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2014 Football Preview: Paul Pewitt + Hughes Springs Headline Competitive District 7-3A D-II

Hughes Springs RB Fred Hopkins. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

While some schools were thrown into brutal new districts, featuring four and even five playoff teams from the previous year, both Paul Pewitt and Hughes Springs have to feel pretty good about their new home.

Between Hooks, Queen City, DeKalb and Linden-Kildare, there was one playoff appearance and zero postseason wins in 2013.

That’s good news for Pewitt and Hughes Springs and the remaining four teams as well. The competition for the final two playoff spots seems like a manageable proposition for all four.

District 7-3A Division II Preview

Hooks RB/LB R.J. Williams. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)
PLAYMAKERS
  • Colt Booth, QB, Sr., DeKalb
  • Paul Calderon, OL, Sr., Hughes Springs
  • Jamall Fort, WR, Sr., Hooks
  • Josh Hill, OL, Sr., Paul Pewitt
  • Fred Hopkins, RB, Sr., Hughes Springs
  • Jarrett Morgan, FB, Jr., Queen City
  • Isaiah Porter, QB/DB, Sr., Paul Pewitt
  • Fernando Ramirez, DL, Sr., Linden-Kildare
  • Hunter Smith, TE, Sr., Hughes Springs
  • R.J. Williams, RB/LB, Sr., Hooks

 

TOP GAMES
  • Oct. 17 — Hughes Springs at Hooks
  • Oct. 24 — Paul Pewitt at Hughes Springs
  • Nov. 7 — Hooks at Paul Pewitt
  • Nov. 7 — DeKalb at Queen City

 

1. Paul Pewitt Brahmas

Paul Pewitt’s Isaiah Porter is wrapped up by Liberty-Eylau’s Jacob Frix during their game Aug. 30, 2013, in Omaha. (Evan Lewis, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Reggie Kumrow

2013 finish: 7-4 (2A D-II bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/DB Isaiah Porter, Sr., 6-1, 195 (967 rushing yards, 19 TDs, 5 TD passes; 60 tackles, 3 INTs)
  • OL Josh HIll, Sr., 6-1, 240
  • OL Jared Hicks, Sr., 6-1, 200
  • WR Drew Cox, Sr., 6-2, 180
  • OL Alex Anthony, Sr., 6-0, 225
  • DL Ladarius Hill, Sr.
  • DL Tray Hillis, Jr.
  • DL Dusty Clifton, Jr., 5-11, 230

 

Offense: For an offensive style that doesn’t rely on tricks or gimmicks, Paul Pewitt’s production on offense in 2013 was among the very best in the area. The Brahmas averaged more than 35 points per game a season ago, and they did so with a punishing ground attack that should be strong once again this fall. With six starters back on that side of the ball, including the multi-talented Isaiah Porter, Pewitt figures to have one of the top offenses in the area over the next few months.

Porter, a run-first quarterback, just missed out on a 1,000-yard rushing season as a junior. With a few key losses at the skill positions, expect Porter to become an even bigger factor in the offense this season. The offensive line will be in good shape as well with the return of seniors Josh Hill, Jared Hicks and Alex Anthony. One of the few areas of concern on offense going forward will be depth at running back and receiver.

Defense: Paul Pewitt’s defensive performance in 2013 was one of the biggest reasons the Brahmas were able to reach the postseason. Aside from a couple shaky performances in losses to Liberty-Eylau, Waskom and Arp, Pewitt’s defense rose to the occasion all year long. Pewitt gave up about 21 points per game for the year, but in its seven wins, the Brahmas allowed just 14.1. With five defensive starters returning, Pewitt should be confident in its defense’s ability to replicate and perhaps even improve upon last season’s performance.

The Brahmas will be solid up front on the defensive line with the return of Ladarius HIll, Tray Hillis and Dusty Clifton. Porter doubles as a safety on the defensive side of the ball, and he’s a good one. His 60 tackles and three interceptions from 2013 illustrate his capability of being an impact plater on defense as well.

2014 outlook: Pewitt was 7-3 in the regular season last year, but it very easily could’ve entered the playoffs with just one loss. The Brahmas’ district losses to Waskom and Hughes Springs were by a combined seven points, while their 34-28 loss to Arp in the first round of the playoffs came in double overtime. With half of the starters back from last season’s team, longtime coach Reggie Kumrow and his staff have high expectations for 2014.

To prepare Pewitt for its district schedule, the Brahmas have assembled a grueling non-district slate, which features games against Arp, Waskom, Jefferson, New Boston and Mineola. Pewitt split its two meetings with Arp last season, narrowly lost to district champion Waskom, Jefferson should be much-improved in 2014, New Boston is coming off a state semifinals appearance and Mineola is dropping down a classification. Hughes Springs should present the biggest challenge to Pewitt in district, as Hooks, Queen City, Linden-Kildare and DeKalb combined to go just 12-29 last season. Whether Pewitt wins the district or comes in second, a tough challenger from 8-3A D-II will be waiting in the wings in the first round of the playoffs.

2. Hughes Springs Mustangs

Hughes Springs TE/LB Hunter Smith. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Chris Edwards

2013 finish: 10-2 (2A D-II area finalist)

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/DB Fred Hopkins, Sr. (95 carries, 1,163 yards, 17 TDs; 4 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD; 42 tackles, 1 for loss, 3 INTs, 6 PBU)
  • TE/LB Hunter Smith, Sr., 6-1, 215 (9 catches, 156 yards, 1 TD; 37 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks, 3 QB pressures, 1 forced fumble, 3 recoveries, 4 INTs, 4 PBU)
  • OL/DL Paul Calderon, Sr. (53 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks, 3 QB pressures, 1 fumble recovery)
  • LB Corky Westmoreland, Sr. (55 tackles, 7 for loss, 4 sacks, 1 QB pressure)
  • OL Asa Gaul, Sr.
  • DB Malik Chism, Jr. (28 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PBU, 1 fumble recovery)
  • LB Austin Watkins, Jr. (20 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 fumble recovery)
  • RB Gabe Dubose, Soph.

 

Hughes Springs OL/DL Paul Calderon. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Hughes Springs had little trouble moving the ball on opponents in 2013, averaging 43.5 points and 371 yards per game — 346.6 of that on the ground. Time will tell how the Mustangs’ offense fares this season after eight starters on that side of the ball were graduation casualties. Hughes Springs must replace the production of Michael Martinez, Chris Royal, Kane Sampson and Chad McKinney, who combined for 2,387 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns last season — roughly 63 percent of its rushing offense.

However, eighth-year coach Chris Edwards will have the services of last year’s leading rusher Fred Hopkins, who picked up more than 1,100 yards and a team-best 17 touchdowns as a junior. The challenge will be surrounding Hopkins with capable backs to ease the pressure off the team’s featured back. The offensive line must replace several key performers, but the coaching staff is high on Paul Calderon, Asa Gaul and tight end Hunter Smith.

Hughes Springs LB Corky Westmoreland. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Graduation took a toll on the defense as well, so it will be a challenge for the Mustangs to duplicate last season’s scoring average of 18.4 points per game. Hughes Springs’ defense got off to an incredible start in 2013, allowing only 9.2 points per outing. But over the final three games against Waskom, Frankston and Corrigan-Camden, Hughes Springs allowed a total of 138 points — 46 per game. So even if the Mustangs can recover from the six lost starters on defense, the unit must do a better job late in the season.

Calderon, Smith and Hopkins will be key members on the defense as well. Linebacker Corky Westmoreland is poised for a big season after a breakthrough performance a season ago. Austin Watkins should give Smith some help at linebacker, while Malik Chism has the potential to be a star in the defensive backfield.

2014 outlook: In seven years as head coach in Hughes Springs, Edwards has led the Mustangs to six playoff appearances and a record of 55-26. While there are a handful of players that have been on varsity the last two seasons, in which the Mustangs are 22-3, Edwards and Co. will have a host of newcomers experiencing Friday night lights for the very first time.

Hughes Springs’ non-district schedule consists of five teams who combined to finish 2013 with a 32-26, and the opponents run the gamut as far as classifications are concerned — Spring Hill (4A D-II), Jefferson (3A D-I), Arp and Waskom (3A D-II) and Clarksville (2A D-I). The Mustangs will be challenged early in district with their first three league contests coming against Queen City, Hooks and Paul Pewitt — all of which are projected to make the playoffs out of the district.

3. Hooks Hornets

Hooks QB Micah Wall. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Hart Jeanis

2013 finish: 2-8

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/LB R.J. Williams, Sr., 6-1, 235 (461 rushing yards, 4 TDs; 88 tackles, 1 INT)
  • WR Jamall Fort, Sr., 6-1, 168
  • LB Reshawn Parker, Jr., 6-2, 193 (69 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 2 blocked kicks)
  • QB Micah Wall, Sr., 6-1, 175
  • TE Travis Krueger, Sr.
  • LB Malik Estell, Soph.
  • DB Montrell Estell, Soph.
  • OL Landon Shelton, Jr.

 

Offense: There was too much inconsistency for the Hooks offense a season ago. The Hornets managed just 21.8 points per game in 2013 and there were three games in which they scored only one touchdown or less. The offensive shortcomings partially explain why Hooks struggled to a two-win season, its lowest win total since 2008. But with eight starters back, fourth-year coach Hart Jeanis is hoping his offense can take a big step forward this fall.

Hooks TE Travis Krueger. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

R.J. Williams, who has received interest from college programs at linebacker, is a big and physical runner who will be a chore to stop near the goal line or in short-yardage situations. Depending on how much the coaching staff wants to use him on defense, his role at running back may increase this season after going for more 400 yards a season ago. The QB-WR combo of Micah Wall and Jamall Fort should give Hooks’ offense the element of explosiveness this season after the two showed flashes of that in 2013. Landon Shelton is expected to anchor a solid offensive line, while tight end Travis Krueger is versatile enough to be used in a variety of roles.

Defense: Just like the offense, Hooks’ defense is bringing back eight starters. The Hornets will need improvement from last season’s scoring average of 31.5 points per game if Hooks is to play at the level it wants this year. The Hornets allowed just seven points in its win over DeKalb last season, but did not allow fewer than 25 points in their nine other games.

Williams is probably the best defender in the district, and the Hornets will need another strong year from him in order to turn the corner. Reshawn Parker had a breakthrough sophomore season, and the coaches are excited how much progress the junior linebacker will make this year. If incoming sophomore Malik Estell follows through on his promise, Hooks will field a ferocious trio of linebackers. Meanwhile, Montrell Estell is expected to make an impact in the secondary as a sophomore.

2014 outlook: Hooks hasn’t made the playoffs in five years, but there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the program heading into the new season. Part of the anticipation stems from the 16 returning starters, but also the district the Hornets were put into sets up well for Hooks. Paul Pewitt, Hughes Springs and Queen City all made the playoffs a season ago, but Linden-Kildare and DeKalb were a combined 4-16. With four teams making the postseason, Hooks feels good about its chances of finishing in the top four.

4. Queen City Bulldogs

Queen City QB Easton Droddy. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Eric Droddy

2013 finish: 6-5 (2A D-I bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • FB Jarrett Morgan, Jr.
  • OL Mason Riggs, Sr., 6-2, 315
  • QB Easton Droddy, Sr., 5-8, 190
  • LB Jimmy Larry, Sr., 5-8, 160
  • DL Scott Romanick, Sr., 6-0, 210
  • OL Jonathan Callison, Sr.
  • OL Parker Hailey, Sr., 5-9, 190
  • OL Parker Hartcraft, Sr.

 

Queen City OL Mason Riggs. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Queen City’s offense got off to a hot start in 2013. The Bulldogs won their first three games, averaging 39.7 points in the process. But over the final eight games, in which Queen City went 3-5, the offense only put up 15 points a week on average. Queen City was able to win enough low-scoring games down the stretch to qualify for the playoffs, but the dip in offensive production is something second-year coach Eric Droddy will attempt to guard against this season.

The Bulldogs have five starters back on offense, including the coach’s son — Easton Droddy — at quarterback. With very little experience surrounding him at the skill positions, Queen City will need its offensive line to step up in the same fashion it did a season ago. The Bulldogs’ O-line will be anchored by the talented senior foursome of Mason Riggs, Jonathan Callison, Parker Hailey and Parker Hartcraft. Fullback Jarrett Morgan is an intriguing prospect new to the Queen City program, and the coaches are hopeful he can make an immediate impact this season.

Queen City LB Jimmy Larry. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Bulldogs defense was huge in helping Queen City sneak into the playoffs, despite the offensive struggles down the stretch. However, the QC defense had its fair share of inconsistency toward the end of the season. After the Bulldogs’ 3-0 start to the season, in which opponents scored just 26 points total, Queen City allowed an average of 29.4. With five starters back, it is imperative that the newcomers are able to step in and immediately contribute.

Two of Queen City’s top returning defenders — linebacker Jimmy Larry and defensive lineman Scott Romanick — will go along way in determining what type of season the Bulldogs will have in 2014. Don’t be surprised if a few offensive playmakers see time on the other side of the ball in order to find a certain level of continuity.

2014 outlook: Queen City reached the playoffs last season for the first time since 2001, and now it is up to the coaching staff and returning players to continue what the 2013 team began. It will be a challenge against the likes of Paul Pewitt, Hughes Springs and Hooks, but Queen City figures to have enough coming back in 2014 to ward off challenges from DeKalb and Linden-Kildare at the bottom of the district.

5. DeKalb Bears

Coach: Eddy May

2013 finish: 1-9

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Colt Booth, Sr., 6-3, 180 (1,853 passing yards, 11 TDs, 2 INTs)
  • WR Nathan Shipley, Jr. (54 catches, 526 yards, 3 TDs)
  • DL Ty Reed, Jr. (98 tackles)
  • RB Kentavius Williams, Soph., 5-7, 180 (300 rushing yards, 2 TDs)
  • DB Thomas Culpepper, Sr., 5-10, 155
  • DB Jovan Forte, Jr., 5-11, 160
  • OL Darryl Scott, Sr., 6-2, 190
  • WR Tate Breshears, Jr.

 

2014 outlook: It was a rough 2013 season for DeKalb, which went 1-9 — its worst performance since 2009′s winless campaign. As you’d expect, neither the offense or defense performed well. The Bears put up just 13.1 points per game on average, while the defense surrendered almost 47 points each week. Needless to say, both of those figures will need to drastically improve if DeKalb hopes to make a run at the playoffs this season. If there was one bright spot for the Bears last season it was the QB-WR combo of Colt Booth and Nathan Shipley. The coaching staff is also hoping running back Kentavius Williams can keep it going after putting up 300 rushing yards as a freshman.

6. Linden-Kildare Tigers

Coach: Todd Elliott

2013 finish: 3-7

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • DL Fernando Ramirez, Sr., 5-9, 188 (67 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery)
  • RB/LB Airon Brooks, Sr., 5-11, 230 (119 carries, 623 yards, 6 TDs; 5 catches, 23 yards; 13 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 3 fumble recoveries)
  • QB Curt Wells, Jr. (101 of 197, 1,207 yards, 7 TDs, 12 INTs; 44 carries, 73 yards, 3 TDs)
  • RB/LB Nay’Kerian Walker, Jr., 6-2, 180 (35 carries, 195 yards, 2 TDs; 23 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery)
  • WR/DB Cardale Peterson, Jr. (16 catches, 153 yards, 1 TD; 25 tackles, 2 INTs)
  • DB Reid Bynum, Sr. (32 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 fumble recovery, 1 blocked kick)
  • LB Isaiah Currie, Sr., 5-10, 190 (48 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)
  • RB/DB Montrell Warren, Sr., 5-11, 150 (56 carries, 273 yards, 3 TDs; 4 catches, 40 yards; 41 tackles, 1 for loss, 2 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries)

 

Offense: Linden-Kildare struggled mightily on offense a season ago, averaging a less-than-stellar 17.9 points per game in 2013. The Tigers had four games last year where they scored just one touchdown or less, which cannot happen again this season if L-K has visions of getting into the playoff discussion. With seven offensive starters back, there is hope among fourth-year coach Todd Elliott and staff that the offense will be much improved this fall.

Curt Wells is back at quarterback after breaking into action as a sophomore. He’ll need to improve on his decision-making after throwing 12 interceptions to just seven touchdown passes, but with a full season now under his belt, expect a much better showing from the L-K signal-caller. The Tigers also have a talented collection of backs in Airon Brooks, Nay’Kerian Walker and Montrell Warren, who all saw time in the backfield a season ago. If Wells can show improvement, the running backs can stay healthy and the offensive line comes together, the Tigers have the makings of a respectable offense this fall.

Defense: There were some ugly moments on defense last season for L-K, which allowed opponents an average of more than 36 points per game. The Tigers allowed at least 40 points five times in 2013, including four consecutive in its season-defining four-game losing streak to Waskom, Hughes Springs, New Diana and Paul Pewitt. L-K does have seven defenders with starting experience returning, so there is an expectation that the defense will show a measure of improvement as well.

Senior defensive lineman Fernando Ramirez is probably L-K’s top returning defender, and he will be a big key in determining how much the Tigers’ defense grows in 2014. Brooks, Walker and Isaiah Currie are expected to make up the linebacking corps, while L-K is looking for big things from Cordale Peterson, Reid Bynum and Warren in the secondary.

2014 outlook: It’s been a struggle for Linden-Kildare in the last three seasons. Since longtime coaching veteran Jerry Bennett guided the Tigers to a 10-3 record in 2010, L-K has managed just a 9-21 record. And even with 14 total starters returning from last year, it will be an uphill climb for the Tigers to jump into the playoff mix this season. L-K most likely must find a couple of wins against the trio of Hooks, Queen City and DeKalb to reach the postseason. The Tigers defeated both Hooks and DeKalb a season ago, so it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

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