There aren't too many programs in all of East Texas that will enter the 2014 season with more experience than the Gladewater Bears. And it's quality experience.

Gladewater, after not winning in the playoffs since 2001, took much of the area by surprise when it reached the postseason out of the notoriously difficult "District of Doom" and proceeded to advance four rounds deep.

And the Bears did with only five seniors on the roster.

With 18 returning starters, which includes the area's top overall player in senior defensive tackle and Texas A&M commit Daylon Mack, Gladewater now finds itself on a short list of programs in East Texas expected to make another long trip through the playoffs.

But getting there won't be easy. While Gladewater doesn't have to be worried about Gilmer, Kilgore, Chapel Hill or Henderson being district opponents anymore, its new district features perennial power Tatum and teams expected to be on the rise in 2014 like Atlanta and Center.

District 6-4A Division II Preview

Tatum LB Kyshaun Smith. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)
PLAYMAKERS
  • DeQuan Allen, RB, Sr., Atlanta
  • Mark Ashby, LB, Jr., Pleasant Grove
  • Devon Boyd, LB, Sr., Tatum
  • Chaston Brooks, ATH, Sr., Tatum
  • Josh Burns, WR, Sr., Center
  • Justice Centers, FB, Jr., Gladewater
  • Octavius Evans, WR, Soph., Center
  • Daylon Gordon, DB, Sr., Gladewater
  • Daylon Mack, DL, Sr., Gladewater
  • Chase Musgrove, QB, Sr., Atlanta
  • Caiden Rainbolt, QB, Sr., Center
  • James Reese, RB, Sr., Gladewater
  • Deyanta Roberson, WR, Sr., Tatum
  • Cameron Schulz, LB, Sr., Atlanta
  • Kyshaun Smith, LB, Sr., Tatum
  • J.D. Taylor, QB, Jr., Tatum
  • Hagen Tucker, TE/DL, Sr., Spring Hill
  • Quanterius Turner, DL, Jr., Gladewater

 

TOP GAMES
  • Oct. 10 -- Tatum at Gladewater
  • Oct. 10 -- Spring Hill at Center
  • Oct. 17 -- Gladewater at Atlanta
  • Oct. 24 -- Atlanta at Center
  • Oct. 31 -- Tatum at Atlanta

 

1. Gladewater Bears

Gladewater DT Daylon Mack. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: John Berry

2013 finish: 7-7 (3A D-II regional finalist)

Returning starters: 10 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • DL/FB Daylon Mack, Sr., 6-1, 330 (98 tackles, 35 for loss, 5 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 1 PBU, 1 blocked kick, 1 safety; 47 carries, 296 yards, 10 TDs; 1 catch, 36 yards; committed to Texas A&M)
  • RB James Reese, Sr., 5-9, 165 (217 carries, 1,507 yards, 11 TDs; 8 catches, 115 yards, 2 TDs)
  • DL Quanterius Turner, Jr., 6-2, 281
  • FB Justice Centers, Jr., 5-11, 218 (141 carries, 900 yards, 9 TDs; 28 catches, 296 yards, 1 TD)
  • DB Daylon Gordon, Sr., 5-10, 155 (128 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 INT, 11 PBU, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries)
  • RB Marcello Jackson, Jr., 6-0, 174 (101 carries, 549 yards, 4 TDs)
  • QB Nick Canaguier, Sr., 5-10, 150 (77 of 152, 961 yards, 6 TDs; 49 carries, 222 yards, 4 TDs)
  • RB Darnell McKnight, Soph., 5-11, 195 (70 carries, 413 yards, 4 TDs)
  • WR Bailey Glenn, Sr., Sr., 5-7, 140 (16 catches, 263 yards, 1 TD)
  • LB Austin Blanco, Jr., 5-11, 195 (114 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 3 recoveries, 1 INT, 1 defensive touchdown)

 

Offense: Not many coaches are fortunate enough to have virtually the same offensive personnel in back-to-back seasons, but that's the case for first-year Gladewater coach John Berry, who will have 10 of 11 offensive starters returning in 2013. And with that, a stable of talented ball carriers. Gladewater rotated several running backs and fullbacks last season, a formula that helped the Bears reach the state quarterfinals, and one that should remain the same this year. Gladewater's offense didn't exactly light up the scoreboard a season ago, averaging just 24.3 points per game. But with so much experience coming back, coupled with the Bears avoiding the likes of Gilmer, Kilgore and Chapel Hill in district, expect Gladewater's offensive attack to become more productive.

Gladewater RB James Reese. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Senior running back James Reese was the featured tailback as a junior, and after a 1,500-yard campaign under his belt, loftier numbers could be in store. Junior fullback Justice Centers enjoyed breakout success as a sophomore, rushing for 900 yards while leading the team in receptions. His physical running style works in contrast to Reese's slashing ability. The backfield doesn't stop there. Junior Marcello Jackson, senior Daryl Polk and sophomore Darnell McKnight are talented in their own right, and all three could possibly start for several other programs. Holding it all together will be senior quarterback Nick Canaguier, who isn't asked to win games with his arm, but whose decision-making with reads at the line of scrimmage often make the difference between minimal and sizable gains.

Defense: Senior defensive tackle Daylon Mack gets a lot of attention, and rightly so. The five-star Texas A&M commit battered opposing offenses for nearly 100 tackles -- 35 behind the line of scrimmage -- and forced eight fumbles a season ago. During Gladewater's four-round deep trip through the playoffs, there may not have been one player doing more for his team than Mack, who consistently beat double teams to make plays. He also became one of Gladewater's most reliable weapons on offense, rushing for 10 touchdowns at fullback. But let's make one thing clear: the Bears' defense was more than just one player, and the majority of those defenders are back.

Gladewater DT Quanterius Turner. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

An intriguing player to watch this season will be junior defensive tackle Quanterius Turner, who if he can play up to his potential, will team with Mack to form one of the very best DL combos in all of East Texas. Junior linebacker Austin Blanco will anchor the Gladewater defense at the second level after he burst onto the scene as a sophomore with 100-plus tackles. The defensive secondary is full of athletic playmakers like Daylon "Duke" Gordon, who doesn't miss many tackles and can play the ball with the best of them. Gladewater allowed 29.2 points per game last year, but with eight defenders with starting experience returning, that number figures to be headed down this fall.

2014 outlook: Gladewater, which had just five seniors on its entire 2013 roster, took everyone by surprise in advancing all the way to the regional finals. From the moment their playoff run ended at the hands of eventual state champion Argyle, the Bears were thinking of next season. It's here. Berry, who took over for Jerrod Baugh in the offseason, could not have asked for a more seasoned or talented roster with which to make his head coaching debut. Realignment also worked to Gladewater's advantage by keeping the Bears separated from the bigger 4A powers in the area. The UIL even separated Gladewater from rival and perennial state contender Gilmer, which is competing in neighboring 5-4A D-II.

Gladewater will have a target on its back this season, and the Bears' first six games will tell us quite a bit about what type of team they'll be. Gladewater opens at defending 2A D-I regional finalist Daingerfield, hosts similarly talented Pittsburg, meets Louisiana power St. Thomas More out of Lafayette, La., in Shreveport, hosts defending 3A D-I state champion Carthage, followed by a road game at reigning 3A D-I runner-up Kilgore. The brutal six-game swing ends with a home matchup with Tatum in the district opener. If Gladewater survives that gauntlet, you'd have to figure it would be ready for anything in the playoffs. The Bears' biggest obstacles out of Region II appear to be the aforementioned Gilmer Buckeyes, last year's 3A D-II runner-up Fairfield and Coldspring-Oakhurst.

 

2. Tatum Eagles

Tatum WR Deyanta Roberson. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Andy Evans

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

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB/RB Kyshaun Smith, Sr., 6-1, 180 (145 tackles, 18 for loss, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 forced fumble, 1 defensive touchdown; 19 carries, 199 yards, 1 TD; 2 catches, 35 yards, 1 TD
  • LB/RB Devon Boyd, Sr., 5-10, 180 (77 tackles 17 for loss, 4 sacks, 2 INTs, 4 PBU, 1 defensive TD; 61 carries, 460 yards, 8 TDs; 7 catches, 128 yards, 3 TDs)
  • WR Deyanta Roberson, Sr., 6-2, 190 (28 catches, 508 yards, 5 TDs)
  • ATH Chaston Brooks, Sr., 6-0, 190 (2 of 5, 52 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 28 carries, 227 yards, 3 TDs; 44 tackles, 1 for loss, 2 INTs, 11 PBU; 6 kickoff and punt returns for TDs)
  • QB J.D. Taylor, Jr., 6-2, 180 (72 of 121, 1,040 yards, 12 TDs, 2 INTs; 72 carries, 404 yards, 5 TDs)
  • RB Darius Earl, Jr.
  • DB Jordan Nelson, Sr., 6-0, 170 (128 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 INT, 8 PBU, 1 defensive touchdown)
  • DL Malik Allen, Sr., 5-11, 197 (53 tackles, 10 for loss, 2 sacks)
  • WR Martin Williams, Sr., 6-3, 190 (19 catches, 268 yards, 2 TDs)
  • DL Colby Blackmon, Jr.

 

Tatum QB J.D. Taylor. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Tatum, for years now, has produced too many athletes to mention. And every year, the Eagles' offense is populated by some of the region's very best playmakers. Last season, Tatum averaged 36.9 points per game and had a multitude of players contribute in big ways. The Eagles didn't have a 2,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher or receiver, yet still managed to score with regularity a year ago. Tatum lost seven offensive starters to graduation, but the ones the Eagles bring back and the projected newcomers appear to be up to the task of continuing Tatum's long-standing tradition of offensive excellence.

Junior quarterback J.D. Taylor had success in his first season at the helm of the offense, and even bigger things are expected of the budding signal-caller. Following the graduation of leading rusher Jaylen Shans, Tatum's passing game may come more to the forefront in 2014 with the return of receiver Deyanta Roberson and Martin Williams -- both big targets and hard covers for average-sized defensive backs. Roberson has attracted the attention of quite a few college programs over the offseason, and a big senior season could be just what he needs to cement his future beyond high school. Darius Earl will get a shot to be featured at running back, but don't be surprised to see a few defensive playmakers make their presence felt on offense as well.

Tatum LB Devon Boyd. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Tatum's defense was one of East Texas' best in 2013, forcing three shutouts while holding opponents to just 13.4 points per game. Part of what made the Eagles' defense so effective was its ability to force turnovers. What Tatum lacks in size, especially at the second and third levels, it makes up for in blinding speed and physicality. Tatum has the raw athleticism on defense to take more chances than most other programs, and those gambles pay off more often than not. Offenses must be on its toes whenever lining up across from the Eagles, who return seven starters from last year's defense.

The linebacking corps could be one of the area's best, regardless of classification. Seniors Kyshaun Smith and Devon Boyd each went well over 100 tackles as juniors, and following an offseason sharpening their tools at various college camps and combines, the final product could be one opponents dread on a weekly basis. Not only are both Smith and Boyd exceptional athletes, their instincts and nose for the football set the duo apart from the pack. Tatum will be strong up front as well with the return of senior defensive end Malik Allen and promising junior Colby Blackmon, the younger brother of former Tatum stars Chance and Chase Blackmon. The secondary will be stout as well as Jordan Nelson, another 100-plus tackler from a season ago, and Chaston Brooks, whose coverage skills at corner translate to the next level. Brooks is also an adept kick returner, having returned an astounding six kicks for touchdowns last season.

2014 outlook: Tatum, which has competed at the 2A level (now 3A) for the last four seasons, has fond memories of playing up a class. The Eagles captured a 3A D-II state championship in 2005, which preceded its 2A D-I crown the very next year. The move up doesn't affect programs like Tatum as much because the Eagles typically dress as many players as other schools in 4A, and the athleticism is always on par with the bigger programs. That being said, Tatum will have its hands full in 6-4A D-II, and in particular with its district opener at preseason district favorite Gladewater.

The Eagles' non-district schedule should get them ready. After opening the season at home against perennial state power Newton, Tatum hosts Gilmer, has back-to-back road games at Liberty-Eylau and Chapel Hill and finishes it off with a non-district finale against Hardin-Jefferson.

 

3. Atlanta Rabbits

Atlanta quarterback Chase Musgrove looks to pass against Gladewater during their playoff game Nov. 22, 2013, in Longview. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Matt McClure

2013 finish: 7-5 (3A D-II area finalist)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Chase Musgrove, Sr., 5-11, 175 (1,446 passing yards, 15 TDs; 775 rushing yards, 13 TDs)
  • RB DeQuan Allen, Sr., 6-0, 185 (1,285 yards, 8 TDs)
  • LB Cameron Schulz, Sr., 6-0, 200 (123 tackles, 2 defensive touchdowns)
  • WR Eddrick King, Sr. (18 catches, 211 yards, 2 TDs)
  • OL Cole Davis, Sr., 5-10, 245
  • DB Jeremy Smith, Jr.
  • DB D'Corey Larry, Jr.
  • DL Tristan Allen, Soph.

 

Offense: Atlanta's offense quietly put together a nice 2013 season, averaging more than 33 points per game. The Rabbits aren't a flashy offensive group; they'd prefer to keep things simple, which worked well a year ago. With five starters back, there will likely be some growing pains with younger players filling voids left on the offensive line, but fourth-year coach Matt McClure has a couple of pretty good weapons with which to work this season.

Atlanta's DeQuan Allen delivers a stiff-arm to a Gladewater defender during the Rabbits' second-round playoff loss at Longview's Lobo Stadium on Nov. 22, 2013. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Quarterback Chase Musgrove, a baseball standout and one of the area's best overall athletes, showcased his versatility a year ago. When asked to put in the air, Musgrove obliged, and finished with nearly 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns. And when called to pick up the tough yardage on the ground, Musgrove again answered the bell, finishing with nearly 800 yards and 13 touchdowns. Senior running back DeQuan Allen is back to reprise his role as the featured back after putting up more than 1,200 yards a season ago. There is probably not a better QB-RB duo in the district, and both Musgrove and Allen will be counted upon to have big follow-up seasons as seniors. If the Rabbits can find another couple of playmakers and solidity their O-line, the Atlanta offense has a chance to develop into a very productive unit.

Defense: Atlanta's defense was hit or miss last season, finishing the year with a scoring average of 27.8 points per game. But after a rough start, which included allowing 35 or more or points four times in the Rabbits' first six games, Atlanta's 'D' tightened up a bit. Atlanta's defense only surrendered an average of 20.8 points per game. The Rabbits have five returning starters on the defensive side of the ball, so it will be incumbent on the newcomers to join the veterans in an effort to start strong on defense.

One defender McClure and Co. shouldn't have to worry about is senior linebacker Cameron Schulz, who will anchor the 'D' after posting more than 100 tackles and scoring twice on defense as a junior. Schulz possess good football instincts along with his natural ability, and his leadership will be important to a defense trying to take the next step. Jeremy Smith and D'Corey Larry both had impacts as sophomores out of the secondary, and each have drawn high expectations from the coaching staff. Another young player to keep an eye on this year is sophomore defensive lineman Tristan Allen.

2014 outlook: The Atlanta program may be on the rise once again. The Rabbits achieved their first winning season last year for the first time since winning the 2003 state championship. Under McClure, Atlanta has now made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons after the Rabbits missed out six times in seven years from 2004-2010. Prior to the program's lull, Atlanta had a 10-year stretch that included eight postseason berths and a record of 89-36. While it's hard to predict another successful period like that, it's clear that the Rabbits are headed in the right direction.

 

4. Center Roughriders

Center QB Caiden Rainbolt. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Kevin Goodwin

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

Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR/DB Octavius Evans, Soph., 6-1, 192 (67 catches, 734 yards, 8 TDs; 32 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 forced fumble)
  • WR Josh Burns, Sr., 5-6, 160 (57 catches, 825 yards, 5 TDs)
  • QB Caiden Rainbolt, Sr., 5-10, 180 (146 of 274, 1,554 yards, 14 TDs, 13 INTs)
  • LB Sayoddrick Barnes, Jr., 5-11, 230 (45 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
  • OL Adam Reeves, Sr., 6-0, 205
  • WR KamRon Parks, Jr.
  • OL LaMarcus Goodwin, Jr.
  • LB DaCorey McGee, Jr., 5-11, 185 (45 tackles, 1 for loss, 2 forced fumbles)

 

Offense: It was an up-and-down season for the Center offense in 2013. The Roughriders averaged 23.2 points per game, but that side of the ball was full of underclassmen, who are now ready to take the next step after experiencing their first taste of action on Friday nights. The offense experienced a change at starting quarterback during the middle of the season, which can often lead to inconsistency, and the Roughriders spent the whole season trying to find someone to fill the shoes of K.J. Garrett, who ripped off nearly 1,800 yards as a senior in 2012.

Center WR Josh Burns. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Center's receiving corps has the potential to be best in the district. Sophomore Octavius Evans was thrown into the fire as a freshman, and ended up leading the team in touchdown receptions. The talented, young wideout will likely become one of the top East Texas recruits in the 2017 class, and with a strong follow-up season in 2014, Center's offense could take a giant leap forward this fall. Senior Josh Burns is small, but that did not keep him from leading Center in receiving yards and yards per catch a season ago. KamRon Parks is another huge target for quarterback Caiden Rainbolt, who should begin his senior year much more polished than the he was in 2013.

Defense: Last season was a struggle for Center's defense, which allowed opponents to average 36.7 points per game. Five of the Roughnecks' nine losses occurred after their defense allowed an average of 60.8 points to Pine Tree, Fairfield, Carthage, Jasper and Rockdale. Other than those five games, Center's 'D' faired reasonably well, limiting teams to a respectable 19.4 points per game. With the offense expected to make huge strides in 2014, it will be imperative for the 'Riders' defense to do the same if Center hopes to improve on last season's win total of three.

Two of Center's seven returning defensive starters -- junior linebackers Sayoddrick Barnes and DaCorey McGee -- will be challenged to be leaders on the field after each made a solid contribution last season. The makeup of this district is very physical in nature, so finding tough D-linemen not afraid to stick their noses into the pile will be a must if the Roughriders hope to find the overall defensive improvement they're looking for.

2014 outlook: Despite earning just two wins during the regular season, Center was able to turn a negative into a positive by reaching the playoffs and picking up a win once it got there. Once a team discovers the taste of winning in the postseason, it's hard to turn that switch off, and sixth-year head coach Kevin Goodwin is banking on his team's ability to overcome the many adverse situations it was dealt in 2013 to make them much tougher this season. Center will get tested right off the bat with a Week 1 road game at Waskom, which advanced to the 2A D-II state semifinals last year. But after that, the Roughriders are at home for three consecutive weeks, which should be an opportunity for Center to gain some confidence before embarking on its journey through a rough 6-4A D-II schedule.

 

5. Spring Hill Panthers

Spring Hill TE/DL Hagen Tucker. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Mark Sartain

2013 finish: 3-7

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • TE/DL Hagen Tucker, Sr., 6-2, 225 (3 catches, 46 yards, 1 TD; 63 tackles, 12 for loss, 7 sacks, 1 QB pressure, 1 fumble, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
  • WR/DB Waylon McFadin, Sr., 5-7, 155 (30 catches, 479 yards; 37 tackles, 4 for loss, 3 sacks)
  • WR/DB Michael Spurrier, Sr., 6-2, 155 (24 catches, 302 yards, 2 TDs; 34 tackles, 1 INT, 7 PBU)
  • OL Blaine Peveler, Sr., 6-2, 220
  • QB Garrett Plumlee, Sr., 5-9, 165 (6 of 16, 43 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT; 14 carries, 212 yards, 4 TDs)
  • DB Blake Ramo, Sr., 5-10, 155 (29 tackles, 2 for loss, 2 INTs, 4 PBU, 1 forced fumble)
  • DL Breylan Bradford, Jr. (38 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, 1 PBU)
  • K/P Troy Duran, Sr., 6-2, 160 (4 of 9 on FGs (long 38), 19 of 21 on PATs; 39.7 yards per punt)

 

Spring Hill WR/DB Waylon McFadin. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Offense: It was not a good season offensively for Spring HIll in 2013. The Panthers had difficulty moving the ball on a consistent basis and averaged less than 17 points per game. In Spring Hill's three wins, the Panthers averaged 31.3 points, but they scored just 75 total in the other seven games, in which they outscored on average by 33. Part of that was the competition, as Spring Hill's losses were to teams who combined to go 67-25 in 2013. And the other half was just a lack of experience. WIth eight returning starters to the offense, second-year coach Mark Sartain is hopeful improvement is on the way.

Senior receivers Waylon McFadin and Michael Spurrier should serve as reliable targets for new quarterback Garrett Plumlee, who assumes signal-calling responsibilities after serving other roles on offense a season ago. Blaine Peveler is an undersized offensive lineman, but his experience as a three-year member of the program cannot be emphasized enough. A solid option or two in the running game must be found, but if the others pick up their performance from a season ago, Coach Sartain will have the improvement on offense he expects.

Spring Hill WR/DB Michael Spurrier. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Spring Hill allowed more than 33 points per game a season ago, so obviously there's work to be done on that side of the ball. The Panthers allowed 40 or more points in four of their six district games a season ago, but the good news is that three of the four -- Gilmer, Chapel Hill and Kilgore -- are no longer in the district. With seven defenders with starting experience returning, coupled with the fact of playing in a less challenging district than the one it's been in the last two seasons, Spring Hill should find the going a little less rough on defense this fall.

It all starts up front with senior defensive end Hagen Tucker, who racked up seven sacks and a dozen stops behind the line of scrimmage as a junior. The more pass-rush Tucker can provide, the less Spring Hill's undersized linebackers and defensive backs can be effectively attacked. Junior Breylan Bradford has the potential to be a nice compliment to Tucker on the D-line, while McFadin, Spurrier and Blake Ramo will man what should be a much-improved secondary.

2014 outlook: With 15 starters returning and a less imposing district schedule on the horizon, expectations at Spring Hill are on the rise. One of Spring Hill's three victories last season came against new district foe Pleasant Grove, so if the Panthers can make it back-to-back wins over PG and find another win in league play, Spring Hill has a chance to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Earning wins over Gladewater or Tatum may be a tall order for Spring Hill this season, but potentially crucial contests against Center and Atlanta are both home games. An impressive non-district features five playoff teams from 2013, so if nothing else, Spring Hill will be aptly prepared for life in the new district.

 

6. Pleasant Grove Hawks

Two Jefferson defenders stop Pleasant Grove quarterback Hunter Hatfield during their game Sept. 27, 2013, in Texarkana. (Evan Lewis, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Josh Gibson

2013 finish: 2-8

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Mark Ashby, Jr., 5-10, 170 (83 tackles, 3 INTs)
  • LB Jacob Smith Jr., 5-10, 156 (90 tackles)
  • QB Hunter Hatfield, Sr., 5-10, 200 (480 passing yards, 5 TDs; 387 rushing yards, 4 TDs)
  • WR Connor Lemmerhirt, Sr., 6-1, 180 (11 catches, 150 yards)
  • OL Colin Forbes, Sr., 6-0, 208
  • OL Tarique Bolding, Sr., 5-8, 240
  • RB Devuntay Walker, Soph.
  • DL Joseph Snodgrass, Sr., 5-8, 230

 

Offense: Pleasant Grove won just two games in 2013, and an underperforming offense was a big reason why. The Hawks put up only 15.2 points per game on average last season, which made staying competitive on a weekly basis extremely difficult. On the bright side, the offense was much better down the stretch. In its final four games, Pleasant Grove totaled 97 points, which was a major upgrade from the first six, in which the Hawks managed only 55 -- an average of 9.2 per game. With only four offensive starters returning, first-year coach Josh Gibson his hoping the newcomers can make an immediate impact in 2014.

Senior quarterback Hunter Hatfield showed glimpses of stardom last season, but he'll need to drastically improve his output if Pleasant Grove hopes to have an offense capable of keeping it in games this year. Senior receiver Connor Lemmerhirt is back, and the chemistry built between he and Hatfield a season ago will be important for the Hawks moving forward. The offensive line is undersized, but does have some experience at play with both Colin Forbes and Tarique Bolding. Sophomore running back Devuntay Walker will be given a chance to show the coaches what he can do.

Defense: Pleasant Grove surrendered more than 31 points per game to opponents last season, which may be a bit misleading. The bulk of the Hawks' points allowed occurred in four losses when Pleasant Grove yielded an average of 44 per game to New Boston, Tatum, Liberty-Eylau and Atlanta -- all quality opponents. In the Hawks' other six games, the 'D' held up fairly well, holding teams to a shade more than 23 points a game. Pleasant Grove has five defensive starters back in 2014, which the staff believes will be a key to turning things around.

Junior linebackers Mark Ashby and Jacob Smith picked up valuable experience last season as sophomores, and are expected to carry over that success this fall. Pleasant Grove was forced to depend on the duo more than it probably wanted to a season ago, but there's a silver lining: both players should be ready for whatever's thrown in their direction this year. Finding support for their two men in the middle of the defense will definitely be something to watch for early in the season.

2014 outlook: There's not much attention being paid to Pleasant Grove these days. Following a solid four-year run that included four consecutive playoff berths and an overall record of 34-15, the Hawks' program has fallen on hard times with only five wins total three last three seasons. Longtime head coach Kevin Davis left PG to become defending state champion Carthage's offensive coordinator during the offseason, opening the door for Gibson, who spent the previous few years as Frisco's offensive OC. There will probably be an adjustment period between coaches and players, but an improved product in year one could do wonders for the program in future years.