Venture into deep East Texas and you'll find athletes, and many of them, no matter the size of the town or school. District 10-2A Division I is a six-team league full of them.

While San Augustine and West Sabine should factor most prominently into the district championship discussion, there are plenty of proud and also up-and-coming programs that may surprise.

Shelbyville has a ton of firepower back after just missing out on the playoffs last year, Joaquin is a proven program not used to losing and Beckville won seven games last season and has a brand new coaching staff coming into 2014.

District 10-2A Division I Preview

West Sabine QB Reshod Williams. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)
PLAYMAKERS
  • Nate Belrose, RB, Soph., Joaquin
  • J.D. Brown, WR, Sr., San Augustine
  • Octavian Burrell, RB, Jr., Shelbyville
  • Joshua Duffey, WR, Sr., West Sabine
  • Jeremy Jenkins, RB, Sr., San Augustine
  • Kal Metcalf, LB, Jr., Shelbyville
  • Jacari Reed, RB/LB, Jr., Beckville
  • Jonathan Rico, RB, Sr., Joaquin
  • JaMikel Roberts, QB, Sr., San Augustine
  • Reshod Williams, QB, Sr., West Sabine
  • Kirkland Wilson, DB, Sr., West Sabine
  • Braden Wise, QB, Jr., Beckville

 

TOP GAMES
  • Oct. 10 -- West Sabine at San Augustine
  • Oct. 31 -- San Augustine at Shelbyville
  • Nov. 7 -- Shelbyville at West Sabine
  • Nov. 7 -- Beckville at Joaquin

 

1. San Augustine Wolves

San Augustine DL Cercharvic Berry. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Donald Hubbard

2013 finish: 5-7 (1A D-I area finalist)

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 11 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/DB JaMikel Roberts, Sr., 5-11, 172 (135 of 247, 2,404 yards, 37 TDs, 9 INTs; 149 carries, 1,036 yards, 10 TDs; 74 tackles, 1 INT)
  • RB/LB Jeremy Jenkins, Sr., 5-9, 180 (186 carries, 1,030 yards, 10 TDs; 5 catches, 29 yards; 102 tackles, 6 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU)
  • WR J.D. Brown, Sr. (29 catches, 253 yards, 3 TDs)
  • DL Cercharvic Berry, Jr. (77 tackles, 14 for loss, 4 sacks, 8 QB pressures, 3 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries)
  • DL Cercharvis Berry, Jr.
  • OL Y'Venske Rushing, Sr., 6-1, 230
  • OL E.J. Barnes, Jr.
  • DL Javen Taylor, Sr. (72 tackles, 7 for loss, 3 sacks)

 

Offense: Despite posting a losing record, San Augustine's offense was one of the area's best at the 1A level a season ago. The Wolves had a dynamic, dual-threat quarterback, a 1,000-yard rusher at running back and two game-breaking receivers on the outside. San Augustine loses both receivers -- Dez Randle and Jarvis Smith -- but fourth-year coach Donald Hubbard has his QB and RB back, along with a whole host of returning starters that could help the Wolves get back to winning and winning with regularity.

San Augustine OL Y'Venske Rushing. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Quarterback JaMikel Roberts is one of the top signal-callers in the state at his level of competition. After posting nearly 3,500 total yards and 46 touchdowns as a junior, the sky appears to be the limit for what Roberts is capable of in 2014. Over the summer, the Wolves QB performed well at the second annual ETSN.fm + APEC Football Recruiting Combine, earning MVP honors at his position. Running back Jeremy Jenkins balances a hard-nosed running style with a penchant for making defenders miss in the open field. With the receiving corps depleted, expect the rushing totals for both Roberts and Jenkins -- both 1,000-yard rushers in 2013 -- to increase this fall.

Defense: If there was one thing that held San Augustine back last season it was its defense. The Wolves surrendered an unsightly 41.4 points per game a year ago, which included three games in which they allowed more than 60 points. Fortunately for San Augustine, all 11 defensive starters are back to try making amends.

San Augustine DL Javen Taylor. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Jenkins sets the tone on defense from his middle linebacker spot, after making plays both behind the line of scrimmage and in pass coverage as a junior. Roberts, the Wolves' best overall athlete, patrols the secondary at free safety and it wouldn't be surprising to see him score defensively after a solid 2013 campaign. The Berry twins -- Cercharvic and Cercharvis -- will be a force to be reckoned with for opposing offensive linemen, and fellow D-lineman Javen Taylor will team to form what should be one of the most fearsome front lines among 2A schools in East Texas.

2014 outlook: San Augustine has made the playoffs all three years under Hubbard, and with 18 starters back, the odds are in the Wolves' favor once again to reach the postseason. But San Augustine is thinking bigger. Perennial power Alto was realigned into another district, which leaves reigning league champion West Sabine as the Wolves' primary competition for the district hardware. San Augustine brings back loads more experience than West Sabine, but it remains to be seen whether the gap has closed enough after last season's 60-21 loss.

Aside from the Wolves' competition in district, it appears Alto and Centerville will present the most difficultly for San Augustine in the playoffs out of Region III. With a dynamic playmaker at quarterback like Roberts leading the way, it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that San Augustine could go on a long postseason run into late November or early December.

 

2. West Sabine Tigers

Coach: Tod Stark

2013 finish: 10-1 (1A D-I regional semifinalist)

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Reshod Williams, Sr., 5-9, 170 (1,358 passing yards, 20 TDs; 961 rushing yards, 5 TDs)
  • DB Kirkland Wilson, Sr., 5-8, 185 (50 tackles, 8 INTs)
  • WR Joshua Duffey, Sr., 6-2, 175 (19 catches, 502 yards)
  • LB Ty Fore, Sr. 6-1, 180 (80 tackles)
  • OL Tyler Sepulvado, Jr., 5-11, 220
  • OL Tyler Rhodes, Jr., 5-10, 200
  • WR Lance Johnson, Sr., 5-8, 140
  • OL/DL Nick Harper, Soph., 6-2, 200

 

Offense: Simply put: West Sabine's offense was a machine in 2013. The Tigers made putting up 50 points on a weekly basis look rather easy as West Sabine averaged a whopping 51.5 points per game a season ago. Taking it a step further, West Sabine scored at least 60 points on six occasions during the course of the regular season. And while coach Tod Stark must replace the vast majority of starters on that side of the ball, he still has the man that made it all go last season.

Quarterback Reshod Williams returns for his senior year after directing East Texas' highest-scoring offense as a junior. His numbers as a whole weren't overly-impressive until you look at his yards-per-completion rate. Williams threw for less than 1,400 yards, but ended up throwing 20 touchdowns, which equated into a TD pass every 69 yards. Receiver Joshua Duffey was one of his top big-play threats down the field as he averaged a staggering 26.4 yards per catch.

Defense: As much attention as the offense received in 2013, the West Sabine defense may have been the backbone to the team last season. The Tigers pitched four shutouts and allowed just 11.9 points per contest, which made for an average final score of 52-12. West Sabine, however, has just as many holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball as it does on offense.

But like on offense, there are a couple of playmakers to build around. Defensive back Kirkland Wilson made plays all over the field last season, and finished his junior with a team-best eight interceptions. Linebacker Ty Fore also returns and seems primed for another big season, while Nick Harper looks to build upon his successful freshman campaign.

2014 outlook: Despite losing some very prominent pieces to last season's district championship team, West Sabine still figures to be in the mix for another league title. Williams is a special player at the quarterback position, and Wilson has enough athletic and instinctual ability to serve as a game changer on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers may have a psychological edge over San Augustine following last year's drubbing, but West Sabine will need help from a bevy of newcomers in order to keep their hands on the district's top prize.

Regardless of whether a league title is in the cards for West Sabine this season, the Tigers are still a definite playoff team, capable of winning a game or two if they get a couple of breaks to go their way.

 

3. Shelbyville Dragons

Coach: Jason Ferguson

2013 finish: 5-5

Returning starters: 9 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • FB Octavian Burrell, Jr. (1,500 rushing yards, 31 TDs)
  • LB Kal Metcalf, Jr., 5-11, 233
  • LB Qay Mallard, 5-11, 196
  • DL Riheam Jenkins, 5-9, 171
  • DB Colton Bearden, Sr., 5-10, 161
  • QB C.J. Watson, Sr.
  • RB Dee Osby, Sr., 5-8, 172
  • DB Isiah Stanberry, Jr.

 

Offense: Even though Shelbyville just missed out on a postseason, its offense clearly wasn't the reason. Behind a powerful ground game, the Dragons averaged 39 points per game in 2013, and with nine starters back on that side of the ball, expect even better production in 2014.

The offense begins and ends with junior fullback Octavian Burrell, who is a candidate for 2,000 yards and 35 touchdowns if he remains healthy and the Dragons can play enough games. Burrell brings a combination of size and speed that's difficult to contain at this level, and it figures the Dragons will go as far Burrell's legs can take them. Quarterback C.J. Watson and tailback Dee Osby are also very capable compliments to Burrell, and with a tad more consistency from both, Shelbyville could emerge as a serious threat to the district hierarchy before the season's all said and done.

Defense: Shelbyville's defense was slightly below average, but with eight players with starting experience back in the fold, coach Jason Ferguson and company are expecting a more well-round defensive attack. Several impact players return to the defense, which should make for a much-improved brand of football.

Linebacker Kal Metcalf is a beast in the middle of the defense. He's one of, if not the strongest, player in the program and his play on the field speaks for itself. His linebacking partner Qay Mallard looks to make up for lost time after missing play last season because of an injury. Defensive lineman Riheam Jenkins uses lightning-quickness off the edge to win one-on-one battles in the trenches, while the DB combo of Colton Bearden and Isiah Stanberry will make opposing quarterbacks think twice about throwing in their direction.

2014 outlook: Shelbyville would've made things interesting in the district race last season if not for a 42-36 loss to Alto in the regular-season finale, which ultimately kept the Dragons out of the playoffs for the third consecutive season. Fast forward to this season, and there's no more Alto to worry about in the district, and Shelbyville has plenty of experience returning to make for another exciting run through the season. Perhaps this time, the regular season will feature a much happier ending for the Dragons.

 

4. Joaquin Rams

Joaquin's Nate Belrose (11) tries to turn the corner during the Rams' 49-46 first-round playoff loss to San Augustine on Nov. 14, 2013, at Carthage's Bulldog Stadium. (Bud Worley, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Wayne Gandy

2013 finish: 5-5 (1A D-I bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/DB Nate Belrose, Soph., 5-9, 165 (180 carries, 1,514 yards, 16 TDs; 12 catches, 326 yards, 2 TDs; 67 tackles, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery)
  • RB Jonathan Rico, Sr., 5-8, 163 (178 carries, 1,232 yards, 9 TDs; 4 catches, 43 yards, 1 TD)
  • DL Adam Mason, Sr., 5-10, 219 (95 tackles, 3 for loss)
  • OL Dalton Wheless, Sr., 5-10, 223
  • TE Tristan Hairgrove, Sr., 5-11, 210 (3 catches, 61 yards)
  • DL Tristan Smith, Sr., 5-11, 190 (39 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
  • OL/DL Colby Hamilton, Jr., 6-2, 265 (28 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 INT)
  • OL Rustin Miller, Soph., 5-10, 272

 

Offense: There's no secret as to what Joaquin wants to do when it has the ball. A run-first approach has helped guide the Rams to great success over the last decade under longtime coach Wayne Gandy. Last season, the offense wasn't extraordinarily explosive, but very consistent and extremely methodical. Joaquin averaged 31.5 points per game and churned out 369 rushing yards each week on average. And the good news for the Rams is that both of their workhorses out of the backfield in 2013 are back for what they hope are even more productive seasons.

Joaquin's Jonathan Rico (12) hits the hole during the Rams' 49-46 first-round playoff loss to San Augustine on Nov. 14, 2013, in Carthage. (Bud Worley, ETSN.fm)

Nate Belrose enjoyed a breakout freshman campaign by leading Joaquin in both rushing and receiving. His athletic ability was apparent to the coaching staff from the get-go last summer, enough so that Belrose emerged as the Rams' best threat on offense. He'll once again team up with senior running back Jonathan Rico, giving Joaquin two backs that each went over 1,200 yards a year ago. The rest of the offense, save for a couple holders on the offensive line, may be a work in progress. The Rams will be big and physical upfront, which should lead to plenty of room to operate for the newcomers at the skill positions.

Defense: Joaquin's defense had its moments in 2013, but more will be needed from this unit if the Rams are to entertain ideas of competing for a district championship. The Rams allowed opponents to average 27 points per game last season, and it came back to bite them in the first round of the playoffs when Joaquin allowed two double-digit leads in the fourth quarter slip away against San Augustine.

Defensive lineman Adam Mason anchors what should be a beefy front line for Joaquin. He'll be joined up front by Tristan Smith and Colby Hamilton, a trio that should make running the football against Joaquin a dicey proposition. Belrose, when not impacting the game on offense, is a standout defender in the secondary, capable of creating turnovers and positive field position for his offensive teammates.

2014 outlook: Joaquin has compiled an 88-47 record in Gandy's 12 seasons at the helm, including three years of 10 wins or more. In fact, the Rams have only missed the playoffs three times under Gandy, so the odds of Joaquin missing out in 2014 aren't very high. Like every year, Joaquin's success will hinge on how well it takes care of the football and how much time its grind-it-out offensive attack can eat off the clock, keeping more explosive offenses like San Augustine, West Sabine and Shelbyville off the field.

 

5. Beckville Bearcats

Coach: Lance Gamble

2013 finish: 7-3

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Braden Wise, Jr., 5-10, 185 (912 passing yards, 12 TDs)
  • RB/LB Jacari Reed, Jr., 5-9, 172 (425 rushing yards, 8 TDs; 87 tackles, 9 for loss)
  • TE Loguen Wesner, Sr., 6-0, 170
  • LB Jase Dixon, Soph., 5-9, 160
  • DB Garrett Hope, Jr.
  • DL Marquis Bradford, Sr.
  • DB Bryce Harris, Sr.
  • RB Rahmon Mitchell, Jr.

 

Offense: Beckville did enough offensively to end up finishing with a successful seven-win season, even though that left the Bearcats short of the postseason. Beckville averaged more than 27 points per game, but that number dipped significantly during district when the Bearcats managed only 21.2 per week. However, both of those figures could be on their back up with seven offensive starters returning to the fold in 2014.

Braden Wise showed promise at quarterback as a sophomore, and all that's left is a strong follow-up performance as a junior. Running back Jacari Reed figures to have his workload increase after putting up solid numbers in an understudy role a year ago. No matter how Wise and Reed perform, others will be counted on to step up because the rest of the district is comprised of teams that should be able to score with regularity.

Defense: The Bearcats defense was good all season, but in particular the first half of the year, when Beckville allowed a minuscule 5.6 points per game. But it was in district when the unit began to let up a bit. In its five league games, Beckville surrendered 24.6 points on average. And with the offense hitting a dry spell at the same time, that ultimately spelled disaster.

Beckville, armed with seven defenders with previous starting experience, should be much improved at all three levels. Marquis Bradford will be a handful along the defensive line, while Reed and Jase Dixon give the Bearcats a solid duo in the linebacking corps. Garrett Hope and Bryce Harris are solid athletes out of the secondary, who will be charged with containing the big-play potential of district contenders San Augustine and West Sabine.

2014 outlook: Lance Gamble, the son of former Alto coaching great Lucky Gamble, takes over the Beckville program after a two-year run from departing coach Eric Robinson. Any time there is a change at the top, a few growing pains are sure to follow, but it's not as if the new coaching staff is inheriting a roster full of unknowns. Most of the projected starters are seasoned players, who helped the Bearcats finish just one game shy of the playoffs. From the outside looking in, it appears Beckville could take a step back, but all it takes is just a couple of games to build a positive wave of momentum the team can ride all the way to the playoffs.

 

6. Cushing Bearkats

Coach: Bill Jehling

2013 finish: 1-9

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Jacob Smelley, Sr., 5-11, 170
  • OL Taylor McBride, Jr., 6-4, 285
  • RB Collin McGinnis, 5-11, 185
  • LB Hayden McCormack, Sr., 5-9, 175
  • DL Tristin Wright, Jr.
  • RB Darian Buckley, Jr.
  • WR Mason Reeves, Soph.
  • DB Brayan Valencia, Sr.

 

Offense: A struggle would be putting it mildly when discussing Cushing's offense in 2013. The Bearkats managed to average just a little more than 10 points per game last season, suffering two shutouts and seven games with only one touchdown or less. But there is something positive that came out of last year's disappointment. First-year coach Bill Jehling has eight starters returning from the offensive side of the ball, which if nothing else, should lead to marginal improvement.

Running backs Collin McGinnis and Darian Buckley will be leaned on out of the backfield, while receiver Mason Reeves is hoping for steady progress after enjoying breakout success his freshman campaign. Taylor McBride is a big body along the front line, so it could take more than one defender to get past him, which would create openings for the ball carriers and more time to deliver passes for the quarterback.

Defense: Things weren't much better on the defensive side of the ball for Cushing last season, as the Bearkats allowed opponents 41.7 points on average per week. The offense had trouble scoring, true, but the defense's struggles prevented any hope the Bearkats had of being competitive on a weekly basis.

However, several impact players on defense return, which should make the new coaching staff's job a little easier. Tristin Wright showed flashes on the defensive line as a sophomore, while the linebacking tandem of Jacob Smelley and Hayden McCormack are back after gaining valuable Friday night experience a season ago. Defensive back Brayan Valenica is another potential playmaker on the defensive side the coaches are eager to see develop.

2014 outlook: Cushing has not won more than two games in a season since 2007, reached the playoffs since '97 and has just three winning seasons to its name in the last 16 years. Part of the problem has been continuity. From 1998 to the present, Cushing has had 11 different head coaches, which can take its toll on a community lacking in football tradition. The playoffs in 2014 are a bit of a reach at this point, but with every new coaching regime, there's always hope for the future.