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2013 Football Preview: Talented Senior Class Hoping to Lead Palestine to 19-3A Title

They may not have an Adrian Peterson, but there is some serious talent for the Palestine Wildcats in 2013. Enough so that a District 19-3A championship could be in the offing.

Fairfield, the reigning league champ, may have something to say about that along with an up-and-coming Groesbeck. Rusk also figures to be in the postseason mix, so an exciting district race seems imminent.

 

District 19-3A Preview

Palestine’s Jarrell Owens. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • Octavian Arrington, DL, Sr., Rusk
  • Danny Huckaby, WR/DB, Sr., Groesbeck
  • Ben Luckett, RB, Sr., Palestine
  • Jarrell Owens, DL/LB, Sr., Palestine
  • Larry Rose, RB, Sr., Fairfield
  • Brian Thlang, OL, Sr., Palestine
  • Kaylon Watson, WR, Sr., Mexia

 

TOP GAMES

  • Rusk at Groesbeck, 7:30 p.m., Nov. 1
  • Fairfield at Palestine, 7:30 p.m., Nov. 8
  • Mexia at Rusk, 7:30 p.m., Nov. 8

 

1. Palestine Wildcats

Palestine’s Ben Luckett. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

Coach: Lance Angel

2012 finish: 7-4 (Class 3A Division I bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • DL/LB Jarrell Owens, Sr., 6-3, 245 (committed to TCU)
  • OL Brian Thlang, Sr., 6-2, 285 (committed to ULM)
  • RB Ben Luckett, Sr., 6-0, 195
  • QB Fabian “Gee” Clark, Jr., 6-0, 165 (1,134 passing yards, 14 TDs)
  • OL Eric Gonzales, Sr., 6-0, 295
  • LB Chris Weaver, Jr., 5-9, 175
  • LB Brian Gummelt, Sr., 5-9, 175

 

Offense: Palestine welcomes back seven starters from an offense that averaged more than 36 points per game in 2012. Most of the Wildcats’ rushing output last year belonged to Darrius Stephens, Luckett and Owens. Stephens was lost to graduation

Palestine’s Brian Thlang. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

and Owens is expected to play the majority of his snaps on defense this season, so a lot of the workload will be on the shoulders of Luckett, whose size and speed make him a threat almost every time he touches the ball. Clark, who took over at quarterback early on last season, is back to pilot the offense after showing steady progress throughout his sophomore season. The Wildcats’ offensive line should be among the best in the area as well with the return of Thlang and Gonzales, whose size alone makes them difficult to handle in the trenches.

Defense: As mentioned earlier, Owens will be counted on a lot more on defense this season after spending most of his time at running back last fall. Injuries kept Coach Angel from utilizing everything a guy like Owens can bring to the table, but when healthy, there aren’t too many defenders in all of East Texas as good. Palestine lost some speed in the secondary, but the linebacking corps should be a strength with Weaver and Gummelt back after nice seasons in 2012. Palestine allowed more than 24 points per game last season, but with more than half of its defensive starters returning, that number should come down this season.

2013 outlook: Palestine showed flashes of what it was capable of last season, playing district champion Fairfield to overtime and hanging with heavily-favored Carthage for four quarters in their first-round playoff game. Now, Coach Angel is looking for more consistency as Palestine aims to take the next step and become a factor once the playoffs roll around. A challenging non-district schedule that features the likes of Waco La Vega, Jacksonville and Chapel Hill should serve as a good barometer as the 19-3A slate approaches. Fairfield once again appears to be the Wildcats’ biggest threat, but if everyone can stay relatively healthy, Palestine should make a serious run at the district championship.

 

2. Fairfield Eagles

Coach: John Bachtel

2012 finish: 8-4 (Class 3A Division II area finalist)

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Larry Rose, Sr., 6-0, 175 (986 rushing yards, 11 TDs)
  • WR/S Bryson Gates, Sr., 6-3, 215 (38 tackles, 8 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 QB pressure, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovery)
  • WR Chris Lide, Sr., 6-0, 185 (27 catches, 329 yards, 5 TDs)
  • DB Jacob Gallegos, Sr., 6-0, 165 (54 tackles, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 4 recoveries, 4 pass break-ups)
  • DL Jeremiah Simpson, Sr., 5-11, 180 (72 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery)
  • LB Alex Ward, Sr., 5-9, 170 (60 tackles, 6 for loss, 3 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 4 pass break-ups)

 

2013 outlook: Fairfield will have to replace the production of last season’s 1,200-yard rusher Andre Welch, but getting Rose back is a good start. The Eagles enter the new year also in search of a new quarterback. Coach Bachtel appears set on going with Chance Carroll, last season’s defensive Newcomer of the Year in district. If Fairfield can find replacements for Welch and quarterback Aaron Cain as well find some new receivers and offensive linemen, the Eagles could match last year’s scoring output of 31 points per game. If not, a lot of pressure will fall to the defense, which has seven starters back from a unit that allowed opponents almost 27 points a game. There’s a few question marks, but Fairfield has had solid success of late, compiling a 27-7 record over the last three seasons.

 

3. Groesbeck Goats

Coach: Kodi Crane

2012 finish: 6-5 (Class 3A Division II bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR/DB Danny Huckaby, Sr., 6-0, 162 (22 catches, 567 yards, 5 TDs; 3 INTs)
  • OL Zack Morgan, Sr., 6-1, 251 (21 pancake blocks)
  • DL Tyrell Henderson, Sr., 6-0, 267
  • QB Jacob Fox, Jr., 5-11, 172
  • LB Sterling Cable, Sr., 5-11, 200 (70 tackles)
  • RB Cody Wilson, Sr, 5-7, 160 (197 rushing yards)

 

2013 outlook: Groesbeck broke through last season, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1998. In fact, the Goats’ record from 1999-2011 was just 49-81. Now the question becomes what does Groesbeck do for an encore? Huckaby is one of the best athletes in the district. In 2012, he averaged 25.8 yards per catch and played stellar defense. With about half of their starters back, it remains to be seen how much the Goats have closed the gap between them and district favorites Palestine and Fairfield. Groesbeck lost by three touchdowns to league champ Fairfield in 2012, while falling seven points short to runner-up Palestine. If Fox is the answer at quarterback, it doesn’t seem out of the question for Groesbeck to challenge either one for district supremacy, but a second consecutive postseason berth is very likely.

 

4. Rusk Eagles

Rusk’s Vijay Stingley. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

Coach: Ted Patton

2012 finish: 5-5

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • DL Octavian Arrington, Sr., 6-2, 230 (88 tackles, 10 for loss)
  • FB Ray Foreman, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • OL Zach Swearingen, Sr., 6-2, 250
  • DL Morgan Johnson, Sr., 6-4, 240 (35 tackles, 5 for loss)
  • RB D.J. Glenn, Jr., 5-9, 150 (242 rushing yards, 1 TD)
  • DB Vijay Stingley, Sr., 5-10, 155

 

Offense: The Eagles will miss 1,400-yard rusher Chaston Bennett in the backfield in 2013, but like always, there is no shortage of athletic backs in Rusk’s traditional option attack. Glenn and Foreman figure to see a lot of the action, but don’t be surprised if

Rusk’s D.J. Glenn. (© Christopher R. Vinn/www.etsn.fm)

several ball carriers get into the act, especially early in the season. Swearingen will anchor’s Rusk front line, which is usually one of the most fundamentally sound units in the area. The Eagles will need to find a triggerman at quarterback to run the show, but not necessarily for throwing — rather making the right reads in the option game, something that takes time and loads of repetitions. But if all goes according to plan, Coach Patton is hopeful his offense can at least replicate its 2012 scoring average of more than 31 points per game.

Defense: Rusk figures to be strong up front with the return of Arrington and Johnson. The linebacking corps should be solid as well with Jeremy Turner and Austin Ballew manning the mid-level, but the Eagles will need to find some new faces to patrol the secondary. Stingley returns, but others are needed in order for Rusk to keep the top of the district from exploiting the back end. Rusk allowed 28 points a game in 2012, so preventing big plays over the top of the defense will be a primary concern for Coach Patton and Co.

2013 outlook: Things started off so well for Rusk last season as the Eagles got off to a 4-0 start, outscoring their first four opponents 169-39. But everything turned south pretty quick as Rusk lost its next five by an average margin of 20.6 points. The message for this year’s group will undoubtedly be to finish what they start. If Rusk can match its 4-0 start from last year, the Oct. 4 clash at preseason No. 1 Carthage should say a lot about how the district season will go for the Eagles.

 

5. Mexia Blackcats

Coach: Lamonte Chambers

2012 finish: 0-10

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR Kaylon Watson, Sr., 6-0, 210
  • WR Ike Jones, Sr., 5-10, 170
  • C Cristian Barco, Sr., 5-10, 240
  • RB Quavious Gamble, Jr., 6-0, 190
  • QB Ronald Jackson III, Jr., 5-8, 160

 

2013 outlook: After posting a 24-11 record from 2008-10, the Mexia program has fallen on hard times in the last two seasons. The Blackcats followed 2011′s 2-9 campaign with the school’s first winless season since 1942 last year. Coach Chambers is hoping for better results in his second year in charge. Watson and Jones have loads of potential at receiver, and Gamble could be a big weapon in the running game. The quarterbacking duties figure to belong to Jackson this season, and a lot will be riding on his shoulders if Mexia is to improve its 2012 scoring average of 17.3 points per game. However, no improvement on offense will be good enough if the Blackcats can’t keep opponents off the scoreboard with more regularity. Mexia allowed more than 50 points per game in 2012.

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