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2014 Football Preview: Newton Will Try To Shrug Off Threats From Corrigan-Camden + Garrison in 11-3A D-II

Keegan Mitchell runs the ball during Corrigan-Camden’s state quarterfinal loss to Waskom on Dec. 6, 2013, in Carthage. (Jeff Stapleton, ETSN.fm)

The UIL didn’t do Newton any favors by dropping the Eagles into a district with three other 2013 playoff teams that all won at least nine games a season ago. Then again, Newton is one of those programs that should never feel threatened.

Newton is 25-2 over the last two seasons and has enjoyed decades of statewide success over the years. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Corrigan-Camden — a program of similar stature — will be gunning for the Eagles when District 11-3A Division II play officially begins in October.

The depth of the district will be fun to watch over the next few months. Beyond Newton and Corrigan-Camden, Garrison is on the heels of an 11-1 season, Deweyville rolled to a 9-2 campaign in 2013 and Crockett could be on the cusp of returning to its winning ways.

Five quality teams and only four playoffs spots available. Let the fun begin already!

District 11-3A Division II Preview

Newton ATH Roney Elam. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)
PLAYMAKERS
  • Demetrius Bennett, RB, Sr., Garrison
  • Roney Elam, ATH, Sr., Newton
  • Michael Feaster, LB, Sr., Garrison
  • Calum Foster, RB, Sr., Newton
  • Trey Harris, OL, Sr., Hemphill
  • Malyk Johnson, RB, Jr., Corrigan-Camden
  • Keegan Mitchell, RB, Sr., Corrigan-Camden
  • LaKendrick Moore, QB/DB, Jr., Corrigan-Camden
  • Alphonso Phillips, RB, Jr., Crockett
  • Case Robinson, QB, Jr., Crockett
  • Andrew Russell, QB, Sr., Garrison
  • Brent Simmons, OL, Sr., Newton

 

TOP GAMES
  • Oct. 24 — Newton at Corrigan-Camden
  • Oct. 31 — Newton at Garrison
  • Nov. 7 — Garrison at Corrigan-Camden
  • Nov. 7 — Crockett at Deweyville

 

1. Newton Eagles

Newton’s Raylin Davis (10) and Gerard Rhodes (20) celebrate a big play during the Eagles’ 74-21 second-round victory vs. Whitney in Bullard on Nov 22., 2013. (ETSN.fm)

Coach: W.T. Johnston

2013 finish: 12-1 (2A D-I regional semifinalist)

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/DB Roney Elam, Sr., 6-3, 170 (40 of 80, 939 yards, 11 TDs, 6 INTs; 67 carries, 437 yards, 5 TDs; 23 tackles, 5 INTs, 1 forced fumble)
  • RB/DB Calum Foster, Sr., 5-11, 175 (70 carries, 690 yards, 12 TDs; 2 catches, 59 yards; 76 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery)
  • OL Brent Simmons, Sr., 6-3, 287
  • DL Zack Conner, Sr., 5-11, 205 (90 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
  • RB Gabe Foster, Jr., 6-1, 170 (42 carries, 411 yards, 8 TDs; 3 catches, 64 yards)
  • DB Kirkland Foster, Soph., 5-11, 155
  • ATH Jace Thomas, Sr., 5-8, 170 (30 carries, 295 yards, 2 TDs; 6 catches, 271 yards, 4 TDs)
  • DL Hunter Flanigan, Jr., 6-0, 160 (18 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery)
  • LB Raylin Davis, Sr., 5-8, 170 (96 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 recoveries)
  • OL/DL Dave Lewis, Sr., 6-0, 265 (50 tackles, 5 sacks)

 

Offense: Newton’s 2014 offense may not be as dynamic or explosive as it’s been in the last two seasons, but then again it might. After quarterback D.J. Dean graduated following the 2012 season, some may have thought the 2013 Eagles would’ve taken a step back on the offensive side of the ball. But that was certainly not the case, despite a mid-season injury to star running back and Texas signee Kevin Shorter. But after the loss of the team’s leading rusher, Brandon Johnson, those same doubters from a year ago may have resurfaced. And while the offense may not duplicate last season’s average of 46 points and 372 rushing yards per game, to completely dismiss this year’s offense would be a mistake.

Roney Elam, who has 10 major FBS offers to play defensive back, is back and will presumably reprise his role as quarterback. But instead of making handoffs and occasionally taking off from the pocket on designed QB runs, Elam’s role in the offense may become more involved. Expected to pick up the slack at running back in place of the departed Shorter and Johnson are senior Calum Foster and junior Gabe Foster, who combined for 1,001 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground a season ago. Offensive tackle Brent Simmons, a three-year starter, is about as polished an offensive linemen as there is at the 3A level. His size and athleticism fit Newton’s ground-oriented offensive attack to a tee.

Defense: Newton suffered heavy graduation losses on the defensive side of the ball, the biggest of which was middle linebacker Anthony Hadnot, who led the team in tackles by a mile in 2013. The Eagles will also be without their sacks leader from a year ago — defensive end Troy Peagues. Despite those significant departures, Newton does bring back seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, which should help the Eagles strive for or improve upon their defensive scoring average of 15.6 points per game.

Elam probably won’t be off the field very much this fall after leading the team in interceptions a season ago. Calum Foster was another stalwart in the defensive backfield in 2013, so the secondary will mostly likely be the strength of the Eagles’ D’ in 2014. Up front, Newton will lean on the experience of seniors Zack Conner and Dave Lewis, who combined for 11 sacks a season ago. The depleted linebacking corps will be buoyed by the return of Raylin Davis, who finished second on the team in tackles last year.

2014 outlook: Newton’s been knocking on the door of state championship glory in each of the last two seasons, only to suffer unexpected losses deep in the playoffs. The Eagles took a 13-0 record into their 2012 state semifinal with Cameron Yoe as heavy favorites, only to succumb to an unlikely defeat. With several impact players returning for the 2013 season, Newton began the year high in the state polls, and was 12-0 entering its quarterfinal bout with upstart White Oak. Once again, the Eagles’ dream of playing for a state title came to an abrupt conclusion.

Expectations are always high in Newton, and that’s no different heading into this season. Several players have been through the wars the last two years for the Eagles, and this is their last shot at redemption. The Eagles figure to be challenged by Corrigan-Camden and Garrison in district, but with 14 returning starters, they should definitely be considered the district favorite. Aside from the competition in its own district, the playoffs set up well for Newton in Region III, where Rogers and Franklin pose the biggest postseason threats to the Eagles.

 

2. Corrigan-Camden Bulldogs

Corrigan-Camden’s Malyk Johnson (2) runs for yardage against Waskom during their Class 2A Division II Region III final Dec. 6, 2013, in Carthage. (Jeff Stapleton, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Seven Armstrong

2013 finish: 13-1 (2A D-II regional finalist)

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Keegan Mitchell, Sr., 5-6, 172 (2,387 rushing yards, 33 TDs)
  • RB Malyck Johnson, Jr., 5-10, 185 (1,568 rushing yards)
  • QB/DB LaKendrick Moore, Jr., 5-10, 175 (6 INTs)
  • OL/LB La’Darius Hamilton, Jr., 6-3, 225
  • OL/DL Calvin Banks, Sr.
  • TE/DL Dylan Parker, Sr.
  • WR/LB Justin Robbins, Sr., 6-0, 160
  • OL/DL Christian Pecina, Sr.

 

Offense: Much like Newton, Corrigan-Camden’s offense is predicated on running the ball and doing so effectively. Last season, the Bulldogs rolled up an average of more than 400 rushing yards and 46.9 points per game. Corrigan-Camden, which attempted less than 40 pass attempts all season, had seven games in which it scored more than 50 points — including a streak of four consecutive from Week 9 to the second round of the playoffs. The Bulldogs lose five starters from the offensive side of the ball, but return their two most productive.

The running back duo of senior Keegan Mitchell and junior Malyk Johnson pounded opposing defenses all season long last year, combining for almost 4,000 yards and more than 50 touchdowns. The offensive line will receive a bit of a makeover and there’ll be a new quarterback taking snaps, but as long as Mitchell and Johnson stay healthy, the Corrigan-Camden offense could be just as potent as it was in 2013. Junior LaKendrick Moore will assume the signal-calling duties, while the O-line will be anchored by La’Darius Hamilton, Calvin Banks and Christian Pecina.

Defense: Corrigan-Camden allowed 20.4 points per game in 2013, so if there was an area that could improve going forward, it would be on that side of the ball. However, if the offense is as good or better than it was a season ago, it won’t really matter all that much. The Bulldogs’ ‘D’ was remarkably consistent all year long; even in the playoffs, Corrigan-Camden was allowing about three touchdowns per game.

Both Mitchell and Johnson will be key figures on defense this season after the duo combined for four interceptions in 2013. Moore probably won’t have too many breaks during the game after leading the Bulldogs with six interceptions as a sophomore. Hamilton doubles as a linebacker, and Justin Robbins will team with him to form what has the potential to be a strong defensive middle. Corrigan-Camden will need some help up front in order to keep containment on the strong running games it will face from Newton and Garrison in district.

2014 outlook: Corrigan-Camden has made the playoffs every year since 1997, so it would be foolish to believe the streak comes to an end, especially this season. Last year’s 13 wins were the most in the 11-year tenure of coach Seven Armstrong, and many fans of the program are wondering what the Bulldogs have in store for an encore. The district championship could be on the line when Corrigan-Camden squares off with Newton in Week 8, but don’t discount Garrison as a potential roadblock to the Bulldogs’ quest for league hardware.

Corrigan-Camden, depending on district seeding, should be in good standing in Region III. In fact, the Bulldogs’ biggest test could come from district foe Newton deep in the playoffs.

 

3. Garrison Bulldogs

New Diana’s Jobbie Ainsworth (15) fights off a tackle from Garrison’s Cody Cooper during Garrison’s 17-14 victory in Carthage on Nov. 15, 2013. (ETSN.fm)

Coach: Lance Bernard

2013 finish: 11-1 (2A D-II area finalist)

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Andrew Russell, Sr., 5-10, 155 (1,417 passing yards, 15 TDs)
  • RB Demetrius Bennett, Sr., 6-1, 180 (992 rushing yards, 7 TDs)
  • LB Michael Feaster, Sr., 6-0, 185 (153 tackles, 24 for loss)
  • DL Robert Bryant, Sr., 6-3, 275 (42 tackles, 8 for loss)
  • OL Tyrese Johnson, Sr., 6-2, 230
  • LB Ty Hayter, Jr., 5-11, 180
  • DB Cody Cooper, Sr.
  • DB Taylor Williams, Sr., 5-11, 180

 

Offense: If nothing else, Garrison’s offense was a model of consistency in 2013. Only three times in 12 games did the Bulldogs failed to score at least 31 points, finishing the year with a scoring average of 34 points. And with six starters returning, first-year coach Lance Bernard is aiming for similar results this fall. Garrison lost playmakers Logan Clark and Cameron Rodriguez to graduation, but the staff does have another pair of key impact players eager to pick up the slack.

Garrison’s Demetrius Bennett fights for yardage during a 17-14 first-round playoff win against New Diana in Carthage on Nov. 15, 2013. (ETSN.fm)

Quarterback Andrew Russell is back for his senior year after putting together a steady junior campaign, directing the offense. While he makes most of his plays from the pocket, Russell showed the ability to do damage with his feet after rushing for five touchdowns in 2013. Running back Demetrius Bennett nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as a junior, and should see more touches out of the backfield this season, which could do wonders for an offense in need of game-breaking ability. Offensive lineman Tyrese Johnson is another holdover, who should continue to improve after a strong junior season.

Defense: Without a doubt, the strength of last year’s Garrison team was its defense. Opponents found the going tough all season long against the Bulldogs, who allowed a measly 14.1 points per game on average. Garrison pitched four shutouts and surrendered more than two touchdowns in a game just four times in 2013. There are some holes to fill on that side of the ball, but just like the offense, the Bulldogs’ ‘D’ does return a solid group of players.

The unit will be anchored by linebacker Michael Feaster, who surpassed 150 tackles — several behind the line of scrimmage — last season. Fellow linebacker Ty Hayter enjoyed a solid sophomore year, which should make for an exciting LB corps to watch for Garrison in 2014. The secondary could be in good shape as well with the return of Cody Cooper and Taylor Williams. Graduation hit the Garrison D-line hard, as a lot of the load figures to be shouldered upon returning starter Robert Bryant.

2014 outlook: The Craig Barker era lasted just two years, but history will say it was a successful period in Garrison, which went 19-5 the previous two seasons. Garrison, under new direction at the top, will have its hands full with the likes of perennial powers Newton and Corrigan-Camden. But a strong non-district schedule featuring San Augustine, Shelbyville, Center, New Diana and Marlin should aptly prepare the Bulldogs for what they’ll face when district play rolls around.

 

4. Crockett Bulldogs

Crockett LB Ricardo Hidalgo. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Jimmy Thompson

2013 finish: 3-7

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Alphonso Phillips, Jr. (970 rushing yards)
  • QB Case Robinson, Jr., 6-1, 190 (1,500 passing yards, 13 TDs)
  • ATH Chamar Wiley-Harris, Jr. (225 rushing yards; 60 tackles)
  • LB Ricardo Hidalgo, Sr. (110 tackles)
  • DB Jamarcus Moten, Sr., 5-11, 190
  • LB Victor Rangel, Sr. (35 tackles)
  • DL Latreveounce Bell, Sr.
  • DB Don Gilbert, Sr., 5-8, 165

 

Offense: Crockett struggled moving the ball last season, winding up with a scoring average of 22.1 points per game. But help could be on the way. The Bulldogs competed at the state 7-on-7 tournament in College Station last month, and you don’t get that far without having a fairly athletic collection of skill players. First-year coach Jimmy Thompson inherits a program full of youth, but young players that could ultimately be molded together to form a district championship-caliber team.

It all starts with junior quarterback Case Robinson, who showed flashes of brilliance as a sophomore and really shined over the summer. Last year’s numbers might not reflect what’s to come, but if Robinson continues to develop his skills, this could end up being a breakthrough season for Crockett. Two other classmates — running back Alphonso Phillips and versatile athlete Chamar Wiley-Harris — appear prime for breakout success as juniors after both got their feet wet on the gridiron in 2013.

Crockett DB Jamarcus Moten. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: It was a struggle on the defensive side of the ball as well for Crockett, which surrendered 38.1 points per game a season ago. Things were especially difficult during the Bulldogs’ rough seven-game losing streak, which saw opponents average 45.6 points. The offensive hardships didn’t do much to help the defense’s cause, but no team can be expected to compete when allowing that many points on a weekly basis. Luckily for Crockett, several players with starting experience return to help shore up a unit that kept the Bulldogs from enjoying a successful season.

The strength of Crockett’s ‘D’ should show up at the second and third levels where a multitude of impact players are back. The team’s leading tackler Ricardo Hidalgo and Victor Rangel will anchor what looks to be a solid linebacking corps, while the physical and rangy Jamarcus Moten will patrol a secondary that also includes Wiley-Harris and Don Gilbert. The defensive line may be a bit thin, but the new coaching staff will have Latreveounce Bell back to lean on and build around for the future.

2014 outlook: Crockett is a proud program not accustomed to suffering through extended periods of losing. The Bulldogs’ 4-16 record over the last two seasons is the program’s worst two-year stretch since the mid-1970′s. But with a brand-new coaching staff and an influx of talented young players coming through the program, it may only be a matter of time before Crockett gets back to its winning ways.

The Bulldogs must open district play with back-to-back road games at Newton and Corrigan-Camden, so Crockett’s playoff chances will most likely hinge on how it responds to early adversity within league competition. The Bulldogs may not compete for a district title, but a playoff spot is certainly theirs for the taking if they can recover from a brutal beginning to 11-3A D-II.

 

5. Deweyville Pirates

Coach: Lance Dale

2013 finish: 9-2 (2A D-II bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: N/A

Players to watch

  • RB/DB Brendon Waldrep, Sr., 5-8, 180 (42 carries, 252 yards, 7 TDs)
  • DL Jose Arriaga, Sr., 5-10, 235
  • RB/LB Thomas Henson, Jr., 5-8, 160 (17 carries, 132 yards, 3 TDs)
  • WR Robert Brinson, Sr., 5-10, 170 (6 catches, 96 yards, 1 TD)
  • DB Tristin Gordon, Jr., 5-7, 135
  • OL John Arriaga, Sr.
  • DB Jared Greer, Sr., 5-10, 135

 

2014 outlook: There is a ton of uncertainty in Deweyville these days. Not only are the Pirates replacing head coach Chris Babin, who led the Pirates to a nine-win season in 2013, but Deweyville must also find reinforcements for a bevy of stars lost to graduation. Chief among the departed are quarterback Chris Dupuy and running back Ryan Collins, who combined for 3,304 rushing yards in 2013 and accounted for roughly 75 percent of Deweyville’s total offense. Brendon Waldrep and Thomas Henson saw some time out of the backfield a year ago, and seem to be the likely replacements moving forward. With a change at the top and several newcomers in the fold, coupled with powers Newton, Corrigan-Camden and Garrison in the district, reaching the playoffs in 2014 may be a tall order for Deweyville.

 

6. Hemphill Hornets

Coach: John Launius

2013 finish: 0-10

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL Trey Harris, Sr., 6-2, 268
  • QB Hunter Phillips, Sr., 5-11, 175 (1,400 total yards)
  • WR/DB Rudy Weaver, Sr., 5-5, 155 (500 total yards)
  • DL Justin Collins, Sr.
  • DB Luke Simpson, Jr.
  • WR/DB Taylor Garrett, Jr.
  • FB/DL Terrance Weathered, Sr.
  • RB/DL Jontavian Simmons, Sr.

 

Offense: There weren’t many positives last season for Hemphill, and the offense was a major contributing factor to the program’s second winless season in the last four years. The Hornets averaged less than 10 points per game with their highest scoring output for a single game at 20 points. In all fairness, Hemphill was under new leadership after suffering through a 1-9 campaign the year before. Second-year coach John Launius is hopeful the days of losing on a weekly basis are in the rear-view mirror.

Hunter Phillips returns at quarterback after providing glimpses of playmaking prowess as a junior, while receiver Rudy Weaver could develop into a big-time target in the passing game after shining during spells in 2013. With just five returning starters back on offense, Hemphill will need some newcomers to step in and deliver an immediate impact to help get the Hornets’ program on the right trajectory.

Defense: As you would expect, Hemphill’s defense had its fair share of issues last season. The Hornets allowed more than 41 points per game a year ago, so obviously better play is required to turn the ship around.

The defensive line may be a spot in least need of massive overhaul. The return of Justin Collins, Terrance Weathered and Jontavian Simmons could be a good foundation, setting the tone for the rest of the defense.

2014 outlook: No one expects Hemphill to seriously challenge for a playoff spot this season; the program is just too far behind the rest of the district. Newton, Corrigan-Camden and Garrison are coming off double-digit win seasons, Deweyville won nine games last year and Crockett is only three years removed from an 11-2 campaign. Hemphill’s non-district schedule doesn’t appear to be as daunting as it’s been the last couple of seasons, so perhaps an opportunity exists for the Hornets to grab a win or two before a brutal district schedule begins.

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