2015 Football Preview: Defending State Finalist Newton Leads Deep + Talented 11-3A Division II
With four programs that have gone at least three rounds deep in the playoffs, including one who has played for a state championship, in the last half-decade, District 11-3A Division II makes a strong case for East Texas' toughest 3A district.
Newton is a perennial power with 37 wins in the last three years, Crockett has a ton of returning experience from last year's regional semifinalist, Corrigan-Camden will be attempting to make the playoffs for the 18th consecutive year, and Garrison is hoping to re-capture the magic that made it a bona fide state title contender at the beginning of the decade.
Defending state finalist Newton appears to be district favorite once again, but don't sleep on the rest of the field from this deep and talented district.
District 11-3A Division II Preview
- LB Tanner Holmes, Sr., Newton
- RB/DB Gabe Foster, Sr., Newton
- QB Case Robinson, Sr., Crockett
- WR A.J. Phillips, Sr., Crockett
- RB Malyk Johnson, Sr., Corrigan-Camden
- LB LaDarius Hamilton, Sr., Corrigan-Camden
- LB Ty Hayter, Sr., Garrison
- LB Carson Rodriguez, Sr., Garrison
- WR Tommy Williams, Jr., Hemphill
- QB Trist Gordon, Sr., Deweyville
- Tatum at Newton, Aug. 28
- West Orange-Stark at Newton, Oct. 2
- Corrigan-Camden at Crockett, Oct. 9
- Hemphill at Garrison, Oct. 9
- Newton at Crockett, Oct. 16
1. Newton Eagles
- Coach: W.T. Johnston
- 2014 finish: 12-4 (3A Division II state finalist)
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
- LB Tanner Holmes, Sr., 6-2, 220 (committed to ULL)
- RB/DB Gabe Foster, Sr., 6-3, 185
- RB/DB Kirkland Foster, Jr., 6-0, 170
- RB Corbin Foster, Soph., 6-1, 220
- OL Hunter Flanigan, Sr., 6-1, 180
- OL Keenan Myers, Sr., 6-0, 210
- RB/LB Jaron Hanks, Sr., 5-9, 165
- DB Blake Kelley, Jr., 5-9, 155
Offense: Newton's had one of the most explosive offenses in the area over the last few seasons. Since 2012, the Eagles have averaged more than 42 points per game, including their figure of 31.8 a season ago. The Eagles had to overcome a few injuries throughout the course of the year before getting the offense back on track down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs. This year's group brings back seven starters, but did suffer some graduation setbacks, including the loss of starting running back Calum Foster and quarterback Roney Elam. However, there's plenty of firepower returning to the offensive backfield in 2015, including a trio of Fosters -- Gabe, Kirkland, and Corbin. Jaron Hanks performed well with the ball in his hands during stretches last season as well. The offensive line will have some turnover, but Newton does bring back its top lineman from a season ago in Hunter Flanigan.
Defense: Newton dropped three of its first four games of 2014, but ultimately turned things around with an 11-game winning streak that carried the Eagles all the way to their first state championship game since 2005. An improvement on the defensive side of the ball served as the primary catalyst for the in-season resurgence. After allowing 30 points per game through four weeks, Newton surrendered an average of just 11.5 during its 11-game winning streak. While there were many players instrumental in Newton's defensive prowess of a season ago, a few stood out, including linebacker Tanner Holmes, who is returning for his senior season. Holmes, who recently committed to Louisiana-Lafayette, led Newton in tackles in 2014 with 194, 42 of which came behind the line of scrimmage. He also added seven sacks, and two forced fumbles. Gabe and Kirkland Foster double as impact performers in the secondary, while Blake Kelley is more than capable of holding his own at the safety spot.
2015 outlook: Newton has been knocking at the door of state championship glory for the last three seasons, advancing to the semifinals in 2012, regional quarterfinals in 2013, and the title game a year ago. Each season has ended in disappointment, but also with renewed optimism for the following campaign. The Eagles aren't done any favors by sharing a district with the likes of Crockett and Corrigan-Camden, but with 14 total starters back in the fold, Newton is once again in a great position to make another long run in the postseason. Another strong non-district schedule featuring Tatum, Henderson, and West Orange-Stark figure to give the Eagles a true test before entering 11-3A Division II action.
2. Crockett Bulldogs
- Coach: Jimmy Thompson
- 2014 finish: 7-6 (3A Division II regional semifinalist)
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Case Robinson, Sr., 6-2, 190
- WR A.J. Phillips, Sr., 5-8, 190
- RB Chemar Wiley-Harris, Sr., 5-8, 165
- OL Tim Riley, Jr., 6-0, 305
- RB Xavion Dixon, Jr., 6-1, 200
- DB Lucky Daniels, Jr., 5-11, 160
- DL Vunterrious Leonard, Sr.
- DB Adarius Watkins, Sr., 5-11, 150
Offense: Crockett used a high-scoring offense to help get the Bulldogs three rounds deep in the playoffs last season. More of the same can be expected this fall as Crockett returns eight starters from an offense that averaged almost 40 points per game in 2014. The two biggest weapons are back in senior quarterback Case Robinson and senior receiver A.J. Phillips. They formed one of the top QB-WR combos in all of East Texas last year, and both are expected to finish their high school careers with another fantastic season. Robinson passed for 2,975 yards with 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while Phillips caught 75 passes for 1,253 yards and 16 touchdowns, adding 585 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. If Robinson and Phillips remain healthy in 2015, expect Crockett to be one of the highest-scoring teams in the area.
Defense: The defensive side of the ball was Crockett's Achilles heel last season. Crockett allowed more than 35 points per game overall, and in its six losses, the Bulldogs surrendered an average of 49.7. Head coach Jimmy Thompson is hoping that with six returning starters and a few promising newcomers on defense, the Bulldogs can begin making steady progress against opposing offenses. Senior Vunterrious Leonard will anchor Crockett's defensive line, while defensive backs Lucky Daniels and Adarius Watkins are two ball-hawking playmakers who can quickly turn the momentum in the Bulldogs' favor on Friday nights. It will take a group effort, but expect Crockett's defense to turn things around this fall.
2015 outlook: After posting a 21-4 record in 2010 and 2011, Crockett's program took an unexpected hit and combined for just four wins the next two seasons. Thompson immediately changed the culture in his first year on the job last year, and the future looks bright for the Bulldogs moving forward. Crockett never has a shortage of premium athletes and its facilities are some of the nicest of any 3A school in East Texas, and with the right coaching staff, the Bulldogs are always a threat to do big things in any given season. With 14 starters back from a team that went three rounds deep, that could definitely be the case in 2015.
3. Corrigan-Camden Bulldogs
- Coach: Seven Armstrong
- 2014 finish: 10-2 (3A Division II area finalist)
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Malyk Johnson, Sr., 5-11, 195
- LB LaDarius Hamilton, Sr., 6-2, 220
- DL Jayoris Brooks, Sr.
- QB/DB LaKendrick Moore, Sr., 5-10, 175
- DB Jaylon Williams, Jr., 5-8, 150
- OL Thomas Casper, Jr.
- LB Christian Mitchell, Soph.
- WR Brandin Dirden, Sr., 6-0, 170
Offense: Corrigan-Camden has made offensive football look pretty easy over the last couple of seasons. Since 2013, the Bulldogs have averaged a little more than 49 points per game. The key has been physical play from the offensive line, and a deep, talented, a supremely speedy backfield. Corrigan-Camden lost standout running back Keegan Mitchell (Lamar) to graduation, but does bring back his partner in crime from each of the previous two seasons in senior Malyk Johnson, who is more than capable of carrying the Bulldogs' offense on his own. Johnson has picked up well over 1,000 yards in both 2013 and 2014 as the team's No. 2 back, so one can only imagine what he may do as Corrigan-Camden's primary ball carrier. Senior quarterback LaKendrick Moore is another speed burner, who could factor into the team's running game quite heavily in 2015.
Defense: Corrigan-Camden had an up and down season when it came to the defensive side of the ball in 2014. At times, the Bulldogs were difficult to score against. Yet, on multiple occasions, poor defensive play caused Corrigan-Camden to become involved in a few shootouts. For the season, the Bulldogs allowed a little more than 27 points per game, but Corrigan-Camden surrendered at least 40 points in a game in five separate instances. Longtime head coach Seven Armstrong is hopeful that a defense that returns the likes of 2016 recruit LaDarius Hamilton at linebacker, Jayoris Brooks on the defensive line, and Jaylon Williams in the secondary can make strides at becoming a more consistent unit.
2015 outlook: Few programs in East Texas have had the sustained success that Corrigan-Camden has enjoyed over the years. The 2014 season marked the 17th consecutive year a Bulldogs team has qualified for the playoffs. The team's 23-3 record over the previous two seasons is the program's best two-year stretch since 1988-89. With 10 returning starters from 2014 back in the mix, there's no reason not to suspect Corrigan-Camden will have its postseason string snapped this year. It remains to be seen whether the Bulldogs can keep up with the pace that the two previous teams have set, but it wouldn't surprise anyone to see Corrigan-Camden come through with another outstanding campaign.
4. Garrison Bulldogs
- Coach: Lance Bernard
- 2014 finish: 4-6 (3A Division II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- LB Ty Hayter, Sr., 6-2, 185
- LB Carson Rodriguez, Sr., 6-0, 230
- WR/DB Rusty Seacrest, Sr., 5-10, 160
- OL/DL Jacob Robison, Sr., 6-2, 250
- TE/DL Richard Hughes, Jr., 6-2, 200
- RB/DB Terrance Dove, Jr., 5-8, 150
- RB/DB Rodney Bass, Sr., 5-7, 150
- QB/DB Carl Schulker, Sr.
Offense: It was a wildly inconsistent season for the Garrison offense in 2014. The Bulldogs ended the year averaging a little more than 24 points per game, but in their four-game losing streak to end the season, Garrison mustered just an average of 15.3. On a positive note, better days could be on the horizon, as seven offensive starters return for Garrison this season. The Bulldogs will need to find a new quarterback, but Garrison seems fairly deep at most other positions. Terrance Dove and Rodney Bass should get the bulk of the carries out of the backfield, while Rusty Seacrest is a dangerous downfield weapon in the passing game. Senior Jacob Robison will anchor the offensive line, while Robert Hughes is excellent in the running game as a blocking tight end.
Defense: For years, Garrison has been led by a stingy defense. And for a time last season, the Bulldogs were among the best in East Texas. In its first six outings, Garrison allowed an average of 15.5 points per game to opposing offenses. However, in the final four games of the year -- all Garrison losses -- the Bulldogs gave up a per-game average of almost 50 points. While that wasn't the way head coach Lance Bernard wanted his defense to finish the year, there could be help on the way with seven returning defensive starters. The linebacking corps is Garrison's defense's strength with linebackers Ty Hayter and Carson Rodriguez leading the way. Several standout performers on the offensive side of the ball are also expected to make an impact on defense, which could give Garrison a leg up moving forward.
2015 outlook: It was a tough first season for Bernard despite the team's sixth consecutive playoff berth. In the five seasons prior to Bernard's arrival, Garrison compiled a record of 53-10, which included three years of at least 11 wins. The four wins in 2014 were Garrison's fewest since the 2008 season -- the last time the Bulldogs failed to qualify for the postseason. It doesn't get much tougher than District 11-3A Division II, so it figures to be a challenge for Garrison to compete for a league crown, but with 14 starters returning, the Bulldogs should at least improve on their record from a season ago.
5. Hemphill Hornets
- Coach: John Launius
- 2014 finish: 3-7
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- WR Tommy Williams, Jr.
- RB Luke Simpson, Sr., 5-9, 155
- DB Taylor Garrett, Sr., 6-2, 185
- DB Landon Guidry, Sr., 5-11, 165
- OL Brady Welch, Sr.
- OL Richard Bennett, Jr.
- ATH Kwame Smith, Jr., 6-0, 175
- OL Chance DeLeon, Sr.
Offense: Hemphill experienced a tough go of it on offense in 2014, averaging just 18 points per game. The Hornets got off to a great start offensively, with back-to-back 50-point efforts in Weeks 3 and 4. However, Hemphill dropped its final six games of the season, in which the Hornets were limited to a per-game average of 6.3 points. Head coach John Launius is banking on his seven returning offensive starters to make a real difference in 2015. Junior receiver Tommy Williams has serious big-play potential, while running back Luke Simpson can be counted upon to do the heavy lifting in the ground game. Multiple-purpose athlete Kwame Smith is an intriguing prospect, and could find himself delivering in a myriad of roles this season.
Defense: In order to become a serious playoff contender, solid defensive play is a must. And Hemphill simply wasn't good enough on that side of the ball in 2014. Opposing offenses averaged 33.2 points per game, and that was despite Hemphill allowing a total of six points in its Week 3 and 4 victories. With just four returning starters back on defense, it could be another long season for the Hornets. However, Hemphill isn't completely void of defensive talent, as senior defensive backs Taylor Garrett and Landon Guidry return in an effort to help right the ship. The bottom line is that if Hemphill wishes to snap their seven-year playoff drought, better defensive play is a prerequisite.
2015 outlook: Hemphill was winless in 2013, which happened to be Launius' first on the job. The three wins of a season ago was more than the Hornets had combined in the previous two years, so at least there was significant progress made in year No. 2. However, with the amount of proven winners in the district, it seems unlikely Hemphill could challenge for a playoff spot this season. Newton, Crockett, Corrigan-Camden, and Garrison, are all programs that have gone at least three rounds deep in the postseason in the last half-decade.
6. Deweyville Pirates
- Coach: Lance Dale
- 2014 finish: 2-8
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Trist Gordon, Sr., 5-10, 155
- OL Caleb Bass, Sr., 6-0, 220
- OL Brett Ladner, Sr., 6-0, 215
- RB Thomas Henson, Sr., 5-10, 185
- WR/DB Caden Hubbard, Jr., 6-0, 180
2015 outlook: Deweyville surprised everyone with a unlikely nine-win, playoff season in 2013. Unfortunately for the Pirates, the success didn't carry over to the following year. Deweyville captured only two wins in 2014, and it could be another long season for the Pirates this fall. Head coach Lance Dale welcomes back 10 starters, including senior quarterback Trist Gordon, but until a few other playmakers emerge, the Pirates could struggle to stay with other teams consistently. Caleb Bass and Brett Ladner are solid offensive linemen, and Thomas Henson is a big back capable of shouldering the load in the running game, but there are serious questions on the defensive end after Deweyville allowed an average of 39 points per game in 2014.