2013 Football Preview: League Foes Look to Dethrone Defending Champ Paris in District 13-3A
The District 13-3A race could be among the most intriguing in East Texas this fall.
Paris is the two-time defending district champion, but experienced an offseason coaching change and graduated half of its starters. Atlanta also graduated a ton of talent from a second-round playoff team.
Liberty-Eylau faltered late in 2012 and missed the playoffs, but returns the majority of its starters and the district's best player in Baylor-bound two-way standout Davion Hall. Then there's Pittsburg, which hired two-time state champion coach Dickey Meeks and has 14 starters back, making the Pirates a potentially dangerous team this fall.
With so many questions to be answered, we at ETSN.fm can't wait to see how this district winds up.
- Kayin Cooks, Sr., RB, Pleasant Grove
- Rashaan Donelson, Sr., QB, Liberty-Eylau
- Davion Hall, Sr., WR/S, Liberty-Eylau
- Kenneth Houff, Sr., DE, Atlanta
- Kenny Mason, Sr., Paris
- Chase Musgrove, Jr., QB, Atlanta
- SirCharles Perkins, Sr., LB/S, Pittsburg
- Bricky Reed, Sr., LB, Paris
- Garrett Truitt, Sr., QB, Pittsburg
- Jordan Williams, Jr., LB, Paris
- Oct. 18 -- Paris at Pittsburg
- Oct. 25 -- Pittsburg at Liberty-Eylau
- Nov. 8 -- Pittsburg at Atlanta
- Nov. 8 -- Liberty-Eylau at Paris
1. Liberty-Eylau Leopards
Coach: Brian Brown
2012 finish: 4-6
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/S Davion Hall, Sr., 6-2, 191 (committed to Baylor; 12 catches, 315 yards, 3 TDs; 29 carries, 340 yards, 7 TDs; 75 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 recoveries, 1 defensive TD)
- QB Rashaan Donelson, Sr., 6-0, 187 (21 of 52, 408 yards, 6 TDs; 261 rushing yards, 4 TDs)
- DL Mack Forte, Sr., 5-11, 245 (32 tackles, 3 sacks)
- LB Kwan Curry, Sr., 6-0, 195 (33 tackles)
- RB Donell Hoof, Jr.
- RB D.Q. Steeles, Jr.
- WR Keith Wynkoop, Sr., 5-8, 165 (6 catches, 109 yards, 2 TDs)
- OL/TE Douglas Goodnight, Sr., 6-4, 215
- ATH Javon Rigsby, Sr.
- OL Anthony Casteel, Sr.
- OL Devon Reynolds, Sr.
- OL Camren Frazier, Sr.
Offense: Liberty-Eylau averaged 25.5 points per game last season, including 29.4 during District 13-3A play. But the Leopards scored only 27 points in their final two games, losses that kept them out of the playoffs for only the second time in the last 11 seasons.
Fortunately for third-year head coach Brian Brown, seven starters are back, including quarterback Rashaan Donelson and Davion Hall, one of the most athletic and versatile players in East Texas. That duo should see an increase in production this fall, which is the senior campaign for both. They'll also have a few veteran offensive linemen blocking in front of them, including Anthony Casteel, Devon Reynolds, and Camren Frazier.
Historically, Liberty-Eylau is at its best when it has a game-breaking tailback, such as current San Francisco 49er LaMichael James, who led the Leopards to their second state championship in 2006. James isn't walking through that door this year, but if the Leopards can find consistency in the ground game -- perhaps from juniors Donell Hoof and D.Q. Steeles -- that should greatly improve their offensive production.
Defense: Brown also has the luxury of seven returning starters on defense. The Leopards allowed 24.7 points per game last season, but in those two crucial late-season losses, they yielded an average of 30.5.
Seniors Mack Forte and Kwan Curry should be leaders in the Leopards' front seven after gaining valuable experience last season.
As good as Hall can be on offense, he's even better on defense, where he can take away an entire half of the field playing safety. His size also gives him the tools needed to be a factor against the run. The Baylor commit will be the backbone of Liberty-Eylau's defense in 2013.
2013 Outlook: Eight games through the 2012 season, Liberty-Eylau appeared well on its way to reaching the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years.
Then came a 27-20 loss at Atlanta and a 34-7 home loss to district champion Paris. Those defeats knocked the Leopards out of the playoffs and gave them their first below-.500-record since 2008.
With 14 starters back, Liberty-Eylau is well-equipped to not only bounce back, but to contend for the District 13-3A championship. Hall is primed for a huge season on both sides of the ball and Donelson is a season wiser at the quarterback position. The development of a consistent running game will go a long way in determining the Leopards' fate.
2. Paris Wildcats
Coach: Steven Hohenberger
2012 finish: 8-4 (Class 3A Division I Region II semifinalist)
Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- LB Bricky Reed, Sr. (112 tackles, 23 for loss, 4 sacks)
- LB Jordan Williams, Jr. (88 tackles, 21 for loss, 6 sacks)
- WR Kenny Mason, Sr. (36 catches, 471 yards, 8 TDs)
- QB Demonquez Allen, Soph.
- WR Kadarius Scott, Jr.
- OL D'Tavius Harmon, Sr.
- OL Jax Dangerfield, Jr.
- OL Jermekus Smith, Jr.
- OL Jack Kraft, Sr.
- DL Josh Reynolds, Sr.
- DL Riley Kindle, Sr.
- WR Jackson Reeves, Sr.
2013 Outlook: Demonquez Allen got extensive experience running Paris' offense as only a freshman last season, helping the Wildcats not only win their second consecutive District 13-3A championship, but chipping in on a team that won a playoff game.
He should be even better in 2013. Kenny Mason will be his top target in the passing game, but the linebacking corps may very well be Paris' strength. Bricky Reed is back after leading the 'Cats in tackles last season. He combined with Jordan Williams, who started as a sophomore a year ago, for 44 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2012.
Paris lost some key pieces to their two-time district title squad, but talent remains for the Wildcats to make another serious run at a league championship.
3. Pittsburg Pirates
Coach: Dickey Meeks
2012 finish: 2-8
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Garrett Truitt, Sr., 6-4, 190 (139 of 257, 1,729 yards, 11 TDs, 7 INTs; 67 carries, 311 yards, 5 TDs)
- WR/LB SirCharles Perkins, Jr., 5-8, 168 (146 tackles, 14 for loss, 2 forced fumbles)
- DL Tajawin Smith, Sr., 6-1, 265 (34 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 sacks)
- WR/CB Jarrion Douglas, Sr., 6-0, 180
- OL Daniel Gilmore, Sr., 5-8, 250
- RB Trey Walker, Soph., 5-5, 156 (34 carries, 161 yards, 3 TDs)
- RB Fre'Zarian Harris, Soph., 5-10, 185
- DB Markeith Thompson, Sr. (74 tackles, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble)
- LB Tre Nelms, Sr., 5-9, 175 (37 tackles, 4 for loss)
- WR Kevi Traylor, Sr.
- FS Johnathon Boyd, Sr.
- WR/RB Teriyan Cuba, Jr. (44 carries, 383 yards, 3 TDs; 1 receiving TD)
Offense: Pittsburg struggled to score points consistently in 2012, especially after the first two games of the season. The Pirates averaged 20.9 points per game during their final eight contests, a stretch that saw them go 1-7 with their lone win coming against Pleasant Grove, which finished last in District 13-3A.
Longtime East Texas coaching veteran Dickey Meeks took over in late January and has seven returning starters with which to work. Meeks, who brings almost 250 career wins and two state championships with him, will undoubtedly lean on quarterback Garrett Truitt, who threw for more than 1,700 yards in a solid junior campaign. Meeks and his staff, which includes his offensive coordinator son, Ricky Joe, bring to Pittsburg a spread-heavy scheme that incorporates a power running game, an approach that made Henderson so versatile -- and in turn difficult to stop -- during their tenure with the Lions, which included a 2010 Class 3A Division I state crown.
The running portion of that scheme is good news for players such as Trey Walker, Fre'Zarian Harris, and Teriyan Cuba, who averaged 8.7 yards per carry in limited action carrying the ball. Walker ran for almost 200 yards late in the 2012 season as a freshman and joins Harris as two headliners in what could be a potent 2016 class for the Pirates. Walker is the shifty game-breaker of the sophomore duo, while Harris the bruiser.
Defense: Pittsburg's defense had similar problems as the offense with consistency last season. The Pirates yielded a combined 22 points in their two wins, but allowed 40.6 points per game in their eight losses.
Seven starters return to combat those problems. SirCharles Perkins is back after overwhelmingly leading the team in tackles last season, while Tajawin Smith is ready for a big year on the defensive front, which Meeks believes could be a strength for the Pirates.
The coaching staff also believes Jarrion Douglas could be a difference-maker in the secondary. Pittsburg will need strong play from its defensive backs when it faces 13-3A foes like Liberty-Eylau and Paris, which can put plenty of tough-to-defend athletes on the perimeter.
2013 Outlook: Pittsburg missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season in 2012, tying its lowest win total (along with the 2006 season) in the last 19 years.
But the offseason coaching change has Pirate fans fired up. Pittsburg's last trip to the playoffs was former head coach Robert Manley's best season with the Pirates: 2009, when they went 12-2 and reached the Class 3A Division II state semifinals.
That's probably too much to ask Meeks and company to achieve in their first season at the helm, but there's no doubt that Pittsburg has plenty of talent to work with. If Truitt has a big season as expected, and Perkins and Smith help the Bucs make the necessary improvements on the defensive side of the ball, Pittsburg should definitely be in the race for a playoff berth.
The Pirates might still be a year away from winning the 13-3A championship, but knowing what Meeks has done at his previous head coaching stops, and what the Pirates have from a talent standpoint, Pittsburg enters the 2013 season as an ETSN.fm playoff pick and the league's darkhorse candidate at the district crown.
4. Atlanta Rabbits
Coach: Matt McClure
2012 finish: 5-7 (Class 3A Division II Region II area finalist)
Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Chase Musgrove, Jr., 5-10, 175 (1,186 passing yards, 10 TDs; 155 rushing yards, 9 TDs)
- DE Kenneth Houff, Sr., 6-2, 195 (51 tackles, 8 sacks)
- DT Gerald Andrews, Sr., 6-2, 250 (43 tackles)
- ATH DeQuan Allen, Jr.
- ATH Damien Lawson, Sr. (6 catches, 141 yards, 2 TDs)
- OL Brandon Parkman, Sr., 6-2, 280
- WR Eddrick King, Jr.
- DB Nigel Johnson, Sr.
- LB Cameron Schulz, Jr.
- OL Cole Davis, Jr.
Offense: Corion Webster wreaked havoc on opposing defenses for three years, but he's now at Oklahoma State and leaves a gigantic hole in the Atlanta offensive attack. The 6-foot, 190-pound speedster ran for well over 1,000 yards three times during his Atlanta career, including last season, when he overcame an early-season injury to finish with 1,719 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Not only is Webster gone, but so is Everett Dickerson, a two-way standout who is now at SMU. Dickerson battled injuries as a senior but still managed to run for 339 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 9.7 yards per carry.
The good news for head coach Matt McClure is the return of Chase Musgrove, who posted solid numbers through the air and on the ground as only a sophomore in 2012. Atlanta's offense will center around what Musgrove can do with less experienced perimeter weapons, such as Damien Lawson, who caught two touchdown passes last season.
The Rabbits averaged a pedestrian 25.7 points per game in 2012. With only four returning starters, reaching that number might not be easy.
Defense: Like the offense, Atlanta returns only four defensive starters from a unit that yielded 29.8 points per game. Kenneth Houff is the key returnee after he led the Rabbits with an impressive eight sacks from his spot along the defensive front.
Houff joins Gerald Andrews to give McClure and company what should be a solid defensive front.
But beyond that, there are plenty of question marks. Linebacker Cameron Schulz and defensive back Nigel Johnson gained experience last season, but there's not a lot experience-wise beyond them in the back seven. Dickerson's graduation is a particularly tough loss to the secondary.
2013 Outlook: Atlanta has only 8 of 22 starters back, but there's no doubt that there will be talent lining up on both sides of the ball for the Rabbits. The thing is, we might not know some of their names yet.
Atlanta must play district favorite Liberty-Eylau on the road Nov. 1, but the Rabbits hosts Paris and Pittsburg, which could mean a lot in a district race that seems so tight entering the season.
Atlanta may not have enough returning experience to make a big push for the 13-3A crown, but with the added playoff spot to each 3A district, the Rabbits are certainly in the thick of the playoff race and have a good shot earning the third or fourth berth from 13-3A.
5. Paris North Lamar Panthers
Coach: Tommy Felty
2012 finish: 5-6 (Class 3A Division II Region II bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 5 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- LB Jonathan Edwards, Sr., 6-0, 180 (80 tackles)
- OL Jackie Berry, Sr., 6-3, 300
- WR Devin McDonald, Sr., 5-9, 150
- WR Samaki Walker, Sr., 5-11, 150 (15 catches, 375 yards, 2 TDs)
- TE Tyler Carter, Sr., 6-2, 225
- TE Tyler Taylor, Sr., 6-2, 230
- LB Kameron Avery, Jr.
- RB Keitron Reed, Jr.
- RB Isiah Harris, Soph.
2013 Outlook: It's probably fair to say that North Lamar overachieved a year ago when the Panthers reached the first round of the Class 3A Division II Region II playoffs. The Panthers have a distinct advantage over their District 13-3A brethren in one way entering 2013: eight returning defensive starters. That defense surrendered 29.7 points per game last year, but should be better this fall. Jonathan Edwards spearheads the defensive effort after an 80-tackle junior season.
The offense returns five starters after averaging 27.4 points per game last year. One thing is certain about this side of the ball: North Lamar will have size up front. Jackie Berry, Tyler Taylor, and Tyler Carter give tailbacks such as Keitron Reed and Isiah Harris some bulk in front of them to pave the way.
While North Lamar has 13 starters back from a playoff team, the Panthers might have a tough time qualifying for the postseason, even with an extra playoff berth this season. The defense should keep North Lamar in games early in the season, but the District 13-3A slate could feature higher-scoring opponents than it did last year. Paris should once again be talented offensively, while Pittsburg should improve on that side of the ball with a veteran quarterback and a new offensive-minded coaching staff. Liberty-Eylau should also be significantly improved offensively.
North Lamar will no doubt be in the running for the one of the final two playoff spots, but qualifying for the postseason will be far from guaranteed.
6. Pleasant Grove Hawks
Coach: Kevin Davis
2012 finish: 1-9
Returning starters: 3 offensive, 2 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/DB Kayin Cooks, Sr., 5-10, 175 (361 rushing yards, 4 TDs; 70 tackles)
- LB Jacob Willige, Sr. (46 tackles)
- DL Stephen Burris, Sr.
- RB/LB MaKale Hawkins, Sr.
- OL Drew Davis, Sr.
- DL L.T. Hawkins, Sr.
- QB Hunter Hatfield, Jr.
- QB/LB Jacob Smith, Soph.
- RB Jake Roberts, Jr.
- RB Ty Everett, Jr.
- DB Connor Lemmerhirt, Jr.
Offense: Pleasant Grove has only three returning starters from last year's offense, which struggled mightily to put points on the board.
The Hawks averaged 17.9 points per game during their one-win campaign. This fall, Kayin Cooks will likely be the go-to guy after playing some part-time tailback a year ago. He's one of Pleasant Grove's most important players on both sides of the ball.
It's unclear who the starting quarterback will be, but two candidates are junior Hunter Hatfield and sophomore Jacob Smith. Receivers will need to emerge for either to be effective throwing the ball.
Defense: Pleasant Grove also struggled defensively, yielding 37.7 points per game. That average jumped to 43.0 points in the Hawks' five District 13-3A contests.
Even less experience returns on the defensive side of the ball, where only two starters are back. Cooks and Willige will be key pieces in veteran head coach Kevin Davis' efforts toward rebuilding the Hawks' defense. Stephen Burris could also be a key player up front for the Hawks.
2013 Outlook: After the last two seasons, which saw Pleasant Grove go a combined 3-17, the Hawks' five consecutive playoff appearances from 2006-10 seem like a really long time ago. The middle of that run (2007-09) was the best three-year stretch in Pleasant Grove history as the Hawks went 28-10, finishing 10-3 in 2007 and 9-4 in 2009.
Qualifying for the postseason this fall is not a must in the quest to take the Hawks back to those old, lofty levels, but it obviously wouldn't hurt. But considering that Pleasant Grove has only five returning starters coming off a 1-9 season, the Hawks must be thought of as a long shot for the postseason in 2013. On top of that, they must face Liberty-Eylau, Paris, and Pittsburg all on the road. Winning a couple of non-district games and perhaps two 13-3A contest would be an encouraging 2013 for the Hawks.