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2013 Football Preview: Malakoff + Eustace Fight For District 7-2A Division I Supremacy

With last season’s District 7-2A Division I champion Winnsboro enduring heavy graduation losses, that opens the door for 2012′s second- and third-place teams — Malakoff and Eustace — to make a run at the league title.

Malakoff withstood a myriad of injuries to enjoy a solid eight-win season, while Eustace looks to take the next step under first-year head coach Heath Ragle.

 

District 7-2A Division I Preview

Malakoff’s Damontes Dowell. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • Nathan Denson, LB, Jr., Eustace
  • Damontes Dowell, RB, Sr., Malakoff
  • Thomas Hyde, OL, Sr., Eustace
  • Austen Truett, QB, Jr., Grand Saline
  • Bobby Wells, OL, Sr., Quitman

 

TOP GAMES

  • Quitman at Winnsboro, 7:30 p.m., Sept. 27
  • Eustace at Malakoff, 7:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., Oct. 4
  • Eustace at Winnsboro, 7:30 p.m., Oct. 18

 

1. Malakoff Tigers

Malakoff’s Stephan Wolfe. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

Coach: Jamie Driskell

2012 finish: 8-4 (Class 2A Division I area finalist)

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Damontes Dowell, Sr., 5-9, 170 (925 rushing yards, 15 TDs)
  • OL Israel Chavez, Sr., 6-1, 265
  • LB Jordan Harris, Sr., 5-10, 200
  • DB Dariuhn Jackson, Sr., 5-8, 150
  • RB Marcus Dowell, Jr., 6-1, 190
  • QB Stephan Wolfe, Jr., 5-11, 175

 

Offense: The Tigers averaged 33.5 points per game in 2012, and even more is expected this season with the return of eight offensive starters. Chief among those returners is Damontes Dowell, who put together a quality junior season. Marcus Dowell

Malakoff’s Marcus Dowell. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

figures to give Coach Driskell another option in the backfield, while Wolfe is hoping to have a healthy 2013 after injuries forced him out of the lineup a year ago. The guys responsible for protecting Wolfe and clearing running lanes for the backs appear to be in good shape as well with the return of Chavez, Diego Medina and Thomas Acol, who missed all of 2012 because of injury. If everyone can stay healthy, this has the potential to be one of the most productive offensive units in the area.

Defense: Malakoff is hoping for improvement on the defensive side of the ball after it allowed opponents more than 25 points a game in 2012. Coach Driskell welcomes back five starters, so there will be a few holes to fill. Harris is a playmaker at the linebacker spot, while big things are expected from Jackson, who is one of the most athletic players on the team. With so much starting experience returning on offense, the pressure shouldn’t be too intense for Malakoff’s defense, but just a tiny bit of improvement can go a long way in separating a district championship-caliber team from a squad capable of making a long run in the playoffs.

2013 outlook: Injuries took their toll last season for a Malakoff team with league-title aspirations, but the Tigers were able to withstand the adversity in time for a solid season that ended in the second round of the playoffs. Staying healthy is always a primary concern, but it’s even more vital to Malakoff, which has the potential to be more than just a district champion. With a little bit of luck, good things can happen to the Tigers.

 

2. Eustace Bulldogs

Eustace’s Nathan Denson. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

Coach: Heath Ragle

2012 finish: 5-6 (Class 2A Division I bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Nathan Denson, Jr., 6-0, 230 (61 tackles, 3 forced fumbles)
  • OL Thomas Hyde, Sr., 6-0, 300
  • DE Zach Hughes, Jr., 5-10, 210 (62 tackles, 11 for loss, 3 forced fumbles)
  • LB Abed Abuhatab, Sr., 5-9, 170 (57 tackles)
  • FB Jesus Barcenas, Sr. (554 rushing yards, 4 TDs)
  • ATH Clay Carson, Soph., 6-1, 190

 

Offense: The Bulldogs are hoping to improve on this side of the ball after averaging less than 24 points per game a season ago. Coach Ragle is optimistic his team can accomplish just that with the return of seven offensive starters. Part of the issue

Eustace’s Thomas Hyde. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

offensively in 2012 was that Eustace fielded several underclassmen on offense, but after gaining valuable experience at the varsity level, those players should be primed for a breakout season. Expect Barcenas to shoulder more of a load in the backfield this season after a solid junior campaign. A lot of the seasoning on offense is up front where Hyde will anchor an offensive line that is expected to be one of the team’s top overall strengths heading into the season.

Defense: Eustace was also young on defense in 2012, and after a rough start to the season, the Bulldogs’ “D” began to shift in a positive direction. Eustace got off to a 1-3 start last year, and its defensive output was a big reason why, allowing 36 points on average through the first four games. But the Bulldogs went 4-2 to close the regular season, thanks in large measure to a defense that limited opposing teams to just 16 points per game during that six-game stretch. Denson is a monster at linebacker and should come back even stronger after a stellar sophomore season. Hughes is another strong defender from the 2015 class that will only help the Bulldogs in their quest to keep improving.

2013 outlook: After serving as an assistant, Coach Ragle is set to lead a program many feel is on the rise. Eustace has made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, but only once (2011) have the Bulldogs finished with a winning record. A first-year coach welcoming back 14 starters could be the formula for just enough re-energization to a program hoping to take the next step. A district championship is certainly not out of the question, but a sixth consecutive trip to the postseason seems like a safe bet in 2013.

 

3. Lone Oak Buffaloes

Coach: Dean Lasseter

2012 finish: 7-3

Returning starters: 3 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL Colton Busby, Sr., 6-2, 260
  • TE Chawn Cooper, Sr., 6-4, 200
  • FS Ryan Basye, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • WR Trent Sikes, Sr., 5-9, 170
  • RB Devin Shaw, Jr., 5-9, 170
  • QB Andrew Nichol, Jr., 5-11, 165
  • QB Jake Williams, Soph., 5-11, 175

 

2013 outlook: The Buffaloes caught a tough break last season, finishing in a three-way tie with Malakoff and Eustace for the final two playoff sports form the district. Lone Oak, despite a 7-3 overall record, was the odd man out once league tiebreaking rules came into effect. Nonetheless, Lone Oak was a playoff contender a season ago and should be one again this year. Coach Lasseter has a few holes to fill on each side of the ball, but the Buffaloes have a proven program that had made the postseason seven consecutive years leading into the 2012 season. Don’t expect an extended drought. Perhaps the biggest question will who the team chooses as its starting quaterback — Nichol or Williams, who had a banner freshman season on the JV.

 

4. Winnsboro Red Raiders

Coach: Steve Pinnell

2012 finish: 8-4 (Class 2A Division I Region II semifinalist)

Returning starters: 0 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Sheyan Thompson, Sr., 6-4, 215
  • LB David Santoy, Sr., 5-7, 165
  • LB Brian Winburn, Jr., 5-10, 215
  • RB Tedrick Shepherd, Jr., 5-6, 165

 

Offense: It’s not often a team enters a new season with absolutely zero starting experience, but that’s the dilemma facing Coach Pinnell concerning his offense. Not only did the Red Raiders lose last season’s district MVP quarterback Luke Tebbetts to graduation; every other starter is gone too. So to expect a season anything like 2012 when Winnsboro averaged almost 35 points per game might be asking too much. However, Thompson’s size alone makes him intriguing at the quarterback spot moving forward. Winnsboro never does a whole lot of passing in its offense, so having a big QB capable of running through defenders might be an interesting departure from the quick and elusive Tebbetts.

Defense: Winnsboro brings back a handful of starters on defense, but the Red Raiders still must find replacements for eight 2012 regulars. Despite being pretty young on this side of the ball, the defense will be counted upon early to provide to stability as the more inexperienced offense works to find its way. A lot will be put on the shoulders of Santoy, who was an all-district performer a season ago. Winburn, another linebacker, has good size and figures to be a key cog for Coach Pinnell’s defense.

2013 outlook: The Red Raiders’ program is a proud one, owning nine playoff appearance in Coach Pinnell’s 14 seasons at the helm in Winnsboro. This isn’t the first time the veteran coach has had to confront heavy losses brought on by graduation, but the top of the district is heavy on experience, which could make a run at consecutive district titles difficult. Winnsboro has a rough non-district schedule it went 1-3 against in 2012, so the new faces will get tested early. The good news is that the trial-by-fire beginning might yield positive results at the end.

 

5. Quitman Bulldogs

Quitman’s Eli Click. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

Coach: Ron Callahan

2012 finish: 2-8

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL Bobby Wells, Sr., 6-2, 285
  • FB Jesus Ramirez, Sr., 5-6, 180
  • WR Austin Dobbs, Sr., 5-8, 160
  • QB Daniel Davis, Sr., 6-0, 160
  • LB Brad Hamrick, Jr., 5-10, 180
  • OL/DL Dalton Thompson, Soph., 5-10, 210

 

Offense: The Bulldogs weren’t great on offense in 2012, averaging less than 15 points per game. However, Coach Callahan has reason to be optimistic with the return of a few key impact players. Wells is one of the best O-linemen in the area and will be a

Quitman’s Dustin Thompson. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

force up front for the Bulldogs. Ramirez is expected to be at fullback full-time this year after getting some work at quarterback a season ago. The QB-WR duo of Davis and Dobbs has the potential to be special, but others will need to step up to bring Quitman into the discussion of potential playoff teams from the district.

Defense: Quitman allowed 33.3 points per game last season, so working to bring that number down will be a big priority for Coach Callahan and Co. moving forward. Linebackers Hamrick, Elijah Click and Colby Peek give Quitman solid play in the middle of its defense, but finding similar-caliber players up front and in the secondary seems to be a primary focus. Thompson is only a sophomore, but full of potential on the defensive line. The coaching staff might also give a look at Dobbs, Tanner Gilbreath (6-0, 185) and even Davis to find answers in the defensive backfield.

2013 outlook: From 2002-07, Quitman was one of the most consistent 2A programs in the area, compiling a 52-16 during the six-year stretch, including a 12-1 season in 2004. It’s been a rough go ever since with just 18 wins and one playoff appearance in the last five years. Quitman has the pieces in place for what should be an improved season. However, it remains to be seen how much the Bulldogs have closed the gap on the rest of the district. In its four district losses in 2012, Quitman was outscored 144-62.

 

6. Grand Saline Indians

Coach: Michael Ridge

2012 finish: 1-9

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • SS Cody Mercer, Sr., 6-0, 195 (66 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 2 pass break-ups)
  • WR Blake Jones, Sr., 5-8, 175 (18 catches, 152 yards)
  • LB Jake Bennett, Sr., 5-10, 180 (96 tackles, 9 for loss, 6 QB pressures, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
  • OL Cody Neal, Sr., 6-3, 250
  • QB Austen Truett, Jr., 5-11, 190 (99 of 219, 1,120 yards, 4 TDs; 131 carries, 587 yards, 4 TDs)
  • LB Jonathan LaPrade, Jr., 6-0, 185 (62 tackles, 7 for loss, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 2 QB pressures)

 

Offense: The Indians lost 1,000-yard rusher Torrey Ollison to graduation, but Grand Saline still has plenty to work with as seven offensive starters return in 2013. Truett was able to produce both with his arm and his legs, and is looking to take the next step after a solid sophomore season. Jones could turn into a reliable target in the passing game as Grand Saline hopes to improve on its 2012 scoring average of 12.8 points per game. Neal will anchor the offensive line, which also must improve in order for the Indians to turn things around on offense.

Defense: The defense didn’t give the team much of a chance to succeed last season, allowing opponents more than 38 points per game on average. Grand Saline has seven starters back on defense, and several of them were impact players in 2012. Mercer represents the last line of defense and his size, speed and physicality combination make him a perfect fit at strong safety. Bennett is the team’s top returning tackler, and he’ll team with LaPrade to form what should be a solid linebacking duo. Where the Indians need the most help is on the line, which will be key in a district that features teams heavy on the run like Malakoff, Winnsboro and Eustace.

2013 outlook: For two decades, Grand Saline was considered one of the best programs in the area. From 1982-99, the Indians compiled a 161-54-3 record, notching nine double-digit win seasons and 16 playoff appearances in 18 years. But ever since the turn of the century, it’s been tough sledding. Since 2000, Grand Saline is only 46-87-1 and has reached the postseason just four times in the last 13 years. Coach Ridge comes back home to his alma mater after serving as the offensive coordinator at Class 5A Clear Falls. A return to the playoffs this season may be a challenge, but any kind of positive momentum created in Ridge’s first season could lead to big things in the future.

 

7. Kemp Yellowjackets

Coach: Greg Anderson

2012 finish: 1-9

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Corey Watkins, Sr., 6-0, 170
  • WR Jordan Litts, Jr., 6-1, 170
  • DB David Dennis, Jr., 5-8, 165
  • WR Braxton Allison, Sr.
  • RB Olice Rodgers, Sr.

 

2013 outlook: A drop in classification didn’t help the Yellowjackets, who haven’t won more than three games in a season since 2008. Kemp was outscored by an average score of 48-13 in 2012, so there’s a lot to do in the way of changing the culture of the program. Coach Anderson will be counting on the combination of Watkins, Litts and Allison in the passing game, while Rodgers is expecting to get most of the carries out of the backfield. The offense has some potential, but the defense might be Kemp’s primary area of concern. Seven starters are back on the defensive side of the ball, so it appears the pieces could be in place for some improvement.

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