After two years of being housed in the same district as perennial state power Carthage, Jasper and Center, Diboll and Huntington are hoping a change of scenery will help inject some life into their downtrodden programs.

Diboll and Huntington were a combined 2-18 in 2013, but two of out of three new district opponents failed to achieve a winning record last season. And in this day age when two league wins can lock down a playoff spot, suddenly Diboll and Huntington have a lot to play for.

Coldspring-Oakhurst, which has played for two state titles since 2010, headlines District 8-4A Division II, while Shepherd and Madisonville figure to be locks to reach the postseason as well.

That leaves Diboll, Huntington and Cleveland Tarkington -- 0-9 last season -- battling it out for the fourth and final postseason spot from the district.

District 8-4A Division II Preview

PLAYMAKERS
  • Tristan Allen, DB, Sr., Shepherd
  • Alec Dunham, LB, Sr., Coldspring-Oakhurst
  • Daylon Giddens, RB, Jr., Coldspring-Oakhurst
  • Javonte Green, RB, Sr., Shepherd
  • Hunter Johnson, QB, Sr., Cleveland Tarkington
  • Jailyn Smith, QB, Jr., Madisonville
  • Demetrius Vinson, DL, Sr., Diboll
  • Tyji Whaley, LB, Sr., Madisonville

 

TOP GAMES
  • Oct. 10 -- Shepherd at Coldspring-Oakhurst
  • Oct. 24 -- Madisonville at Shepherd
  • Nov. 7 -- Cleveland Tarkington at Diboll
  • Nov. 7 -- Madisonville at Coldspring-Oakhurst

 

1. Coldspring-Oakhurst Trojans

Coach: Bryan Barbay

2013 finish: 10-2 (3A D-II regional semifinalist)

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/LB Alec Dunham, Sr., 6-1, 215 (32 carries, 265 yards, 1 TD; committed to TCU)
  • RB Daylon Giddens, Jr., 6-0, 175 (123 carries, 710 yards, 9 TDs)
  • DB Deionta Harrison, Sr., 5-10, 170 (39 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
  • LB Jake Monroe, Jr., 6-0, 245 (34 tackles, 2 for loss, 2 fumble recoveries)
  • LB Quan Terry, Sr., 6-2, 210 (44 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 3 recoveries, 3 INTs)
  • OL Dawson Kier, Jr., 6-3, 220
  • RB Ed Hayes, Jr., 6-3, 190 (41 carries, 331 yards, 3 TDs)
  • DB Brett Sykes, Sr., 5-7, 150 (37 tackles, 2 INTs)

 

2014 outlook: Fewer teams have had a better run the last five seasons that Coldspring-Oakhurst, which has played for two state championships and compiled a record of 57-11 since 2009. And considering the other five teams in the district combined to go 13-37 last season, it should come as no surprise the Trojans enter the new year overwhelming favorites to capture the district title. Coldspring-Oakhurst does have a few holes to fill from last season's 10-win team, but having TCU pledge Alec Dunham return to both running back and linebacker gives the Trojans a good man to build around. Junior running back Daylon Giddens, after a strong sophomore campaign, figures to be in position for a 1,000-yard season if he remains healthy. However, advancing deep into the playoffs could be a chore in Region II with the likes of Gilmer, Gladewater, Tatum and Fairfield looming.

 

2. Shepherd Pirates

Coach: Chip Keel

2013 finish: 6-4

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Javonte Green, Sr., 5-8, 160
  • DB Tristan Allen, Sr., 6-1, 160
  • OL/DL Dakota Bailey, Sr.
  • RB/LB Alex Rios, Sr., 5-6, 155
  • LB John Moye, Sr., 5-10, 190
  • QB Zach Truelove, Jr., 6-2, 190
  • DL Jonathan Marshall, Jr., 6-3, 245
  • ATH Royse See, Jr., 6-1, 185

 

2014 outlook: Shepherd put forth a solid six-win season in 2013, but it did not result in a playoff berth, as the Pirates managed only two victories in district. Shepherd feels good about its chances this season with the return of 14 starters and a district that is, in part, comprised of four teams that failed to produce a winning record a year ago. Senior running back Javonte Green figures to be the Pirates' workhorse out of the backfield, while junior Royse See is a versatile player who could be utilized in a multitude of ways this fall. Senior defensive back Tristan Allen simply makes plays in the secondary, while D-lineman Jonathan Marshall has good size and will anchor Shepherd's attack up front.

 

3. Madisonville Mustangs

Coach: Greg Morgan

2013 finish: 5-6 (3A D-II bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Tyji Whaley, Sr., 5-11, 185 (47 tackles, 7 for loss, 1 sack, 1 PBU)
  • QB Jailyn Smith, Jr., 5-9, 170 (54 of 118, 688 yards, 12 TDs, 2 INTs)
  • DL Austin Ashley, Sr., 6-3, 270 (37 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery)
  • OL Jabre Burns, Sr., 5-10, 240
  • ATH R'Kelian Wiley, Jr., 6-0, 175 (4 catches, 67 yards, 2 TDs; 14 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 5 PBU)
  • OL Oskar Garcia, Jr., 5-9, 215
  • RB Antwoine Curtis, Sr., 5-9, 175 (88 carries, 502 yards, 6 TDs)
  • LB David Glover, Jr., 5-10, 185 (21 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack)

 

2014 outlook: Madisonville reached the playoffs last season despite breaking even during the regular season. Accomplishing another trip to the postseason will depend on how quickly a slew of newcomers become acclimated to Friday nights after the Mustangs graduated all but seven of their starters from 2013. There is another Whaley in the program in the person of Tyji Whaley, who follows in the footsteps of Chris and Alonzo Whaley, who went on to star in college at Texas and Nebraska, respectively. Offensively, much of Madisonville's success will hinge on the progression of quarterback Jailyn Smith, who showed flashes of stardom as a sophomore.

 

4. Diboll Lumberjacks

Coach: Blake Morrison

2013 finish: 1-10 (3A D-II bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • DL Demetrius Vinson, Sr., 6-2, 242 (52 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 0.5 sacks, 2 QB pressures, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 blocked kick)
  • QB Kevin Hurley, Jr., 6-2, 175 (33 of 100, 354 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs)
  • WR Jamarcus Polk, Jr. (2 catches, 53 yards, 1 TD)
  • RB/LB Deverick Thompson, Sr., 5-11, 170 (27 carries, 38 yards; 53 tackles, 2 for loss, 5 QB pressures, 1 fumble recovery, 1 blocked kick, 1 PBU)
  • OL Thomas Cheshire, Sr.
  • WR Christian Palacio, Sr. (13 catches, 152 yards, 1 TD)
  • DL A.J. Moreland, Sr., 6-3, 210 (54 tackles, 13.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery)
  • DB P.J. Johnson, Sr., 5-10, 175 (33 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 PBU)

 

Offense: Diboll struggled mightily on offense last season, averaging a measly 10.8 points per game. The Lumberjacks scored more than one touchdown in a game only three times all of last year, which resulted in several lopsided losses. First-year coach Blake Morrison is hoping those numbers improve with the return of a few offensive performers who saw significant time on the field in 2013.

Junior quarterback Kevin Hurley returns to pilot the offense after undergoing several ups and downs as a sophomore. His completion percentage was well below 40 percent, and Hurley threw as many touchdowns and he did interceptions. The 'Jacks are optimistic when it comes to improvement after Hurley helped lead Diboll to the state 7-on-7 tournament in College Station over the summer. Receivers Jamarcus Polk and Christian Palacio could bring some explosiveness to the passing game downfield, while running back Deverick Thompson is hoping to establish himself as Diboll's lead back.

Defense: As you can imagine with a team that lost 10 of 11 games last season, the defense wasn't pretty either. The Diboll 'D' allowed opponents to average 39.5 points per game a season ago, a number that must improve in order for the 'Jacks to become serious contenders in the district. There will be plenty of new faces on that side of the ball as Diboll brings back only four returning starters from the defense.

Diboll's most talented defender is senior D-lineman Demetrius Vinson, who uses a quality blend of size and athleticism to wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines. Thompson doubles as a serviceable linebacker, P.J. Johnson is capable of making plays in the secondary and D-lineman A.J. Moreland will team will Vinson to give Diboll a fairly formidable attack at the line of scrimmage.

2014 outlook: Since enjoying three consecutive winning seasons from 2006-08, Diboll's program has fallen on hard times. The Lumberjacks haven't had a winning record since and are just 14-38 over the past five seasons. Morrison, who takes over as a head coach, assumes control in Diboll after a successful stint as Coldspring-Oakhurst's defensive coordinator. Getting his players and community to believe in winning football again will be the new coach's first priority. Even though it was only 7-on-7, sometimes just tasting success like that can ignite a positive rebuilding project.

 

5. Cleveland Tarkington Longhorns

Coach: Brandon Carpenter

2013 finish: 0-9

Returning starters: 9 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Hunter Johnson, Sr., 6-1, 225 (37 of 65, 774 yards, 5 TDs, 5 INTs; 86 carries, 702 yards, 10 TDs)
  • WR Alex Latham, Sr., 6-6, 210 (33 catches, 418 yards, 5 TDs)
  • LB Zach Chapman, Sr. (72 tackles)
  • DB Tristan Williamson, Jr., 5-9, 165
  • OL Cline Dalton, Sr., 6-4, 290
  • LB Brett McLawchin, Jr., 5-9, 180
  • WR C.J. Emmert, Jr.
  • OL Dustin Carleton, Sr., 6-0, 230

 

2014 outlook: Football is supposed to be fun, but let's face it, losing never is. Following a winless season, Cleveland Tarkington is as eager as ever to recapture the feeling of being victorious. What held the Longhorns back in 2013 more than anything else was an underperforming offense that scored 16.3 points per game on average. But Tarkington head coach Brandon Carpenter will have plenty of players with starting experience at his disposal, including quarterback Hunter Johnson, who put up some nice performances despite the lack of team success. There's plenty of returning firepower on defense as well, which should help Tarkington become a much more well-rounded football team this fall.

 

6. Huntington Red Devils

Coach: Ryan Soderquist

2013 finish: 1-8

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 9 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Matt Treadway, Sr. (77 tackles, 10 for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries)
  • OL/DL Dylan Cartwright, Sr. (23 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 QB pressure)
  • LB Tanner Evett, Sr. (45 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 sack, 2 QB pressures)
  • QB Jeremiah Robertson, Jr., 5-10, 185 (6 of 21, 148 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs; 118 carries, 724 yards, 9 TDs)
  • DB Justin Rodgers, Jr. (26 tackles, 2 for loss, 4 PBU, 1 blocked kick)
  • ATH Josh Foraker, Jr. (48 carries, 295 yards, 2 TDs; 53 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 5 PBU)
  • RB Konner Innerarity, Sr. (51 carries, 258 yards)
  • ATH Zerrick Dixon, Sr. (20 tackles, 3 PBU)

 

Offense: Huntington had its fair share struggles on the offensive side of the ball last season, finishing the year with a scoring average of 14.9 points per game. In actuality, the offensive woes were even more pronounced than that advertises. After scoring 100 points in its first four games, Huntington managed only 34 in its final five. Second-year coach Ryan Soderquist has some work to do if the Red Devils are to turn around what was a rough offensive showing a season ago.

Huntington will lean on returning starting quarterback Jeremiah Robertson to help improve an offense that began last year with promise. Robertson's passing numbers weren't very impressive, but his ability to run away from trouble and make positive plays with his legs, gives opposing defenses more than one thing to worry about. Other key pieces to the Red Devils' puzzle include running back Konner Innerarity and versatile athlete Josh Foraker, who both got their feet wet a season ago.

Defense: The Red Devils' defense did not offer up much resistance a season ago, surrendering an average of 42.2 points per game in 2013. Only twice did Huntington hold opponents to less than 28 points, which didn't do a struggling offense any favors. But with nine defensive starters returning, everyone is expecting a much more competitive product on that side of the ball moving forward.

Senior linebacker Matt Tready was Huntington's best defender a season ago, and will assume the role of the defense's unquestioned leader. Fellow senior linebacker Tanner Evett presents the opportunity for Huntington's defense to be much better at the second level. Dylan Cartwright, who also starts on the offensive line, may require extra attention from the O-line when he's lined up at defensive tackle. The secondary has potential as well with the return of Justin Rodgers and Zerrick Dixon.

2014 outlook: The new millennium has been tough on Huntington. The Red Devils have not won more than two games in a season since 1999, and have a cumulative record of just 16-123 since the turn of the 21st Century. So obviously it wouldn't be wise to expect a miraculous turnaround so soon. However, reaching the playoffs may not be entirely out of the question, as crazy as that sounds. Huntington's only win last season came against Cleveland Tarkington, so if the Red Devils can defeat the Longhorns again and knock off a Diboll team that was just 1-10 a season ago, Huntington could very easily find itself in the playoffs.