2014 Football Preview: Will Anyone Challenge Longview For District 15-5A Supremacy?
When the new classifications and districts were announced by the UIL last February, there were probably quite a few that uttered the phrase "Longview and everybody else" when discussing the new District 15-5A.
There is a lot of truth to that statement. Longview has reached the regional semifinals in the state's highest classification the last two seasons, has one of the best backfields in all of East Texas coming back and a coach that's won nine district titles in 10 seasons.
And there is that matter of recent history with Longview competing down a class. When the Lobos were in 4A back in 2008 and 2009, they reached consecutive state championship games.
After Longview, there are four teams that qualified for the playoffs a season ago, but just three spots available. Who will it be?
District 15-5A Preview
- Jarion Anderson, WR, Sr., Texas High
- William Brown, DL, Sr., Texas High
- Dezmond Chumley, QB, Sr., Longview
- Omar French, DL, Sr., Longview
- JaMycal Hasty, RB, Sr., Longview
- Mason Hays, QB, Sr., Pine Tree
- Marquies Hunter, FB, Sr., Longview
- Jess Jenkins, OL, Sr., Sulphur Springs
- Dwayne Johnson, DL, Sr., Hallsville
- John Love, WR, Sr., Marshall
- Chett Munden, OL, Sr., Marshall
- Deondre Osborne, RB, Jr., Marshall
- Larry Pryor, QB, Sr., Sulphur Springs
- K.J. Reid, LB, Sr., Texas High
- Jaquille Rodgers, WR, Sr., Mount Pleasant
- Kha'lil Sneed, RB, Sr., Hallsville
- Zach Spigner, LB, Sr., Sulphur Springs
- Javon Thomas, RB, Sr., Texas High
- Trey Valentine, DL, Sr., Marshall
- Quay Ward, RB, Sr., Pine Tree
- Broderick Washington, OL, Sr., Longview
- Landon Watkins, OL, Sr., Sulphur Springs
- Dale Williamson, WR/DB, Sr., Texas High
- Jamil Young, WR, Sr., Hallsville
- Sept. 26 -- Texas High at Sulphur Springs
- Sept. 26 -- Marshall at Hallsville
- Oct. 10 -- Marshall at Longview
- Oct. 17 -- Longview at Texas High
- Oct. 24 -- Texas High at Marshall
- Nov. 7 -- Sulphur Springs at Marshall
1. Longview Lobos
Coach: John King
2013 finish: 11-2 (5A D-II regional semifinalist)
Returning starters: 4 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- RB JaMycal Hasty, Sr., 5-8, 185 (189 carries, 1,413 yards, 13 TDs; 12 catches, 255 yards, 3 TDs; committed to Baylor)
- OL Broderick Washington, Sr., 6-3, 290
- QB Dezmond Chumley, Sr., 6-1, 190 (125 of 218, 2,241 yards, 33 TDs, 5 INTs; 60 carries, 192 yards, 3 TDs)
- FB Marquies Hunter, Sr., 5-11, 240 (24 carries, 213 yards, 4 TDs)
- RB Tylan Miller, Jr., 5-9, 205 (23 carries, 140 yards, 1 TD)
- DL Omar French, Sr., 6-0, 202 (47 tackles, 17 for loss, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 punt block)
- WR Antonio Carter, Sr., 6-2, 180
- LB Jaylon Jackson, Sr., 6-0, 210 (75 tackles, 13 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 1 defensive TD)
- DB Keenan Madden, Jr., 6-1, 195
- DB Khalil Williams, Sr., Sr., 6-1, 170
Offense: Longview's offense was among the area's most high-scoring, efficient and balanced last season. The Lobos finished 2013 with an average of 41.6 points and 384 yards per game -- 212 rushing and 172 passing. Longview didn't lose many fumbles and threw just five interceptions in 214 pass attempts. The Lobos will be without some of their biggest pieces from last season -- its top three pass-catchers, receiver Dorian Leonard (Texas), tight end Jordan Whitaker and receiver Chris Pellum. Longview also graduated its second-leading rusher L'darrius Peterson, who picked up 562 yards and five touchdowns a season ago. That being said, Longview does bring back its two biggest weapons from last season and its No. 1 offensive lineman.
Senior running back JaMycal Hasty committed to Baylor during the spring, and his brand of play figures to fit perfectly in head coach Art Briles' offensive system. For now though, head coach John King is happy to still have him. Hasty, arguably East Texas' fastest man on the gridiron, rushed for more than 1,400 yards and added another 250-plus catching passes out the backfield despite missing the better part of three games because of a nagging leg injury.
Hasty will have plenty of help in the backfield as senior fullback Marquies Hunter and junior tailback Tylan Miller are expected to appear regularly in the rotation. Senior quarterback Dezmond Chumley rarely made the mistake that cost his team last season, passing for 33 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Losing the combo of Leonard and Whitaker hurts, but Longview is high on senior Antonio Carter and junior Jon Sorey. The offensive line, always a strength over in Longview, will be anchored by senior Broderick Washington, who holds multiple FBS offers. Junior Tim Clay, who weights well north of 350 pounds, is also an intriguing prospect up front.
Defense: Longview's defense was tested in 2013, and more often than not, the Lobos' 'D' passed with flying colors. Opponents scored just 20.8 points per game on Longview's defense a season ago. But several defensive playmakers were lost to graduation, including an incredible trio of safeties -- TCU signee Travin Howard, Laurent Johnson and Stephan Maxey -- that made life difficult on opposing receivers. Also graduated was a talented group of D-linemen -- DeRoderick Alexander, Decord Flanagan and Texas A&M signee Zaycoven Henderson. But with top-notch defensive assistants Casey Pearce and Randy Huffstickler on staff, and a seemingly never-ending stream of talented athletes running through the program, don't expect too much of a drop-off defensively.
The defensive line will be anchored by senior end Omar French, who spent quite a bit of time in the backfield last season, either sacking the quarterback or stuffing run plays for negative yardage. Senior linebacker Jaylon Jackson will patrol the middle of the Lobos' defense after a solid junior season. The secondary will be almost completely new, but the Longview coaches are high on junior Keenan Madden and senior Khalil Williams. Also, expect to see several good things from Shaun Lloyd and Kori Walker out of the defensive backfield.
2014 outlook: In King's 10 seasons as head coach at Longview, the Lobos have won nine district championships. And with a drop down in classification and a solid group of returning impact players, another Longview league title is a safe bet. The last time Longview played in the state's second-highest classification was 2008 and 2009, both seasons ending with a berth in the state final. The Lobos were also dominant in district play those two years, outscoring opponents by an average of 37 points. Longview's win total the last 10 years (111) is well ahead of any of its new district competitors. Sulphur Springs has won 83 games since 2004, just ahead of Texas High's 82.
Even if Longview isn't challenged in district, the Lobos will have three challenges in non-district -- the season opener at longtime rival Lufkin, a Week 2 bout with fellow Class 5A contender John Tyler and a neutral site matchup against Monroe Neville, one of Louisiana's most accomplished programs.
In the playoffs, Longview will compete in the top half of the Region II bracket, which doesn't appear to the most challenging end. If the Lobos are to get to the regional final, they'll likely face either Mansfield Legacy or John Tyler. In Region I, defending 4A D-II state champion Aledo seems like the clear-cut favorite, and will be a difficult out for the Lobos if they were to reach the semifinals. Region III may be the most competitive in 5A D-I where Temple, Houston Stratford, Crosby, Fort Bend Elkins and Richmond George Ranch will likely battle it out for regional supremacy. Cedar Park is a massive favorite in Region IV. The last time Longview was down a class, it reached the state title game both years but fell victim to Lake Travis' dynasty. If the Lobos want to win the school's first ring since 1937, another dynasty could be standing in the way in Aledo, which would be a semifinal matchup.
2. Texas High Tigers
Coach: Barry Norton
2013 finish: 9-2 (4A D-I bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 6 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Javon Thomas, Sr., 6-3, 210 (51 carries, 308 yards, 2 TDs; committed to Tulsa)
- WR Jarion Anderson, Sr., 5-11, 170 (committed to Tulsa)
- DL William Brown, Sr., 6-3, 260
- WR/DB Dale Williamson, Sr., 5-9, 165
- LB K.J. Reid, Sr., 6-1, 195
- OL Grant Burns, Jr., 6-2, 250
- DB Jacorian Walker, Jr., 5-9, 165
- OL Matthew Davis, Jr., 6-0, 265
- OL Tyler Lowe, Sr., 6-0, 320
- RB Cornelius Zachary, Sr., 5-9, 175
Offense: After struggling mightily on offense in 2012, Texas High had a bounce-back season last year by averaging more than 31 points per game. The Tigers were held to 14 points or less just twice all year long, one of those coming in a first-round playoff loss to McKinney North. During district, Texas High's offense shot up another level, averaging 41 points per game. A strong running game, led by Navy signee Tre Walker, was a big reason for the offensive resurgence. The Tigers have six starters back on offense and a couple of players who saw extensive playing time off the bench, giving Texas High fans hope that even better days are ahead for the offense.
This year's offense will run through senior running back and Tulsa commit Javon Thomas, who ran for more than 300 yards in limited action a season ago. Thomas is a big back with great lower-body strength, which means it will take more than just one defender to bring him down in the open field. The breakaway speed is above average, plenty good enough for Texas HIgh's offense and then some. The receiving corps is expected to be a strength as well with the return of Jarion Anderson and Dale Williamson. Both players are committed to college programs -- Anderson to Tulsa and Williamson to South Dakota. Anderson had a strong showing at the second annual ETSN.fm + APEC Football Recruiting Combine in June 1, coming away with WR MVP honors at the event's conclusion. A strong offensive line will be anchored by senior Tyler Lowe and juniors Grant Burns and Matthew Davis.
Defense: It wasn't very fun for opponents going against Texas High's defense a season ago. The Tigers limited teams to just 11.3 points per game, but if you take away Texas High's losses to Tyler Lee and McKinney North, the 'D' held opponents to a minuscule 6.7 points per game. In district play, Texas High outscored its league foes by an average score of 41-9. Overall, the district posted two shutouts and held four other teams to less than two touchdowns. Graduation hit Texas High pretty hard defensively, but there are a couple of impact defenders that could help ease the transition in 2014.
It all starts up front with senior defensive tackle William Brown, who has drawn the interest of several college programs. It would be wise for teams to run away from his direction this season. The linebacking corps will be led by senior K.J. Reid, who has good size, a strong motor and packs a punch when making contact with the ball carrier. Williamson will be a standout on the defensive side of the ball, as will junior Jacorian Walker, who is one of the fastest players on the team.
2014 outlook: Texas High has just two playoff wins since 2007, which is surprising considering how well the Tigers began that decade. From 2001-06, the Tigers were 66-11, winning the Class 4A Division I state championship in 2002. Texas High is expected to field one of its best teams since, but finding a playoff win this season could be difficult. Assuming Longview wins the district championship, the Tigers' first-round opponent looks to be either John Tyler or Lufkin -- neither would be gimmes. While Longview is the overwhelming favorite to win its 10th district title in 11 years, Texas High does have the Lobos at home, which has notoriously been a tough place for opposing teams to pick up wins.
3. Sulphur Springs Wildcats
Coach: Greg Owens
2013 finish: 8-4 (4A D-II area finalist)
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Larry Pryor, Sr., 6-1, 185 (170 of 285, 2,666 yards, 26 TDs, 6 INTs; 151 carries, 1,027 yards, 16 TDs; committed to Texas A&M)
- LB Zach Spigner, Sr., 6-0, 180 (76 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 QB pressure, 3 forced fumbles, 1 INT, 3 PBU)
- OL Jess Jenkins, Sr., 6-3, 290
- OL Landon Watkins, Sr., 6-1, 270
- OL Austan Davis, Sr., 6-5, 230
- OL Seth Harred, Sr., 6-1, 255
- DL Cain Cody, Jr., 6-3, 220 (63 tackles, 11 for loss, 5 sacks, 2 QB pressures, 2 PBU)
- TE Dillon Carpenter, Sr., 6-3, 185 (28 catches, 365 yards, 3 TDs)
- RB Jaylon Hawkins, Soph., 5-8, 175
- DB Jaylon Dugan, Sr., 6-3, 160 (27 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 forced fumble)
Offense: When standout strong safety Larry Pryor was moved quarterback prior to last season, no one knew quite what to expect. It takes a special quarterback to run head coach Greg Owens' uptempo spread offense. Turns out, the area coaching veteran knew exactly what he was doing. Not only did Pryor perform well, he excelled in the offense, bringing back memories of former Sulphur Springs quarterback Tyrik Rollison, who led the Wildcats to a state championship in 2008. Sulphur Springs' offense was as explosive as ever in 2013, averaging 42.8 points and 497.5 yards per game. The Wildcats will be without leading rusher and North Texas signee Willy Ivery, who posted more than 2,000 total yards and 32 touchdowns a season ago, and their top two receivers -- Alex Burney and Isaiah Lacy.
But with Pryor, a Texas A&M commit, returning to run the show and an offensive line that's been playing together for three years, expect Sulphur Springs to be lighting up scoreboards in East Texas once again this fall. Pryor showed remarkable poise for a first-time starting QB, only throwing six interceptions in 285 attempts as a junior. Tight end Dillon Carpenter and receiver C.J. Stephens will be Sulphur Springs' most experienced pass catchers moving forward, so expect Pryor to gravitate toward those two, especially early in the season. The offensive linemen have truly been the unsung heroes for Sulphur Springs of late. And there's no doubt the foursome of Jess Jenkins, Landon Watkins, Seth Harred and Austan Davis will provide plenty of senior leadership all year long.
Defense: It was a struggle for the Sulphur Springs defense a season ago. The Wildcats allowed more than 37 points per game, and there were three occasions when teams put up more than 50 points against them. The coaching staff is hopeful that with eight defenders with starting experience returning that improvement is on the way.
Junior defensive end Cain Cody enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign, and will be counted upon to step his game up even higher this fall. Applying a steady pass rush will be something needed to win games in this district, and Cody can provide just that. Zach Spigner is a three-year starter and is the most accomplished and experienced Sulphur Springs defender by mile. More apt to play safety at the next level, Spigner's closing speed and sure tackling make him an ideal fit for high school linebacker. The defensive backfield will have a few new faces, but one man coaches are high on is senior Jaylon Dugan, whose height will give him the ability to match up favorably against some of the bigger receivers in the district.
2014 outlook: Sulphur Springs has been a model of consistency during Owens' eight-year tenure as head coach. Following a 2-8 season in his first year on the job, Owens has led Sulphur Springs to a record of 66-22 and seven consecutive playoff appearances. The Wildcats reached the state quarterfinals the year after their state championship, but in the four years since, Sulphur Springs has not advanced beyond the second round of the postseason. Pryor will go down as one of the best players to ever come through Sulphur Springs, and he would like nothing better than to enhance his legacy by making a mark in the playoffs as a senior.
Getting to the postseason this year isn't as clear-cut as it's been in the past. While there are four playoff spots available, Longview and Texas High appear to have the inside track on two of them. That leaves two slots open. Sulphur Springs will receive serious challenges from a Marshall program on the rise, a Hallsville team returning several starters and a Pine Tree squad that's eager to prove the doubters wrong after a rough 2013 season that was mired by off-the-field distractions.
4. Marshall Mavericks
Coach: Clint Harper
2013 finish: 3-8 (4A D-I bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 7 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
- OL Chett Munden, Sr., 6-6, 305 (committed to North Texas)
- RB Deondre Osborne, Jr., 5-9, 210 (95 carries, 392 yards, 4 TDs; 18 catches, 265 yards, 5 TDs)
- WR John Love, Sr., 5-11, 185 (10 catches, 145 yards, 1 TD)
- DL Trey Valentine, Sr., 6-3, 226 (20 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)
- DL Antonio Washington, Jr., 6-1, 250 (32 tackles, 1 sack)
- OL Tyler Hodges, Sr., 6-1, 280
- OL C.J. Powell, Sr., 6-2, 295
- QB Justin Hart, Jr., 6-0, 160 (109 of 208, 1,538 yards, 12 TDs, 7 INTs)
- QB Cameron Haller, Soph., 5-11, 195
- WR Jaquavian Dabbs, Sr., 5-11, 175
Offense: Marshall's offense averaged more than 25 points per game in head coach Clint Harper's first year on the job. The Mavericks really picked up steam during the last half of the season. Following an 0-4 start that saw Marshall average only 10.8 points per game, the Mavs turned it one and averaged 30.9 the rest of the way. With seven returning starters and a few impressive newcomers added to the mix, Marshall could possess one of the best offenses in all of East Texas this fall.
Quarterback Justin Hart performed well as a sophomore, despite sharing time at the position for most of the year. Not blessed with prototypical size for a QB, Hart makes up for that with pinpoint accuracy. The receiving corps has depth to it. Senior John Love, who's battled injuries throughout his career, returns to the field in 2014. And the senior duo of Jaquavian Dabbs and Deonte Jordan is small, but extremely explosive.
The running game will belong to junior back Deondre Osborne, who's ready to take over the job on a full-time basis. The 2016 prospect is built low to the ground, and with his 212-pound frame, he's awfully difficult to bring down without help. The offensive line, led by North Texas commit Chett Munden, could be Marshall's biggest team strength. Fellow seniors C.J. Powell and Tyler Hodges will team with Munden to build a wall around Hart and provide huge running lanes for Osborne and sophomore Cameron Haller, an exciting young QB prospect who figures to be in on running situations.
Defense: Plain and simple: Marshall's defense must be better this season in order for the Mavericks to contend for a playoff spot. Last year, teams put up an average of more than 45 points per game. The Mavs allowed 50 or more points on three occasions a season ago, numbers not even the best offenses can compete with most of the time. The good news is that Harper has nine returning starters on the defense, which should lend itself to natural improvement.
The Mavericks should be solid up front with the return of senior end Trey Valentine and junior tackle Antonio Washington. The two showed flashes of stardom a season ago. Now it's just a matter of achieving a greater level of consistency one week at a time. If the defensive line can create pressure on the quarterback and do a much better job against the run, it will make the defense's job at the second and third levels a lot easier.
2014 outlook: Marshall reached the playoffs last season after a brutal two-year stretch that resulted in only three wins. Clint Harper, a former Marshall QB and the son of Mavs coaching great Bill Harper, injected some life into a program that had fallen on hard times. Even while it was struggling, Marshall was still considered to be a sleeping giant in East Texas. The Mavs still only won three games last season, so the program isn't completely back on its feet, but there are signs that it's headed in the right direction. Another postseason berth, which won't be easy in the district, will go a long way in restoring the shine to the program.
5. Hallsville Bobcats
Coach: David Plunk
2013 finish: 6-5 (4A D-II bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 8 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Kha'lil Sneed, Sr., 5-6, 175 (145 carries, 988 yards, 11 TDs; 17 catches, 216 yards, 2 TDs)
- WR Jamil Young, Sr., 6-2, 180 (32 catches, 640 yards, 8 TDs
- DL Dwayne Johnson, Sr., 6-2, 205 (62 tackles, 14 for loss, 5 sacks, 11 QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries, 1 PBU, 1 blocked kick, 1 defensive touchdown)
- WR/DB Dionte Johnson, Sr., 5-10, 180 (14 catches, 165 yards; 17 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 2 PBU, 1 QB pressure)
- OL Trey Gillespie, Sr., 6-4, 270
- QB Roger McCuller, Jr., 5-10, 160
- DB Jaylon Kerby, Sr., 5-10, 170 (53 tackles, 1 for loss, 9 PBU, 1 QB pressure)
- OL Logan Bailey, Sr.
- LB Ben Dewoody, Sr., 6-2, 200 46 tackles, 6.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks, 3 QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles
- WR Ky-Untae Hicks, Sr.
Offense: Hallsville's offense flew under the radar last season, finishing the year with a scoring average of more than 37 points per game. Perhaps the Bobcats' finest hour offensively occurred in their first-round playoff loss, in which they hung 51 points on Lucas Lovejoy. Losing dual-threat quarterback Macailyn Wilder, who was responsible for most of the offense, will be a tough loss, but longtime coach David Plunk believes he has several potential standouts just waiting for their time to shine.
Senior running back Kha'lil Sneed finished just shy of 1,000 yards as a junior, and his workload is expected to increase, which means we could be talking about 1,200-1,500 yards for him this season. Receiver Jamil Young had a solid season a year ago as well, and it would not be out of the question to expect even better numbers from the wideout this fall. Dionte Johnson, who will play defense as well, and Ky-Untae Hicks could also factor heavily into the passing game in 2014. The offensive line could develop into a strength with the return of seniors Trey Gillespie and Logan Bailey. If Hallsville finds its answer at quarterback, the Bobcats' offense is capable of putting together another solid season.
Defense: The Bobcats' defense had trouble stopping teams at times last season. Never was that more evident than in the second half of its playoff loss to Lovejoy, which rallied from a 22-point deficit by scoring 29 points in the final 15 minutes to deny Hallsville its first playoff win since 2003. For the season, Hallsville allowed an average of 33.6 points per game, which would've been more costly had the Bobcats' offense not been as potent. Hallsville brings back just four starters from last year's defense, which means a host of newcomers will be asked to make an immediate impact this fall.
One player that shouldn't concern the coaching staff too much is senior defensive end Dwayne Johnson, who had five sacks to go along with 11 QB pressures and 14 tackles for loss last year. Hallsville's 'D' should get a boost by having a dominant force up front back for another year, but there will need to be others step up. The staff is hoping linebacker Ben Dewoody, who shined at times in 2013, and defensive back Jaylon Kerby will do just that.
2014 outlook: Everyone knew that one team was going to be squeezed out of the playoffs with Longview added to the district. Hallsville finished third in the league last season, a game ahead of Marshall, so there could be a lot riding on their Sept. 26 district opener at Bobcat Stadium. Hallsville will have games against Carthage, Nacogdoches and Athens, and a bye week to get prepared. If the Bobcats do happen to qualify for the playoffs as the fourth-place team, their celebration could be short-lived with second-ranked Ennis waiting as a likely first-round opponent.
6. Pine Tree Pirates
Coach: David Collins
2013 finish: 3-7
Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Mason Hays, Sr., 6-1, 210 (41 of 69, 702 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs; 75 carries, 539 yards, 3 TDs; 37 catches, 883 yards, 8 TDs)
- RB Quay Ward, Sr., 5-8, 185 (41 carries, 179 yards, 4 TDs; 9 catches, 94 yards)
- RB Quay Henderson, Sr., 5-8, 160 (52 carries, 227 yards, 4 TDs; 4 catches, 94 yards, 1 TD)
- WR Jonathan Giddings, Sr., 5-10, 200 (20 catches, 394 yards, 1 TD)
- OL Chris Charvis, Sr., 6-0, 300
- LB Irvin Shen, Sr., 6-1, 220 (75 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 fumble recovery)
- DB Tekanya Redden, Sr., 5-10, 175 (24 tackles, 2 for loss)
- LB Bushe Morgan, Sr., 5-11, 202 (24 tackles, 3 for loss)
- DB Jakevian Evans, Jr., 6-2, 175 (33 tackles, 1 for loss, 2 PBU)
- DL Jakorey Sherow, Jr., 5-11, 225
Offense: Even though the win-loss record doesn't reflect it, Pine Tree had a fairly productive offensive attack last season. And that was despite having to use three different quarterbacks. The Pirates averaged more than 31 points and 415 yards per game, which give new head coach David Collins -- a former offensive coordinator at Lake Travis -- something to build on this year. There are six starters back off last season's offense, so expectations are high, especially if the players can pick up the staff's new schemes quickly.
Senior Mason Hays will be the quarterback this season after doing a little bit of everything on offense a season ago. Hays performed well once he got the opportunity to play QB at the end of the year, and that came after he starred at wide receiver. And while the terminology and concepts may be different, Hays' experience playing both positions should make him an effective leader on offense. Seniors Quay Ward and Quay Henderson figure to get the bulk of the carries out of the backfield this season behind an offensive line that features 300-pounder Chris Charvis.
Defense: It was a battle every week on defense for the Pirates, who surrendered an average of almost 44 points per game in 2013. The fewest amount of points Pine Tree allowed in a game all season was 21, so there is plenty of work to be done on that side of the ball this fall.
Senior linebacker Irvin Shen was a standout on the defense last season, and the coaches will be expecting even bigger things in 2014. Expect fellow linebacker Bushe Morgan to become a nice compliment to Shen in the middle of Pine Tree's defense. The secondary will be anchored by the duo of senior Tekanya Redden and junior Jakevian Evans, while the Pirates hope to get good push from the D-line that returns junior Jakorey Sherow.
2014 outlook: Collins' arrival has sparked interest in the Pine Tree program for what it could do on the field. Last season's 3-7 finish was in some ways overshadowed by the in-season suspension and eventual in-season dismissal of head coach and athletic director Derek Fitzhenry. Pine Tree surprisingly began the year 3-1, but lost its final six games amid the off-the-field scandal. But there hasn't been much to cheer about on the field either of late. The Pirates have not had a winning season since 2002 or made the playoffs since 1998, which makes it awfully difficult to project anything to the contrary this season.
7. Mount Pleasant Tigers
Coach: Corey Homer
2013 finish: 4-6
Returning starters: 4 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- WR Jaquille Rogers, Sr., 6-0, 165 (21 catches, 416 yards, 8 TDs)
- WR Ladarrius Patterson, Jr., 6-1, 185
- DB Keenan Brown, Jr., 5-8, 175 (3 INTs)
- QB Joseph Griffin, Sr., 6-3, 200
- OL William Wright, Sr., 6-2, 350
- LB Datraveon Rockwell, Sr., 6-3, 200
- OL/DL Ty Neal, Jr., 5-9, 230
- RB/DB Brandon Douglas, Sr., 5-10, 160
Offense: Despite missing out on the playoffs last year, Mount Pleasant's offense still put up more than 37 points per game. The Tigers scored more than 50 points in a game twice last season, but one of those instances occurred in a loss. Replacing the QB-WR combo of Cullen Grubbs and K.D. Cannon, a Baylor signee and one of the very best recruits in the nation, will be a challenge to say the least for first-year coach Corey Homer. With only four starters back on that side of the ball, Mount Pleasant will need a lot of help from several newcomers in order to replicate last season's offensive production.
Mount Pleasant may have a couple of quality options in the passing in senior receiver Jaquille Rogers and junior wideout Ladarrius Patterson. Both players hand a hand in the Tigers' high-flying offense a season ago, but much more will be asked of them this time around. The offensive line must come together, a pair of options at running back need to emerge and a quarterback capable of consistently directing touchdown drives must be discovered if the Tigers are to have a shot at keeping up with the district's hierarchy.
Defense: Far too often last season, Mount Pleasant was involved in shootouts. The defense surrendered 42 points per game a year ago, which usually doesn't lead to positive season results. Especially frustrating to Mount Pleasant fans last season was its loss to Marshall in district play. The Tigers' offense did more than enough to win the game by scoring 59 points, but the defense allowed 64 in a loss that ultimately kept the Tigers out of the postseason.
The new coaching staff is looking for players ready to accept the challenge of fixing the problems the team had defensively in 2013. Junior Keenan Brown was a bright spot for the Tigers last season, finishing his sophomore year with three interceptions. But there will need to be many more performances like that if Mount Pleasant hopes to turn things around moving forward.
2014 outlook: Mount Pleasant got off to a 3-0 start last season, but followed the hot streak with six consecutive losses that ended up negatively defining the Tigers' year. With how last season ended and a new coaching staff working with several Friday night newcomers, expectations have dropped for Mount Pleasant, which came within a touchdown of winning a district championship just two years ago.
8. Greenville Lions
Coach: Marvin Sedberry
2013 finish: 0-10
Returning starters: 3 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- OL Shaquille Anderson, Sr., 6-1, 300
- OL Cameron Canady, Sr., 6-0, 305
- LB Devon Charrier, Sr., 6-1, 205
- ATH Spencer Gilbert, Jr., 5-10, 170
- LB Dakota Sandman, Sr.
- WR Octavian Phelps, Sr., 6-2, 185
- RB Carandal Hale, Jr., 5-9, 195
- OL Montana Bottone, Soph., 6-0, 310
2014 outlook: Greenville drew the short end of the straw during realignment, finding itself in the same district as perennial playoff teams like Longview, Texas High, Sulphur Springs and Marshall. As you would expect, there were not too many bright spots during Greenville's 0-10 season -- the Lions' fourth consecutive winless season. Greenville will have a chance to end its 40-game losing streak right off the bat when it faces North Garland, which also went 0-10 last year, in the season opener. Other than that, however, wins will be hard to come by for Greenville this fall.