The 2014 Gilmer team would be a district frontrunner pretty much anywhere the UIL put them.

We won't beat around the bush. Gilmer is the team to beat in District 5-4A Division II.

But has Canton returned to form? The proud program has some star power of its own to compete with Gilmer's best.

Melissa adds a good North Texas flavor to the district. The team won a Class 2A Division I state championship in 2011 and remained competitive in the old Class 3A the past two seasons. Maybe they will reload and give the two East Texas teams a run for their money.

Bullard got a way out of the "District of Doom" in last winter's realignment. The climb to the top is very steep, but can the Panthers eye a playoff prize in 2014?

Let's take a look at the ins and outs of District 5-4A Division II.

  

District 5-4A Division II Preview

Gilmer's Kris Boyd attended The Opening this summer. It's a summer football camp for the nation's best players. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)
PLAYMAKERS
  • A.J. Blackwell, DE, RB/DE/MLB, Sr., Melissa
  • Kris Boyd, RB/DB, Sr., Gilmer
  • Demarco Boyd, LB, Jr., Gilmer
  • McLane Carter, QB, Sr., Gilmer
  • Collin Croft, RB/DB, Sr., Nevada Community
  • Garrett Denbow, WR, Sr., Canton
  • Nick Grell, LB, Sr., Emory Rains
  • Chandler Eiland, QB, Sr., Canton
  • Jordan Graham, QB, Sr., Nevada Community
  • Brazons Hesskew, LB, Jr., Canton
  • Blake Lynch, WR/DB, Sr., Gilmer
  • Taylor McGehee, QB, Sr., Melissa
  • Connor Mebane, ATH, Sr. Bullard
  • Dakota Miller, RB/DB, Sr., Emory Rains
  • Samuel Miller, TE/DE, Sr. Canton
  • Ryan Ratliff, QB/LB, Jr., Emory Rains
  • Chase Tate, WR, Sr., Gilmer
TOP GAMES
  • Oct. 10 -- Gilmer at Melissa
  • Oct. 17 -- Canton at Gilmer
  • Oct. 24 -- Melissa at Canton
  • Oct. 31 -- Bullard at Melissa
  • Nov. 7 -- Canton at Bullard

 

1. Gilmer Buckeyes

Buckeyes running back Jamel Jackson. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Jeff Traylor

2013 finish: 11-2 (3A D-II regional semifinalist)

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/KB Kris Boyd, Sr., 6-1, 185 (1,191 rushing yards, 19 TDs; 10 major college football offers)
  • WR/DB Blake Lynch, Sr., 6-4, 191 (650 rushing yards, 13 rushing TDs, 750 passing yards, 11 TDs for Troup; Baylor commit, transfer from Troup)
  • LB Demarco Boyd, Jr., 6-0, 220 (66 tackles, 4 fumble recoveries, 6 sacks as a defensive lineman last season)
  • QB McLane Carter, Sr., 6-3, 190
  • WR Chase Tate, Sr., 5-6, 160 (603 receiving yards, 6 TDs)
  • LB Hunter Anderson, Jr.
  • WR/DB Nick Smith, Sr., 6-2, 185 (374 yards, 4 TDs)
  • LB Kelton Collier, Soph.

 

Offense: This unit has it all at the skill positions despite returning just four offensive starters. The headliner is Kris Boyd, a nationally prominent college football defensive back recruit. Boyd is an outstanding running back on the high school level, however. He rushed for 1,191 yards last season on just 113 touches. That's an average of 10.5 yards per carry. He added 19 touchdowns on the Buckeyes' 2013 run to the Class 3A Disivion II Regional semifinals, a one-possession loss to ultimate state champion Argyle.

Gilmer quarterback McLane Carter. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

But things get even better with Troup transfer Blake Lynch joining the mix. He's a Baylor commitment who recorded 1,400 total yards and 24 touchdowns as a dual-threat quarterback. Lynch will most likely play receiver on the offensive side of things for Gilmer. Signal calling duties go to McLane Carter who took some major steps forward this summer. He's really the glue of the operation with a level head and unanimous  support as a team leader. He might even draw some college attention in his final high school year considering all the other reasons to scout the Buckeyes this season.

Nick Smith is a receiver that could thrive with some of the depth cleared out from last year's team. He had 374 yards and four touchdowns on just 28 catches last season. Jamel Jackson, a stocky running back, should give Gilmer a nice compliment to Boyd's speedy running style.

Defense: The Buckeyes' defense did not give up a point in its two playoff wins prior to playing Argyle, but the unit will have a new look with just three starters returning. Boyd and Lynch will likely double up as defensive backs, but the show belongs to junior linebacker Demarco Boyd coming out of the gate. He recorded 66 tackles, six of those tackles for sacks, and four fumble recoveries in 2013. Demarco Boyd is another player to watch with interest if you're into college football recruiting.

 

2014 outlook: It's very good. Gilmer is a nice mix of star power and discipline under a winning head coach in Jeff Traylor. The Buckeyes have a very strong tradition to draw upon and enter the 2014 season as not only the team to beat in District 5-4A Division II but perhaps Region II overall.

2. Canton Eagles

Canton defensive end, tight end and North Texas verbal commitment Samuel Miller. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Robert Ivey

2013 finish: 4-6 (3A D-II bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Chandler Eiland, Sr., 6-0, 190 (1,861 passing yards, 18 passing TDs, 790 rushing yards, 15 TDs; ULM commitment)
  • TE/DE Samuel Miller, Sr., 6-4, 220 (89 tackles, 26 TFLs, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles; committed to North Texas)
  • WR Garrett Denbow, Sr., 6-2, 195 (608 receiving yards, 8 TDs)
  • LB Brazos Hesskew, Jr.
  • OL/DL Keenan Ivory, Sr.

Offense: Canton has its own stars on offense. Quarterback Chandler Eiland is a top quarterback in the East Texas region and is verbally committed to a Louisiana-Monroe program that has had quite a bit of success with its own passing game in recent years. Eiland appears ready to break 2,000 passings yards in his senior season. Don't count the quarterback out on runs. He rushed for 790 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior.

Canton quarterback Chandler Eiland. (Chirstopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Receiver Garrett Denbow probably does not get the respect he deserves. He's 6-2 and pushing 200 pounds with a nice mix of athleticism and decent speed. Taking Denbow down in the open field could be a problem. The receiver caught eight touchdowns and put up 608 yards as a junior.

Samuel Miller is a player that gets a lot of praise, but that's mostly due to his reputation as a defensive end. Any 6-3, 220-pound tight end is a gift for offensive coordinators. The North Texas defensive end commit will give the Eagles an edge in the blocking game and should be able to ding defenses with intermediate catches. Canton's offensive line looks like a matchup problem, and the supporting cast offers five other players with starting experience.

Defense: Miller should be a headache for opposing offensive coordinators. He recorded 24 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and 89 takedowns overall. He could be the region's most athletic defensive end. The Eagles delivered a mixed bag on defense last season, but eight returning starters on this side of the ball should cut down on allowing average opponents about 28 points per game last season.

 

2014 outlook: Canton will have to prove itself to the rest of the state. The journey begins with the season-opener against what is supposed to be a pretty good Tyler Grace Community team next week. After that, the Eagles will take on Gilmer at the Buckeyes' place on Oct. 17. Melissa should be right there with the squad in the district race, but Canton has a talent advantage and a significant edge in returning starters.

3. Melissa Cardinals

Coach: Seth Stinton

2013 finish: 9-3 (3A D-II area finalist)

Returning starters: 2 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Taylor McGehee, Sr., 6-1, 185 (1,395 passing yards, 14 passing TDs, 739 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs)
  • RB/DE/LB A.J. Blackwell, 5-10, 190 (56 tackles)
  • ATH Dylan Cardwell, Sr., 5-11, 155 (137 receiving yards on 17 catches)
  • OL/DL Max Castillo, Jr.

 

2014 outlook: Melissa has built a great reputation in recent years and won a Class 2A Division I title in 2011 behind an advanced and athletically gifted offense. The 2013 squad reached the area championship round in the 3A Division II bracket. It's overhaul time for the Cardinals though with five starters returning in total. The Melissa program is a great one, but the team has a lot of position sorting out to do and not as many well-known preseason names compared to Gilmer and Canton.

4. Bullard Panthers

Bullard athlete Connor Mebane. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Shannon Wilson

2013 finish: 3-6

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • ATH Connor Mebane, Sr., 6-0, 175 (723 passing yards, 4 passing TDs, 784 rushing yards, 6 TDs; 29 tackles, 2 INTs)
  • WR/DB Drake Daley, Jr., 6-1, 165
  • OL/DL Dorian Schutt, Sr., 6-2, 235
  • OL/DL Caleb Hallford, Sr., 6-1, 230
  • FB/LB Brooks Parham, Soph., 5-10, 210

Offense: It all starts with quarterback Connor Mebane. The senior passed for 723 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for another 784 yards and six touchdowns. Bullard also boasts a strong offensive line in addition to eight returning starters from the 3-6 team a year ago. The Panthers generally struggled last season with 21 points against Quitman in a win as its season-high. Bullard must get better offensively, but there are certainly some building blocks to work with.

Defense: Mebane is the Panthers top returning tackler. He had 29 takedowns last season in addition to a team-best two interceptions against opposing offenses. Like the offense, the carryover is very good. Bullard has seven returning starters to work with. The unit was fairly respectable last season, especially considering the offensive struggles, but there's room for improvement after giving up a season-worst 62 points against Gilmer.

 

2014 outlook: It's decent. Bullard fell into a good district in the grand scheme of things. Emory Rains and Nevada Community are teams coming off of similar seasons and Bullard has a slight experience edge, and it spent the last two seasons in the old "District of Doom." Rains and Community did not have that rough of a road in their old district.

 

5. Nevada Community Braves

Coach: Bryan O'Neal

2013 finish: 2-8

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/DB Jordan Graham, Sr., 6-2, 188 (1,712 yards, 12 TDs)
  • RB/DB Collin Croft, Sr., 5-11, 180 (940 rushing yards, 9 TDs)
  • WR/DB  Connor Wiser, Sr. (429 receiving yards, 4 TDs)

 

2014 outlook: The Braves won't appreciate facing Gilmer, Canton and Melissa, but there's room to grow along with the back end of the district. Community has some impressive talent buried on a team that did not perform very well last season. Quarterback Jordan Graham put up more than 1,700 total yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Running back Collin Croft rushed for 940 yards. You can't rule out the fourth playoff spot right off the bat.

 6. Emory Rains Wildcats

Coach: Derek Smith

2013 finish: 3-8 (3A D-II bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Ryan Ratliff, Jr., 6-3, 230 (300 rushing yards, 650 passing yards, 20 TDs total)
  • RB/DB Dakota Miller, Sr., 6-2, 192 (735 total yards, 12 TDs)

 

2014 outlook: Rains returns 10 starters from a 2-8 regular season team that managed to sneak into the playoffs for a game. The Wildcats look like they're in for trouble against the top end of the district, but the team is in decent shape for battles against Bullard and Nevada Community. Quarterback Ryan Ratliff is a good player with 20 touchdowns last season. All-purpose back Dakota Miller recorded more than 700 total yards last season.