackles)
  • RB Jed Smith, Sr., 6-0, 170 (351 rushing yards, 4 TDs)
  • RB Campbell Coleman, Sr., 5-7, 170 (223 rushing yards, 2 TDs)
  • TE Jake Hamilton, Sr., 6-1, 180
  • DL Briley Comer, Jr., 5-10, 230
  • RB Cody Fregia, Soph., 5-10, 140

 

Offense: A few key faces are gone, but the Wildcats return six starters and give longtime baseball coach and second-year head football coach Jackie Lloyd plenty of options in the run game.

Jack Underwood, Jed Smith, and Campbell Coleman combined for 1,023 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012 and should play even larger roles in the offense this fall. Don't forget veteran quarterback Taylor Henson, who threw for almost 1,000 yards a year ago in the Wildcats' run-heavy offense.

Defense: Harleton's defensive unit brings back seven starters after a strong 2012 campaign that saw the Wildcats hold opponents to 18.1 points per game.

Chase Duncan led the 'Cats in tackles and should have another big year in 2013. He should get good protection at his linebacker spot from defensive line Payton Alexander and Briley Comer, who got experience last season along the front line.

2013 Outlook: Harleton has the returning personnel to make a run at the District 9-A Division I title, but the Wildcats will need more production out of their offense to reach that goal.

Harleton averaged only 20.7 points per game last season and leaned on its defense. The Wildcats should be able to do that again, for the most part, but it'll be very difficult win a league title averaging fewer than three touchdowns per game.

Nevertheless, Harleton could be the darkhorse pick to win the district crown.

 

4. Big Sandy Wildcats

Big Sandy LB Caleb Smith. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Larry Minter

2012 finish: 5-5

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Travis Willoughby, Sr., 6-0, 188 (104 of 192, 1,515 yards, 16 TDs, 7 INTs)
  • TE Sean Combs, Sr., 6-5, 220
  • WR/DB Matt Easley, Sr., 6-0, 165 (17 catches, 237 yards, 4 TDs; 72 tackles, 4 INTs)
  • LB Caleb Smith, Sr., 6-0, 190 (101 tackles, 4 sacks)
  • DL Charley Ramsey, Jr. (109 tackles)
  • RB Deshun Alexander, Sr.
  • OL/DL Boston Beason, Sr.
  • OL Nathaniel Rogers, Sr., 5-10, 230
  • FB Mason Santos, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • RB/LB Jalomi Williams, Jr.
  • RB/DB Daniel Richardson, Jr.
  • ATH Preston Beason, Soph.

 

Big Sandy WR/DB Matt Easley. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Big Sandy lost key contributors to graduation on both sides of the ball, such as two-way playmaker Taurus Keppard and Joshua Jackson, but getting 1,500-yard passer Travis Willoughby back is a good start to rebounding in 2013.

Willoughby, arguably the top returning offensive playmaker in the district, will once again be the trigger man for the Big Sandy offense, which averaged 25.0 points per game in 2012. The offense sputtered down the stretch, averaging only 20.0 points during the Wildcats' 1-4 district run.

Deshun Alexander and Matt Easley are two players that should give head coach Larry Minter skill-position options after the graduation of the aforementioned playmakers.

Big Sandy DL Charley Ramsey. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Keppard's graduation takes eight interceptions away from the Big Sandy defense, which yielded 24.9 points per game a year ago. Leading tackler Dillon Branson is also gone from the linebacker corps.

Caleb Smith and Charlie Ramsey are back after strong 2012 campaigns and will be key cogs in the Wildcats' 50-front 3-4 defense.

2013 Outlook: Big Sandy may be a bit more experienced than the eight total returning starters suggest, but there's no doubt the Wildcats lost some key pieces in the offseason.

Big Sandy started last season strong (4-1) before wilting in District 9-A Division I play. Back-to-back late October dates at Joaquin and vs. Harleton will have a huge impact on Big Sandy's playoff chances, along with the regular-season finale vs. Timpson.

 

5. Carlisle Indians

Coach: Rocky Baker

2012 finish: 6-4

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Michael Savalla, Soph., 5-9, 160 (58 tackles, 11 for loss, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)
  • RB/LB Gustavo Martinez, Sr. (503 rushing yards, 6 TDs)
  • QB/FS Caleb Colley, Sr., 5-9, 165 (31 of 50, 343 yards, 1 TD, 4 INTs; 68 carries, 379 yards, 1 TD)
  • OL Ryan Curba, Jr., 6-0, 250
  • OL Sam Clark, Sr., 6-0, 250
  • LB Ben Goss, Jr., 5-10, 192
  • ATH Bryce McGowan, Jr., 5-9, 150 (39 carries, 375 yards, 4 TDs; 7 catches, 98 yards, 1 TD)
  • OL Adrian Gallegos, Jr., 5-8, 200

 

Offense: Carlisle was primed for another big season in 2012 until quarterback Gunner Baker's season-ending injury during the middle of the schedule. The Indians lost four consecutive games after a 5-0 start to miss the playoffs.

But the silver lining is the experience Caleb Colley got running the offense.

He'll join Gustavo Martinez and Bryce McGowan to give ninth-year coach Rocky Baker options in the running game, which should be strong thanks to a big, physical offensive line led by 250-pounders Ryan Curba and Sam Clark.

Defense: Expect a big year from Michael Savalla, who had a breakout season as a freshman in 2012. He and Martinez give Carlisle two proven linebackers.

Carlisle allowed only 15.7 points per game, which included a respectable 23.6 during the 1-4 district falter. Only four starters are back from that unit, but the pieces are there for another solid defense in Price.

2013 Outlook: Carlisle is a bit of an unknown entering 2013. Gunner Baker was so much of what the Tribe did offensively the last few years, which was evident in Carlisle's struggles after his injury.

But as previously mentioned, Colley and company got great experience down the stretch in 2012. The Indians could be spoilers in the district race if the offense improved in the offseason and the few returning defensive veterans are ready to transition a new group of defenders into that unit.

 

6. Beckville Bearcats

Beckville DT Haston Adams. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Eric Robinson

2012 finish: 3-7

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • DL Haston Adams, Sr., 6-3, 265 (50 tackles, 9 for loss)
  • TE/LB Joey Wharmby, Sr. (114 tackles, 1 INT)
  • RB/LB Colton Searcy, Sr. (114 carries, 525 yards)
  • ATH Ben Travis, Soph., 5-9, 150
  • RB/LB Jacari Reed, Soph.
  • DB Loguen Wesner, Jr.

 

Beckville RB Colton Searcy. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Several offensive veterans are gone after graduating, including receiver Colten Allen and athlete Dalton Etheredge.

Colton Searcy will play a larger role after rushing for more than 500 yards in 2012, when the Bearcats averaged 20.6 points per game. Ben Travis and Jacari Reed are 2016 players to remember as potential contributors this fall.

Defense: Burly defensive tackle Haston Adams anchors Beckville's defensive front after almost reaching double digits in tackles for loss a year ago.

He'll have Joey Wharmby, Beckville's leading tackler in 2012, once again playing behind him, along with Searcy and Reed.

Beckville yielded 29.1 points per game last year, but that number ballooned to 39.3 during he Bearcats' season-ending four-game losing streak.

Beckville LB Joey Wharmby. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

2013 Outlook: Second-year head coach Eric Robinson, an Alto graduate who was an assistant on Carthage's three-peat state championship teams, led Beckville to two more wins in his first season than the Bearcats claimed in 2011, and he once again appears to have the program headed in the right direction.

But the Bearcats appear to be facing an uphill battle again in 2013. Adams and Searcy will be playmakers who would be big contributors on any team in the district, but Beckville will need plenty of new faces to perform at a high level to make a run at the final playoff spot.