The balance of power in District 7-3A Division I shifted in a big way during the 2014 season. Not surprisingly, however, New Boston captured the league championship, but no one could've predicted the season perennial state power Daingerfield endured.

For the first time since 1964, before the U.S. got serious in Vietnam and when a gallon of gas was just 30 cents, Daingerfield finished a football season 1-9.

Daingerfield had played in four state championship games (winning three of them) and appeared twice more in the state quarterfinals in the previous six seasons. So, the Tigers' struggles were a shock to everyone.

With several returning starters eager to put 2014 in the past, Daingerfield has a different kind of goal for this season: make the playoffs.

It won't be easy with rival New Boston, and consistently successful Winnsboro standing in the way.

District 7-3A Division I Preview

Mount Vernon WR Kevi Evans. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • WR Zach Gooden, Sr., New Boston
  • LB Deandre Dedmon, Jr., New Boston
  • QB Lucas Pinnell, Sr., Winnsboro
  • FB Ethan Rakich, Sr., Winnsboro
  • WR Denzel Mims, Sr., Daingerfield
  • QB/WR Keke Chism, Sr., Daingerfield
  • QB Nick Anderson, Sr., Redwater
  • RB T.J. Braley, Sr., Redwater
  • WR Kevi Evans, Soph., Mount Vernon
  • QB Jordan Harrison, Sr., Pattonville Prairiland

 

TOP GAMES

  • Atlanta at New Boston, Aug. 28
  • Mineola at Winnsboro, Sept. 4
  • Daingerfield at Gilmer, Sept. 18
  • New Boston at Daingerfield, Nov. 6
  • Redwater at Mount Vernon, Nov. 6

 

1. New Boston Lions

  • Coach: Jamey Thomas
  • 2014 finish: 10-2 (3A Division I area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 3 offensive, 5 defensive

 

Players to watch
  • WR Zach Gooden, Sr., 5-10, 155
  • LB Deandre Dedmon, Jr., 6-1, 220
  • DB Mikey Dunn, Jr., 5-9, 150
  • QB Philip Sissons, Jr., 6-2, 185
  • RB Demarcus Thompson, Soph.
  • RB/DB DeVontae Wade, Sr., 5-8, 180
  • LB Jamell Henderson, Sr.
  • DL Nathan Simmons

 

Offense: New Boston's offense was more efficient than flashy. The Lions weren't among East Texas' most explosive units, but it was more than enough to capture a second consecutive district championship. New Boston has had a ton of great offensive talent in recent years -- from 2012's 3,000-yard running back Damien Haskins to multi-purpose talent Jeff Gladney, a TCU signee last February. And while some of the names may be new, there's a long enough track record with New Boston that suggests the Lions will be just fine. Senior receiver Zach Gooden is among the most experienced members of an offense that returns to just three starters from last year's 10-win, area finalist. But third-year coach Jamey Thomas believes a new crop of playmakers is ready to take center stage. Quarterback Philip Sissons returns after breaking onto the scene as a sophomore, and he'll rely on the services of sophomore Demarcus Thompson and senior DeVontae Wade at running back. The offensive line, composed almost entirely of new starters, will be the New Boston offense's biggest concern early.

Defense: New Boston's defense was about as stingy as any 3A team in the area, holding opponents to less than 20 points per game. The Lions' 'D' was a big reason why New Boston was able to forge a successful season despite an offense that averaged a shade more than 31 points per game, a figure that becomes increasingly pedestrian every year in the day and age of uptempo spread offenses. New Boston is more seasoned on the defensive side of the ball in 2015. With a solid returning nucleus that includes five returning starters, it should not be that difficult for the Lions' defense to continue the high level of play it has achieved in recent years. Junior linebacker Deandre Dedmon is a physical specimen, who enjoyed a stellar varsity debut season as a sophomore, earning the district's Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors. Senior Jamell Henderson is another hole-plugger at linebacker, and should give New Boston a great 1-2 punch against opposing offenses.

2015 outlook: There aren't too many East Texas programs that can boast of five consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins, but New Boston is one of them. Since 2010, the Lions have compiled a record of 56-11, and have played at least three rounds in the playoffs every year except 2014. In order to return to post-Thanksgiving activity, New Boston needs steady progress from Sissons at quarterback and Gooden to take off and run with the No. 1 receiver role. If those two can formulate a genuine threat in the passing game, a young and somewhat inexperienced backfield and offensive line will reap the benefits. Only one District 7-3A Division I team played New Boston to within less than three touchdowns in 2014, and it remains to be seen whether the rest of the league will catch up to the league favorites.

 

2. Winnsboro Red Raiders

  • Coach: Steve Pinnell
  • 2014 finish: 8-4 (3A Division I area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 6 defensive

 

Players to watch
  • QB Lucas Pinnell, Sr., 5-10, 160
  • FB Ethan Rakich, Sr., 5-10, 170
  • DL Josiah Benton, Sr., 6-1, 250
  • ATH Marcus Tucker, Jr., 5-11, 190
  • LB Jeremy Moses, Sr.
  • TE/LB Jake McMillan, Jr.
  • WR/DB Carson Thomas, Sr., 6-1, 175
  • OL Joseph McKee, Jr.

 

Offense: Winnsboro's offense turned out to be a mixed bag of sorts in 2014. The Red Raiders had their moments of offensive excellence, but far too often, they would disappear during key stretches. Winnsboro cracked the 40-point plateau in a game twice, but it was also held to a total of 31 points in its four losses. Furthermore, in a four-overtime victory over Sabine, the Red Raiders managed only 23 points. And with just four returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, no one is quite sure what to expect. The Red Raiders do return quarterback Lucas Pinnell, who performed well as a junior. But he'll likely be asked to increase his role in the offense with so many unproven players being thrust into the mix. Winnsboro will also lean on the experience of senior fullback Ethan Rakich, not only for blocking, but for significant production in the rushing department. Senior receiver Carson Thomas and junior Marcus Tucker are also intriguing prospects just waiting for a defined role in the offense.

Defense: Winnsboro experienced much of the same inconsistency on the defensive side of the ball last season. The Red Raiders allowed 24 points per game, which ironically is what their offense put up as well, and there were times they were dominant. But just like the offense, Winnsboro had its fair share of struggles stopping opponents from scoring. In five of the Red Raiders' 12 games, Winnsboro foes scored at least 30 points. In order to change all of that, longtime coach Steve Pinnell is hopeful that his defensive unit that returns six starters can learn from last season's adversity. Senior defensive lineman Josiah Benton is a physical disruptor up front, while the Red Raiders' linebacking corps will be anchored by senior Jeremy Moses and junior Jake McMillan. The secondary is a concern, but Thomas does provide a measure of senior leadership that could prove invaluable in 2015.

2015 outlook: Coach Pinnell is entering his 17th season on the sidelines at Winnsboro, making him one of East Texas' most tenured head coaches. And his resume with the Red Raiders is an impressive one. Winnsboro has missed the playoffs just four times in 16 years, and the three 10-win seasons represent the only such campaigns in the program's history. Following a one-point, season-opening loss to Spring Hill in 2014, Winnsboro kept finding ways to win, capturing eight of its next 10 games before ultimately being eliminated by Whitesboro in the second round of the playoffs. Winnsboro wasn't competitive in its loss to eventual district champion New Boston, but with significant losses to graduation suffered by the Lions, the Red Raiders feel like they have an excellent chance of jumping into the league title discussion.

 

3. Daingerfield Tigers

Daingerfield's Denzel Mims (left) and Keylan Fomby. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Aric Sardinea
  • 2014 finish: 1-9
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 5 defensive

 

Players to watch
  • WR Denzel Mims, Sr., 6-3, 175 (committed to Baylor)
  • QB/WR Keke Chism, Sr., 6-3, 180
  • QB Deonte Allen, Sr., 5-10, 150
  • LB Justin Taylor, Sr., 5-8, 180
  • RB Markevian Grant, Jr., 5-10, 180
  • OL Aaron Carroll, Soph.
  • DB Keylan Fomby, Sr.
  • DL Mikal Reeves, Jr.

 

Daingerfield QB/WR Keke Chism. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: A ton of things went wrong in Daingerfield's uncharacteristically dismal 2014 season, and the lack of offensive production was among the most glaring. The Tigers averaged less than 17 points per game, a massive drop-off from the previous season's mark of 36.1. Granted, Daingerfield featured a fair number of underclassmen on the offensive side of the ball a year ago. But it's difficult to explain how a tradition-rich program like Daingerfield could have struggled so mightily, so suddenly. Fifth-year head coach Aric Sardinea is hoping better days are ahead for his offense, which returns eight starters. The Tigers' strength on offense is their talented corps of receivers, which features Baylor commit Denzel Mims and fellow senior Keke Chism, both tall and rangy weapons on the edge. Mims, in addition to his football acumen, captured the 3A state championship in the 200 meter dash at the state track meet last May, and figures to burn smaller and slower DB's all season.

Daingerfield DB Keylan Fomby. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Daingerfield and defense has seemingly always been synonymous with one another. Some would even argue the Tigers actually invented defense after the 1983 state championship winning team gave up eight points all season. However, 2014's group was a far cry from that level of excellence. Perhaps more shocking than the offensive woes, was Daingerfield's inability to keep opponents out of the end zone. Last season, Daingerfield's defense allowed an alarming 41.6 points per game. The year included a three-week stretch in which the Tigers yielded 51, 61, and 49. If Daingerfield is going to turn things around in 2015, it simply must be better defensively. The Tigers graduated six starting defenders, so a few newcomers will be called upon to help turn the tide. But Sardinea has a few experienced pieces to build around, including senior linebacker Justin Taylor, junior lineman Mikal Reeves, and senior defensive back Keylan Fomby.

2015 outlook: Daingerfield entered the 2014 season having advanced to at least the state-quarterfinal round in six consecutive years, so absolutely no one saw a 1-9 season coming. Therefore, it's difficult to predict what to expect moving forward. Was last season a fluke, or a sign of things to come? Time will tell, but it's difficult to imagine a program of Daingerfield's caliber remaining as flat as it was a year ago. Once again, the Tigers' non-district schedule is a brutal one with games against Gladewater, Malakoff, Atlanta, Gilmer, and Henderson. Wins and losses in those first five games may not be as important as how competitive Daingerfield is in them. In 2014, the Tigers lost all five by an average margin of 36.8 points. If Daingerfield is able to create some positive momentum heading into its district opener with Winnsboro, the Tigers could definitely find themselves right back in the hunt for a league title, and maybe more.

 

4. Redwater Dragons

  • Coach: Tommy Graf
  • 2014 finish: 6-6 (3A Division I area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

 

Players to watch
  • QB Nick Anderson, Sr., 6-1, 185
  • RB T.J. Braley, Sr., 5-10, 170
  • LB John Michael Russ, Jr., 5-10, 180
  • RB Nick Carter, Jr., 5-9, 155
  • FB Mason McCloskey, Soph., 5-9, 165
  • LB Robert Candelaria, Sr.
  • OL John Loftin, Sr., 6-0, 240
  • DB Austin Wardlow, Sr., 5-11, 165

 

Offense: Redwater advanced to the area round of the playoffs last season despite an offense that never really found its rhythm. The Dragons averaged more than 25 points per game for the year, but there were times when points were hard to come by. Head coach Tommy Graf has five returning offensive starters at his disposal, along with a handful of newcomers eager to shine under the Friday night lights. Senior quarterback Nick Anderson returns after steady work as a junior, while senior T.J. Braley, junior Nick Carter, and sophomore Mason McCloskey figure to factor into the running game quite heavily in 2015. The Dragons have a few holes to fill at receiver and on the offensive line, which could present problems, especially during the non-district portion of their schedule. If the seasoned varsity veterans show progression, and the first-time starters find their footing before district, Redwater should once again be a threat to challenge for the playoffs.

Defense: Like any .500 team, Redwater had its ups and downs, and nowhere was that more evident than on the defensive side of the ball. The Dragons allowed a shade more than 22 points per game, which included two shutouts, but also five games in which they allowed at least 35 points. With five returning starters back on defense, Redwater needs a giant step forward from the them, along with solid contributions from the newcomers. Graf and his staff will rely on the linebacking duo of junior John Michael Russ and senior Robert Candelaria to help lead the way. The Dragons' "D" should get tested right out of the gate against White Oak and Hooks to open the season, which could prepare it well for perennial district powers New Boston, Daingerfield, and Winnsboro.

2015 outlook: Redwater has reached the playoffs in each of the last five seasons, despite winning more than six games in a year just once in that time frame. Back-to-back area-round finishes begs the question: Is it time for Redwater's program to take the next step? We shall see. With less than half of their 2014 starters back, the Dragons' depth will be tested in the coming months. Another possible roadblock is Daingerfield, which could return to its old winning ways, or remain non-competitive. If the Tigers experience a resurgence, the task of even getting to the playoffs becomes more difficult for Redwater, which finished behind New Boston and Winnsboro in the district standings a season ago.

 

5. Mount Vernon Tigers

Mount Vernon's Patrick Hoffman (left), Noah Craver (center), and Caleb Deal. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Dickey Meeks
  • 2014 finish: 1-9
  • Returning starters: 10 offensive, 9 defensive

 

Players to watch
  • WR Kevi Evans, Soph., 5-8, 160
  • OL Austin Decker, Sr., 6-2, 260
  • LB Hylke Talsma, Jr.
  • OL Tanner Patterson, Jr., 5-9, 180
  • DB Noah Craver, Sr.
  • RB Patrick Hoffman, Sr.
  • WR Matthew Bench, Sr.
  • OL Colt Pruitt, Sr., 6-2, 225

 

Mount Vernon WR Kevi Evans. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: In general, 2014 was a season to forget for Mount Vernon. But more specifically, the Tigers hope last year's offensive woes will become a thing of the past. On its way to a 1-9 campaign, Mount Vernon averaged a measly 10.5 points per game, one of the worst scoring averages in all of East Texas. Some of the issues centered on youth, as Mount Vernon used a variety of underclassmen, including a couple of freshmen. Most of the time, a young team eventually learns from its mistakes, and continues getting better with each passing week. With 10 returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, it's time for the Tigers to begin making positive strides with a full season under the belts. Mount Vernon may not exactly light up the scoreboard this year, but there are plenty of potential breakout performers at first-year coach Dickey Meeks' disposal. Sophomore wideout Kevi Evans is at the top of the list. Standing at only 5-8, Evans makes up for his size disadvantage with crafty route-running and plenty of speed to burn.

Mount Vernon LB Hylke Talsma. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Things weren't great on the defensive side of the ball for Mount Vernon in 2014, but at least there were flashes of good play, including a road shutout of district runner-up Winnsboro. The Tigers did allow more than 33 points per game a season ago, but the defense did manage to keep Mount Vernon in games, even in losses to quality programs Hooks and Daingerfield. Nine starters are back on defense, so improvement may only be a few weeks away. Perhaps Mount Vernon's top defender is junior linebacker Hylke Talsma, with senior defensive back Noah Craver and senior lineman Austin Decker not far behind. The offense seems poised for a breakout season, which could do wonders for a Mount Vernon defense that saw the field an awful lot lsat year.

2015 outlook: This isn't Meeks' first rodeo, him having spent more than 30 years in the profession. It's not even his first go-round at Mount Vernon, which he led to great success from 2000-05. Following head coaching stops at Chapel Hill and Pine Tree, Meeks landed with the Tigers to begin the 21st Century, and immediately turned them into a winner. Mount Vernon posted a record of 42-26 (.618) with six playoff appearances in his six-year tenure with the Tigers. In the decade since, Mount Vernon has not reached the postseason and gone a cumulative 32-58 (.356). Meeks has won everywhere he's been, posting a career coaching record of 157-136-4 (.536) from 1989-present with stops at Chapel Hill, Pine Tree, Mount Vernon, Henderson, and Pittsburg. He captured state championships at both Chapel Hill (1989) and Henderson (2010). It may not happen overnight, but expect Meeks to eventually work his magic at Mount Vernon once again.

 

6. Pattonville Prairiland Patriots

  • Coach: Alex Richters
  • 2014 finish: 5-6 (3A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive

 

Players to watch
  • QB Jordan Harrison, Sr., 6-2, 210
  • OL Cameron Johnson, Jr., 6-0, 200
  • DB Hogan Goodson, Sr., 5-8, 140
  • OL John Henry Newman, Sr., 5-9, 200
  • WR Josh Harrison, Sr., 6-0, 175

 

2015 outlook: Perhaps the team in District 7-3A Division I that benefitted the most from Daingerfield's stunning reversal of fortune was Prairiland, which snapped a four-year playoff drought last season. Alex Richters, now in his second season as Patriots head coach, has visions of even bigger and better things in the future. Prairiland has 11 starters returning from the district's fourth-place finisher from a season ago, including a couple of interesting playmakers. Junior Jordan Harrison takes over the reins at quarterback, while senior Josh Harrison could turn into his favorite downfield option. The offensive line could be in good shape, too, with the return of junior Cameron Johnson and senior John Henry Newman.