2013 Football Preview: Sulphur Springs + Mount Pleasant Set to Battle for District 14-4A Crown
Two of East Texas' highest-scoring offenses finished atop the District 14-4A standings last season. Don't be surprised if that happens again.
Sulphur Springs and Mount Pleasant each averaged better than 46 points per game in 2012 and enter this fall with plenty of weapons to have similar offensive success. The key to snagging the district title could come down to which team improves more on defense.
Texas High and Hallsville should once again be playoff qualifiers, but don't sleep on Marshall and new head coach Clint Harper, a Marshall native. Pine Tree could also be a surprise team, but the health of quarterback Caleb Chumley has a lot to do with the Pirates' hopes.
District 14-4A Preview
- K.D. Cannon, Sr., WR, Mount Pleasant
- Caleb Chumley, Sr., QB, Pine Tree
- Willy Ivery, Sr., ATH, Sulphur Springs
- Andre Jones, Sr., WR, Hallsville
- Larry Pryor, Jr., QB/S, Sulphur Springs
- Marek Reyes, Sr., WR, Marshall
- Anthony Rhone, Sr., LB, Texas High
- Tarrence Taylor, Sr., RB, Mount Pleasant
- Tre Walker, Sr., RB, Texas High
- Macailyn Wilder, Sr., ATH, Hallsville
- Oct. 11 -- Mount Pleasant at Sulphur Springs
- Oct. 18 -- Sulphur Springs at Texas High
- Oct. 25 -- Texas High at Mount Pleasant
- Nov. 1 -- Mount Pleasant at Hallsville
- Nov. 8 -- Hallsville at Texas High
1. Sulphur Springs Wildcats
Coach: Greg Owens
2012 finish: 8-3 (Class 4A Division II Region II bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 5 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- ATH Willy Ivery, Sr., 5-8, 180 (86 carries, 914 yards, 22 TDs; 54 catches, 674 yards, 6 TDs; 1 KO return TD)
- QB/S Larry Pryor, Jr., 6-1, 185 (118 tackles, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles, 10 PBUs)
- FS Zach Spigner, Jr., 6-0, 180 (89 tackles, 6 PBUs)
- OL Jess Jenkins, Jr., 6-3, 290
- OL Landon Watkins, Jr., 6-0, 250
- OL Austan Davis, Jr., 6-4, 230
- OL Seth Harred, Jr., 6-0, 235
- WR Alex Burney, Sr., 5-8, 165 (22 catches, 294 yards, 4 TDs)
- WR Isaiah Lacy, Sr., 5-9, 150 (10 catches, 177 yards, 1 TD)
- LB Blake Doughtie, Sr., 6-0, 175 (57 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery)
- DL Bryton Wood, Sr., 5-8, 185 (56 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
- LB Dekeistan Mosley, Sr., 5-11, 180 (46 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 recovery)
Offense: The obvious priority for veteran head coach Greg Owens and his staff is replacing starting quarterback Brad Macek, who graduated after throwing for 2,364 yards, 25 touchdowns, and only five interceptions in 2012.
The early candidates might not have much experience at quarterback, but they sure as heck know how to play football.
Multi-faceted playmaker Willy Ivery and big-time 2015 safety prospect Larry Pryor have gotten practice snaps at quarterback in preparation for the 2013 season. Ivery, who holds five Division I FBS offers, accounted for 29 total touchdowns as a junior. Pryor, who holds seven offers from BCS conference schools as a safety, is a great athlete in his own right. They'll be threats to run the ball, but will also have experienced pass-catchers in Alex Burney and Isaiah Lacy.
Perhaps Sulphur Springs' biggest strength is the offensive line, where four starters are back after playing as sophomores a year ago. A couple players may miss some time early on because of offseason injuries, but this group helped the Wildcats average a whopping 46.8 points per game during last year's District 14-4A championship season.
Defense: While Sulphur Springs' offense lit up the scoreboard in 2012, the defense had its problems keeping opponents from doing the same.
Sulphur Springs allowed 39.4 points per game last season, including four games of at least 48 points (the offense was so explosive the Wildcats won two of those games). The good news is eight returning starters, including the aforementioned Pryor, who led the Wildcats in tackles as a sophomore. He joins classmate Zach Spigner, Sulphur Springs' No. 2 tackler in 2012, to give Owens one of East Texas' best safety tandems.
Sulphur Springs may be undersized in the front seven, but the 'Cats should have experience thanks to Bryton Wood, Blake Doughtie, Dekeistan Mosley, and others who played quite a bit a year ago.
2013 Outlook: With 13 starters back from a 14-4A championship team, Sulphur Springs enters the 2013 season as the league favorite once again. Ivery is among the best playmakers in East Texas and is a threat to score almost any time he gets the ball in his hands. Pryor and Spigner are a pair of budding secondary stars, and the Wildcats' offensive line should be even better after starting as sophomores.
Sulphur Springs' 70-33 first-round playoff loss to Wylie East last season snapped a four-year streak of the Wildcats winning at least one playoff game. If they are to start a new postseason winning streak in 2013, they'll have to get strong quarterback play after the departure of Macek. Sulphur Springs has the perimeter players and offensive line to put a lot of points on the board, so the quarterback position will be key in fulfilling the promise that those positions suggest. If Ivery and/or Pryor succeed running the uptempo spread scheme, the defense should need only moderate improvement to give the 'Cats a chance to win a lot of games this fall.
2. Mount Pleasant Tigers
Coach: Mart Graham
2012 finish: 8-3 (Class 4A Division I Region II bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 8 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- WR K.D. Cannon, Sr., 6-0, 160 (committed to Baylor; 104 catches, 1,597 yards, 25 TDs)
- RB Tarrence Taylor, Sr., 5-10, 155 (114 carries, 787 yards, 10 TDs; 21 catches, 218 yards, 1 TD)
- CB Ladarius Craddock, Sr., 5-9, 170 (7 INTs)
- WR Andrew Flanagan, Sr., 6-0, 196 (54 catches, 679 yards, 9 TDs)
- DE T'Nheous Smith, Sr., 6-1, 224 (52 tackles, 13 for loss)
- LB Josh Scoggin, Sr., 5-11, 175 (50 tackles, 4 INTs)
- QB Cullen Grubbs, Sr., 6-1, 200 (18 of 31, 197 yards, 1 TD)
- WR Jaquille Rodgers, Jr., 6-0, 150
- DL Benji Boyd, Jr., 5-10, 260
- OL Devon Hargrove, Sr.
- OL Tywon Walker, Sr.
Offense: Mount Pleasant averaged 46.3 points per game during last year's eight-win campaign, but head coach Mart Graham must replace Montravious James, one of East Texas' most prolific offensive players during the 2012 season.
James threw 3,323 yards, accounting for 4,070 total yards of offense and 48 total touchdowns during his senior campaign. The Tigers turn to Cullen Grubbs to replace him. Grubbs threw for almost 1,000 yards as a sophomore while James was hurt and should step in and keep the Tiger offense rolling.
He'll definitely have major weapons with which to work, including K.D. Cannon, the receiver who is widely considered East Texas' No. 1 recruit in the 2014 class. He led East Texas in receptions and touchdown catches last season and has 2,600 receiving yards during the last two seasons. He joins Andrew Flanagan to give Grubbs a strong 1-2 punch in the passing game.
Then there's Tarrence Taylor, a capable receiver out of the backfield who averaged 7.4 yards per touch on his 135 offensive touches as a junior. He's also capable of being a home-run hitter for the potent Mount Pleasant offense.
Defense: The defense returns six starters from a unit that, like I-30 rival Sulphur Springs, had its issues in 2012.
Mount Pleasant allowed 32.5 points per game last year, but the Tigers yielded 45 or more points three times in their final six games. T'Nheous Smith is the leader up front after leading the team in tackles for loss last year, while Josh Scoggin is solid dropping into coverage from his linebacker spot.
Ladarius Craddock should be one of East Texas' top cornerbacks this fall after picking off seven passes as a junior.
2013 Outlook: Mount Pleasant is much like fellow District 14-4A contender Sulphur Springs. The Tigers boast a high-octane, uptempo offense that puts a lot of points on the scoreboard in a short period of time, but they often have trouble slowing down the opposition.
The Oct. 11 district opener at Sulphur Springs is probably the most important game in 14-4A this fall, as it proved to be last season, when the Wildcats came to Sam Parker Field in Mount Pleasant and won in a shootout, 71-65, that had people all over the state buzzing.
If Grubbs steps into the starting role as well as he did two years ago when James was injured, then Mount Pleasant's offense will once again be very dangerous. The key to the Tigers notching their first playoff victory since 1998.
3. Texas High Tigers
Coach: Barry Norton
2012 finish: 3-7 (Class 4A Division I Region II bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 9 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- LB Anthony Rhone, Sr., 6-0, 210 (committed to SMU; 163 tackles, 2 INTs)
- RB Tre Walker, Sr., 5-9, 175 (171 carries, 1,006 yards, 5 TDs; 31 catches, 355 yards, 2 TDs)
- DB Kevin Harris, Sr., 6-1, 180
- OL Justin Lewis, Sr., 5-11, 275
- QB Clete Norton, Sr. (58 of 130, 574 yards, 4 TDs, 8 INTs; 1 rushing TD)
- DL Will Brown, Jr., 6-3, 285
- WR Dale Williamson, Jr., 5-10, 155 (10 catches, 88 yards)
- WR Taylor Jackson, Sr. (11 catches, 84 yards, 1 TD)
- OL Jojuan Grant, Sr.
- DB Marquan Daniels, Sr.
Offense: Texas High struggled to consistently produce points last year, averaging 16.8 points per game. The Tigers scored 30 points once the entire season -- a 30-13 win vs. Pine Tree -- and scored fewer than 20 points six times.
But longtime head coach Barry Norton, who has taken the Tigers to 12 consecutive postseasons, has nine returning starters to help that offense improve over last year's performance.
Tre Walker is perhaps the biggest key. He's District 14-4A's leading returning rusher after eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark last season, when he also led the Tigers in receiving. Quarterback Clete Norton gained valuable experience a year ago and is back behind a veteran offensive line. If Texas High develops a consistent passing game, that will make Walker even more dangerous on the ground and should help loosen up opposing defenses against both types of attack.
Defense: Texas High's marquee returnee on either side of the ball is linebacker Anthony Rhone, an SMU commit who made more than 160 tackles a year ago in only 10 games.
Rhone will be the leader of a defensive unit that returns six starters after allowing 26.6 points per game in 2012, when the Tigers held six foes to 24 or fewer points. Will Brown is a big, promising junior defensive line who should provide some protection for Rhone and the linebacking corps.
Kevin Harris had a huge spring during track season, qualifying for the Class 4A state meet in the 100-meter dash. His size and athleticism should make him a solid cover corner, a much-needed commodity in a district that includes pass-happy offenses in Mount Pleasant and Sulphur Springs.
2013 Outlook: The 2012 season was Texas High's first below .500 since 1997, which was two seasons before Norton arrived. The Tigers still made the playoffs, but a 3-7 campaign certainly didn't leave a good taste in their mouths.
A solid Texas High defense should be even stronger in 2013, and with all but two offensive starters back, the Tigers can only improve on that side of the ball. Texas High must travel to Mount Pleasant, but the Tigers get Sulphur Springs and Hallsville in the friendly environs of Tiger Stadium, which should help.
Texas High might not have the firepower to be an early-season district title contender, but with 15 starters back and the district's largest enrollment, you have to consider the Tigers as the darkhorse candidate to potentially be the surprise candidate, so to speak, in the 14-4A title race.
4. Hallsville Bobcats
Coach: David Plunk
2012 finish: 7-4 (Class 4A Division II Region II bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 8 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- ATH Macailyn Wilder, Sr., 5-9, 155 (16 of 27, 213 yards, 1 TD; 862 rushing yards, 18 TDs; 24 catches, 328 yards, 1 TD)
- WR Andre Jones, Sr., 5-10, 165 (49 catches, 692 yards, 2 TDs)
- OL Trey Gillespie, Jr., 6-2, 240 (10 starts as a sophomore)
- LB Tyler Martinez, Sr., 5-11, 200 (48 tackles, 2 INTs)
- DB Dewayne Johnson, Jr., 6-1, 195
- WR Jamil Young, Jr., 6-0, 180
- QB Stephon Dunn, Sr., 5-10, 190
- TE Travis Teodorczyk, Sr.
- RB/LB Khalil Sneed, Jr. (63 carries, 459 yards, 2 TDs; 1 receiving TD)
- WR/DB Jaylon Kerby, Jr. (11 catches, 84 yards, 1 TD)
- WR Jacob Walker, Jr. (1 receiving TD)
- OL Logan Bailey, Jr.
- DB Jecori Crayton, Sr. (27 tackles)
Offense: Hallsville returns eight starters from last year's offense that averaged 30.9 points per game, but the three graduated starters could be sorely missed.
Quarterback Austin Toney threw for more than 1,500 yards, while Thaddeus Fagan ran for a team-high 971 yards and seven touchdowns. Then there's the whole at left tackle created by the graduation of Hayden Wall, a 2012 ETSN.fm Super Team First Team selection in January who signed with Abilene Christian.
But veteran head coach David Plunk isn't without offensive weapons. Macailyn Wilder can play almost anywhere on the field. The athletic skill player totaled 20 touchdowns, 18 of which were rushing, as a junior and is back for what could be a big senior year.
Khalil Sneed averaged 7.3 yards per carry backing up Fagan and returns after a solid junior campaign. Andre Jones was Hallsville's leading receiver and gives the Bobcats a target in the passing game. Wilder could potentially be the full-time quarterback, but Stephon Dunn could also be an option after moving to Hallsville from Longview, where he started three games for the Lobos in 2012.
Defense: The defense suffered significant losses to graduation. Hallsville's top three tacklers -- Cayden Ferrill, Coby Bradford, and Jesse Navarro -- are all gone. Ferrill was a three-year starter for the 'Cats before signing with Tarleton State, while Bradford finished among East Texas' sack leaders as a senior, when he recorded 13 1/2.
Hallsville allowed a respectable 24.3 points per game last season, and that number would probably be a good goal for 2013, especially considering high-powered offenses like Mount Pleasant and Sulphur Springs sharing the district.
Two leaders could be linebacker Tyler Martinez, who finished fourth on the team in tackles as a junior, and Dewayne Johnson, a big defensive back poised for a breakout junior year. Jecori Crayton also brings back some experience to the secondary.
2013 Outlook: Hallsville has gone 12-10 during the last two seasons, reaching the first round of the playoffs each year. The 2013 Bobcats will try to get Hallsville to a third consecutive postseason, though they haven't won a playoff game since 2003, when the 'Cats finished 8-4.
Hallsville is in a similar situation as Texas High. Both have a good bit of experience back, particularly on offense, but don't appear to have the firepower to crack into the top two of the district ahead of Sulphur Springs and/or Mount Pleasant. Hallsville yielded 38 points to Sulphur Springs and 54 to Mount Pleasant in seven- and five-point losses, respectively, so the Bobcats must find a way to slow down those offenses unless they think they can get in a shootout with them.
Hallsville could have an outside shot at the District 14-4A crown if the quarterback play is strong and the new faces all over the defense transition into new roles well. But right now, ETSN.fm expects the Bobcats to qualify for the playoffs and have a similar season as they did a year ago, finishing third or fourth in the league.
5. Marshall Mavericks
Coach: Clint Harper
2012 finish: 1-9
Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- WR Marek Reyes, Sr., 5-8, 155 (53 catches, 485 yards, 2 TDs)
- ATH Jaque Kuykendall, Sr., 5-9, 160
- OL Katrail Flanagan, Sr., 6-3, 270
- ATH John Love, Jr., 5-11, 175
- DB Tacory Robinson, Jr., 6-2, 180
- FS Dontavious Boyd, Sr., 6-2, 180
- RB Deondre Osbourne, Soph., 5-10, 170
- LB Kevin Moorehead, Jr., 5-11, 185
- QB Justin Hart, Soph. (83 of 157, 925 yards, 4 TDs, 13 INTs)
Offense: Enter former Marshall quarterback Clint Harper as the Mavericks' new head coach. He led Leander to a 19-6 record during the last two seasons and brings a zone-read scheme with a balanced run-pass approach to force opposing defenses to defend the entire field, something that should pay off at some point considering the types of athletes the Mavs typically have.
Marek Reyes is back after catching 53 passes, and John Love and Jaque Kuykendall could be playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Justin Hart gained extensive varsity experience as a freshman and will be an option at quarterback for Harper.
Deondre Osbourne could be a name to remember. As a freshman, he led District 14-4A in kick return average (33.1) and took one back for a touchdown. He could be a home-run threat at the running back spot.
Defense: Perhaps an even bigger rebuilding effort must be tackled on defense. The Mavericks yielded a District 14-4A-worst 45.5 points per game last season, allowing 49 or more points four times.
The strength of Marshall's defense could be the secondary, where Tacory Robinson and Dontavious Boyd give Harper two big, athletic options to defend the district's strong passing attacks.
Recent Marshall coaches of the past such as Rodney Southern and Thedrick Harris assembled strong defenses that thrived on physicality and speed, especially at the linebacker spots with players like Anthony Davenport, Jamal Kelly, etc. That could be a position of emphasis as Harper, whose Leander team held regular-season foes to an eye-opening 7.1 points per game in 2012, reconstructs the Maverick defensive unit.
2013 Outlook: The 2011-12 seasons marked the worst two-year span in the modern era for Marshall. The Mavericks last won only three games in two seasons in 1957-58.
But the Mavs aren't that far removed from being a Class 4A state title contender, reaching back-to-back Division I championship games in 2004-05. Being a Marshall native, Harper knows as well as anyone the kind of talent that often cycles through MHS and he hopes to take full advantage of that.
Of course, it won't happen overnight. Marshall is on the outside looking in as far as the 2013 District 14-4A playoff race is concerned, but the Mavs' faithful probably aren't expecting an immediate turnaround. After finishing fifth in the league last year, that's where ETSN.fm picks the Mavs to finish this season, but we also expect Harper and company to put Marshall in the direction that could lead to them once again being a district contender in the near future.
6. Pine Tree Pirates
Coach: Derek Fitzhenry
2012 finish: 2-7
Returning starters: 9 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Caleb Chumley, Sr., 6-5, 220 (1,340 total yards, 13 total TDs)
- OL Andrew Lee, Sr., 6-3, 280
- DE/LB Robert Hines, Sr., 6-1, 235
- WR Mason Hays, Jr., 6-0, 175 (32 catches, 777 yards, 4 TDs)
- DL Jeremy Walters, Sr., 5-10, 215
- OL Jacob Smith, Sr., 6-0, 240
- OL Sam Stoker, Jr., 6-4, 325
- ATH Jonathan Giddings, Jr., 5-10, 190 (15 catches, 278 yards, 3 TDs; 1 rushing TD)
- OL William Mitchell, Sr., 6-3, 260
- RB J'Kevian Evans, Soph., 6-0, 170
- DB Lamarcus Reese, Sr., 6-0, 175 (22 tackles, 1 recovery)
- RB Quay Ward, Jr., 5-10, 180 (46 carries, 189 yards)
- QB Dalvin Manns, Sr.
- DL Edwin Paz, Sr., 6-0, 250
Offense: Pine Tree's offensive success -- and perhaps their hopes on finishing in the top four of District 14-4A -- may hinge on Caleb Chumley's availability.
Chumley exploded toward the end of the 2012 season, accounting for more than 1,200 total yards in about two and a half games of action at quarterback. But he recently injured a toe during non-contact drills in practice and no timetable has been set for his return.
If Chumley, who holds nine Division I FBS offers, is not cleared to play anytime soon, the Pirates will have to come up with a new formula for the 2013 season. Dalvin Manns would be the likely replacement at quarterback, and he's impressed coaches during practice.
Manns would have perhaps the district's biggest offensive line blocking for him, the majority of which started in 2012. Mason Hays returns as Pine Tree's top receiving target, and Jonathan Giddings got solid playing time and scored three touchdowns a year ago.
Regardless of Chumley's status, Pine Tree has a good chance at improving on the 23.8 points per game the Pirates averaged in 2012.
Defense: Defense has been Pine Tree's Achilles heel in recent seasons. The Pirates allowed 40.8 points per game last season, the fourth in a row that PT surrendered at least 37.3 points per contest. The defensive struggles are a major reason Pine Tree is 5-34 in that four-year span.
With eight returning starters, the Bucs have a good shot at cutting into that number.
While the defensive front doesn't possess the same size as PT's offensive front, there is experience in players such as Jeremy Walters and Robert Hines. Lamarcus Reese got significant playing time last year in the secondary.
The offense's ability to improve on last year's production should also help the defense in its quest to get its points allowed figure out of the 30's.
2013 Outlook: Obviously, Pine Tree cannot allow Chumley's aforementioned toe ailment to derail its season if the injury is a serious one. Even without the big, athletic playmaker, third-year head coach Derek Fitzhenry has 16 returning starters from a team that competed better than it had in recent seasons.
With Chumley, Pine Tree could potentially threaten for one of the final two playoff spots form District 14-4A, especially considering the uncertainty/unpredictability that seems to be a possibility after Sulphur Springs and Mount Pleasant in the district hierarchy. Without Chumley, PT could have a tough time trying to snap an 11-season playoff drought that dates to 2001.