2014 Football Preview: Tenaha Looks to Lead Competitive District 11-2A D-II Race
Tenaha has lost seven games since winning the Class A Division II state championship in 2011, but none of them have come in district.
In fact, the Tigers have outscored their league opponents by an average score of 47-8 over the past two seasons. Last year, Tenaha's cumulative score against its four district foes was 206-7.
Things could change this fall as Tenaha will face a whole new group of district competitors in 11-2A Division II, with the exception of Mount Enterprise, which has represented the Tigers' stiffest challenge in recent years.
The 2013 combined records of Fruitvale, Maud, Mount Enterprise, Overton and Timpson won't blow anyone away, but four of the five schools have at least 12 starters returning from last season.
While Tenaha, which is 55-12 under six-year coach Terry Ward, is still considered the league favorite, don't expect the title to come as easy as it has in the past.
District 11-2A Division II Preview
- Cobe Caraway, Sr., RB, Tenaha
- Triston Carlow, Jr., QB, Maud
- Tim Carr, Sr., LB, Maud
- Seth Garrett, Sr., DL, Overton
- Julian Herndon, Jr., RB, Overton
- Justin Johnson, Sr., RB, Mount Enterprise
- Shakur Johnson, Sr., WR, Timpson
- Dhailon Phillips, Soph., WR, Mount Enterprise
- DeAndre Thomas, Sr., WR, Tenaha
- T.J. Thomas, Sr., ATH, Tenaha
- Oct. 10 -- Tenaha at Maud
- Oct. 17 -- Mount Enterprise at Maud
- Oct. 17 -- Timpson at Overton
- Nov. 7 -- Tenaha at Mount Enterprise
1. Tenaha Tigers
Coach: Terry Ward
2013 finish: 11-2 (1A D-II semifinalist)
Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/DB Cobe Caraway, Sr., 5-9, 168 (48 carries, 598 yards, 4 TDs; 2 catches, 43 yards, 1 TD; 29 tackles, 1 PBU in 5 games)
- WR/DB DeAndre Thomas, Sr., 6-1, 170 (19 catches, 320 yards, 3 TDs; 2 carries, 84 yards, 1 TD; 32 tackles, 4 for loss, 3 PBU)
- ATH T.J. Thomas, Sr., 5-8, 165 (60 carries, 380 yards, 5 TDs; 5 catches, 39 yards; 59 tackles, 4 for loss, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 INT, 5 PBU)
- DL Blaine Cummings, Jr. (76 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 PAT block)
- OL Calvin Estes, Jr.
- LB DeMarcus Perry, Jr. (53 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 sack, 1 PBU)
- OL Charles Reed, Jr.
- OL Luis Campos, Jr.
Offense: Tenaha lost a talented trio of offensive playmakers to graduation in quarterback J.R. Hill, running back Chavis Gregory and receiver Keontas Davis. But the Tigers do bring back an important man in the backfield, Cobe Caraway, whose junior season was cut short after five games because of injury. Some believe had Caraway not suffered the setback that Tenaha would have gone on to play in its third consecutive state championship game. The Tigers, instead, had to settle for the state semifinals.
It remains unclear who will ultimately fill the role left by Hill at quarterback, but once the Tigers figure that out, whoever the triggerman is will have a nice set of weapons at his disposal.
Caraway is an athlete that transcends any classification. He tested among the best running backs the second annual ETSN.fm + APEC Football Recruiting Combine in Tyler back in June. Caraway ran a laser-timed 4.43 40-yard dash -- tied for third-fastest among all 115 competitors -- and was able to put up eight bench press reps at 205 pounds, despite weighing in at a shade less than 170 pounds. DeAndre Thomas, who played second fiddle to Davis at receiver a year ago, seems poised for a breakout 2014 season. Fellow senior T.J. Thomas is another potential dynamic force for Tenaha after showing flashes as a junior.
Defense: Tenaha has some re-tooling to do on this side of the ball as well. Not only was Gregory a standout running back, he was the heart and soul of a Tigers defense that limited opponents to 11.4 points per game last year. Gregory was third on team in tackles and second in sacks, behind fellow departed playamer Denzelle Williams, who racked up 15 sacks and 31 tackles for loss from his defensive end position.
Defensive lineman Blaine Cummings performed well as a sophomore a year ago, and his experience up front will be counted upon by underclassmen yet to make an impact at the varsity level. T.J. Thomas and Caraway will go both ways, hoping to bring some continuity to a secondary that said goodbye to Davis, who finished his senior year with seven interceptions. DeMarcus Perry enjoyed a strong 2013 at linebacker, and will do his best to replace the production Gregory gave the Tenaha defense a season ago.
2014 outlook: Tenaha's schedule could be a challenge to navigate. The Tigers' five non-district opponents combined to go 38-22 in 2013, and Tenaha will go on the road to face perennial area power Joaquin, defending 2A state semifinalist White Oak and TAPPS stalwart Bullard Brook Hill. Tenaha gets Alto at home before beginning district, where its likely three toughest games -- Maud, Timpson and Mount Enterprise -- will be on the road as well.
That being said, getting to the playoffs shouldn't be a problem for Tenaha. Glancing at Region III, it appears the biggest potential stumbling blocks in the way of the Tigers reaching a fourth-straight semifinal will be Muenster, Chilton and Collinsville -- all of which played beyond Thanksgiving last season.
2. Maud Cardinals
Coach: Nelson Kortis
2013 finish: 8-3 (1A D-I area finalist)
Returning starters: 9 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Triston Carlow, Jr., 5-11, 155 (1,506 passing yards, 15 TDs)
- LB Tim Carr, Sr., 6-1, 225 (78 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 4 PBU)
- DB Tim McClendon, Sr., 5-11, 168
- WR Jake McDonald, Jr., 6-2, 175
- OL Kendall Mathis, Jr., 6-4, 275
- DL C.J. Washington, Sr., 5-9, 170
- WR Trenton Minter, Sr., 5-11, 165
2014 outlook: The Cardinals have the most returning starting experience of any other team in the district, so head coach Nelson Kortis and his players are thinking big in 2014 after their eight-win season last fall. Maud should be especially potent on offense with nine starters back from a unit that averaged 36.9 points per game a year ago. Just like Tenaha, there is just one district holdover for Maud -- Overton, which the Cardinals defeated by 17 points in 2013. Maud is technically playing down a classification after competing in 1A Division I the past couple years, but it remains to be seen whether that will have a positive impact on the Cardinals this season.
3. Mount Enterprise Wildcats
Coach: Scott Holzhauer
2013 finish: 4-7 (1A D-II bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 9 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Justin Johnson, Sr., 5-7, 145 (1,115 rushing yards, 11 TDs)
- WR Dhailon Phillips, Soph., 6-3, 195 (23 catches, 380 yards, 7 TDs)
- OL Tony Burns, Sr., 5-8, 190
- QB Christian Hammett, Jr., 6-1, 165
- LB Patrick Sanders, Sr. (96 tackles)
- OL Mikey Grubbs, Jr.
- OL Ty Grubbs, Jr.
- DB Jeffery Gongwer, Sr.
Offense: It was a wildly inconsistent go of it for Mount Enterprise on offense last season. The Wildcats averaged 23.9 points per game in 2013, but scored just 110 points in their seven losses while going for more than 38 per in wins. But with nine of 11 starters back, expect not only for the scoring output to rise but the consistency with which the Wildcats execute to increase as well.
Despite not being the featured back, Justin Johnson did enough last year to give head coach Scott Holzhauer and his staff hope for even bigger things to come. Johnson's not large in stature, so durability could be an issue, but there are plenty of other options on offense to keep defenses from keying in on the Wildcats' top ball carrier. Christian Hammett returns to pilot the offense at quarterback, and emerging star Dhailon Phillips looks poised to build upon his strong freshman season. The offensive line figures to be a strength as well with the return of Tony Burns and Mikey and Ty Grubbs, who got plenty of Friday night reps a year ago.
Defense: Mount Enterprise's defense struggled mightily in 2013, allowing opponents an average of 38.8 points per game. The good news is that, after a horrific showing in their first three games of the year, the Wildcats' defense began to turn a corner. Mount Enterprise allowed 176 points during its 0-3 start to the season, but over the final eight games, the Wildcats held foes to a more respectable scoring average.
Linebacker Patrick Sanders is Mount Enterprise's top returning defender after nearly eclipsing the 100-tackle milestone as a junior. He won't be alone as the Wildcats bring back seven others with starting experiencing, including defensive back Jeffery Gongwer, who will be charged with anchoring the Wildcats' secondary. While the offense will be improved, the Wildcats' 'D' will need to make serious strides as well in order to make Mount Enterprise a serious challenger to Tenaha and Maud for the district title.
2014 outlook: Everyone expects a better product on the field in 2014 after Mount Enterprise failed to achieve a winning season for the first time in eight years. As long as the Wildcats can remain healthy at the key impact positions and the offense and defense show marked improvement, reaching the playoffs seems very attainable. The Mount Enterprise schedule sets up favorably. Only one of the Wildcats' five non-district opponents had a winning record last year, while three of their five league games are at home, including the season finale against district favorite Tenaha.
4. Timpson Bears
Coach: James Conway
2013 finish: 5-5
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- WR Shakur Johnson, Sr., 5-9, 155
- DL Alberto Cuero, Sr., 5-11, 220
- QB Chandler Burgay, Jr., 6-0, 170
- WR DeVonta Thompson, Jr.
- WR James Marshall, Sr., 6-1, 168
- RB Hayden Smith, Jr.
- LB Hunter Smith, Jr.
- DB Terence Garrett, Sr.
Offense: It was a tale of two halves for Timpson's offense in 2013. After a torrid 4-0 start to the year, which included an average of 45.5 points per game, the Bears fell off down the stretch. Over its final six games, in which Timpson went 1-5, the offense managed only 18.8 -- just 74 points total during a season-defining five-game losing streak. With more than half of the starters back on that side of the ball, third-year coach James Conway is hoping Timpson can start strong and finish strong.
The offense will be entrusted to junior quarterback Chandler Burgay, who will have a talented trio of receivers -- Shakur Johnson, DeVonta Thompson and James Marshall -- at his disposal. The depth at receiver may be the best in the district, so it will just be a matter of fine-tuning the timing between the quarterback and pass-catchers. As evidenced by 2013's hot start, the potential for explosiveness with the offense is there, and with what Timpson also brings back on defense, the Bears might be able to sneak their way into the district championship race.
Defense: This could be Timpson's biggest asset in 2014. Despite the up-and-down season, the Bears defense kept the team in games for the most part. Through six games, Timpson's 'D' surrendered only 11 points per contest on average, and just 26 total points during the Bears' first four games. But much like the offense, the TImpson defense faltered down the stretch, allowing an average of more than 37 points over the final four weeks.
TImpson should be solid at all three levels in 2014, however, as seven defenders with starting experience return. It all starts up front with defensive lineman Alberto Cuero, who is one of the district's strongest players. Linebacker Hunter Smith showed promise last season as a sophomore, while defensive back Terence Garrett will provide senior leadership in the secondary.
2014 outlook: Better things were expected of Timpson in 2013 after a surprisingly 9-2 finish in Conway's debut season as coach the year before. But if there were any lessons learned they were to finish what was started. Dreams of a unbeaten regular season, which seemed very possible at the beginning of the year, turned into a nightmare filled with questions of what might have been.
The schedule won't be easy with teams like Harleton, Lovelady and Joaquin on the non-district slate and road district games at Mount Enterprise and Maud, but it wasn't that long ago that many felt Timpson was a program on the rise.
5. Overton Mustangs
Coach: Josh Barton
2013 finish: 3-7 (1A D-I bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- OL/DL Seth Garrett, Sr., 6-2, 250
- RB Julian Herndon, Jr.
- QB Brayton Pierce, Sr.
- OL Nick Baker, Jr., 6-4, 272
- TE Daniel Gomez, Sr., 5-11, 180
- OL Eric Rodriguez, Jr.
- RB Brenton Craig, Jr., 5-10, 175
- RB Kamron Hawkins, Jr., 5-5, 150
Offense: Points were hard to come by for Overton last year as the Mustangs scored only 16.6 per game on average, but there's reason for optimism in 2014. Overton brings back a talented corps of players on the offensive side of the ball that should make moving the ball up and down the field much easier this time around.
Running backs Julian Herndon, Brenton Craig and Kamron Hawkins were all sophomores a year ago, so expect bigger things for the stable of backs from Overton. The offensive line is in good shape as well with the return of Seth Garrett, Nick and Baker and Eric Rodriguez among others. Senior Brayton Pierce takes over at quarterback, so the man who runs it all should bring some leadership skills to a team still full of underclassmen.
Defense: It was a tough start to the season for the Overton defense last year. During its 0-5 beginning to 2013, the Mustangs 'D' allowed an unsightly 44.6 points per game, but once the district campaign got going everything began to run a little more smoothly. Overton is hopeful the improved defensive play down the stretch will have a carryover effect to this season, despite having to find seven new starting defenders.
Garrett doubles a defensive lineman and is probably Overton's best overall defender, but he'll need help from a bevy of newcomers in order to transform the Mustangs defense into a much-improved product.
2014 outlook: Even though Overton began 2013 with five consecutive losses, the Mustangs righted the ship just in time to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in as many seasons under head coach Josh Barton. Making it three in a row will be difficult with stiffer competition in 11-2A D-II, but don't discount a team that knows what it takes to reach the postseason.
6. Fruitvale Bobcats
Coach: Paul Johnston
2013 finish: 5-5 (in six-man)
Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Dustin Earl, Sr., 5-10, 165
- WR Eric Lane, Jr.
- WR Gavino Rongel, Soph.
- ATH Taylor McGinnis, Sr.
2014 outlook: It may be a rough transition into 11-man competition for Fruitvale, which has spent the last few seasons competing at the six-man level. One of the keys for the Bobcats will be how quickly and successfully they develop interior linemen. Fruitvale has a nice compliment of skill players that contributed to last season's offense, but without the big guys up front, it will be awfully difficult for Fruitvale to challenge the bigger schools in the district. But the fact that participation numbers have increased to the point that Fruitvale feels confident in coming back to 11-man is a positive step in the right direction.