Diboll and Huntington's move away from Carthage and Jasper in the 2014 realignment did not go as planned last season.

Cleveland Tarkington proved to be the big winner in District 8-4A Division II as it snapped a 58-year playoff drought while Coldspring-Oakhurst, Shepherd and Madisonville kept on current program pace.

It looks like it's going to be a challenge once again, but don't count out the Lumberjacks and Red Devils just yet. Diboll is tied with Cleveland Tarkington in sheer volume of returning starters and was one district win away from the postseason last year.

Huntington, meanwhile, brings back a critical core.

Here's a look at what the league looks like heading into the season.

District 8-4A Division II Preview

PLAYMAKERS

  • OL Dylan Cartwright, Sr., Huntington
  • FB/LB Robert Culbreath, Sr., Madisonville
  • OL Tanner Dickerson, Sr., Huntington
  • QB C.J. Emmert, Sr., Cleveland Tarkington
  • RB Daylon Giddens, Sr., Coldspring-Oakhurst
  • DB Edward Hayes, Sr., Coldspring-Oakhurst
  • QB Kevin Hurley, Sr., Diboll
  • DB Darrell Levi, Jr., Coldspring-Oakhurst
  • DL Jonathan Marshall, Sr., Shepherd (committed to TCU)
  • FB/LB Brett McLawchlin, Sr., Cleveland Tarkington
  • DL Jake Monroe, Sr., Coldspring-Oakhurst
  • FB/DL Catarino Moreno, Sr., Shepherd
  • OL/DL Michael Phillips, Sr., Madisonville
  • WR/DB Jamarcus Polk, Sr., Diboll
  • QB/DB Jeremiah Robertson, Sr., Huntington
  • OL/DL Keion Salas, Sr., Madisonville
  • RB Charkeith Whaley, Sr., Madisonville

 

TOP GAMES

  • Diboll at Madisonville, Oct. 9
  • Madison at Huntington, Oct. 16
  • Huntington at Diboll, Oct. 23
  • Coldspring-Oakhurst at Cleveland Tarkington, Oct. 23
  • Shepherd at Madisonville, Oct. 23

 

1. Coldspring-Oakhurst Trojans

  • Coach: Bryan Barbay
  • 2014 finish: 9-3 (4A D-II area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
  • DL Jake Monroe, Sr., 6-1, 270
  • DB Edward Hays, Sr., 6-3, 190
  • RB Daylon Giddens, Sr., 6-0, 190
  • DB Darrell Levi, Jr., 5-11, 155
  • OL Dawson Kier, Sr., 6-4, 245
  • WR Tristan Ham, Sr., 6-2, 175
  • DL Austin Conrad, Sr., 6-0, 220

 

2015 outlook: It's hard to get down on a program like Coldspring-Oakhurst. The Trojans always seem to be on the cusp of something big and have not won less than nine games since back-to-back trips to at least the state semifinal round in 2010 and 2011 -- the 2010 season spoiled by Carthage in the Class 3A state championship game. This year could be special with Jake Monroe back in the fold. He's the reigning District 8-4A Division II Defensive Most Valuable player and headlines six Coldspring-Oakhurst players that won first-team all-district honors last season as underclassmen. The Trojans' other honorees rest at the running back, receiver, offensive line, defensive backs and defensive line spots. It's a safe bet the program makes it back to the postseason in 2015. However, District 7-4A Division II is no joke so it's important Coldspring-Oakhurst win the league to avoid a daunting challenge against either Mexia, Fairfield or Waco Connally in the first round.

2. Cleveland Tarkington Longhorns

  • Coach: Brandon Carpenter
  • 2014 finish: 7-5 (4A D-II area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
  • FB/LB Brett McLawlin, Sr., 5-10, 185
  • QB C.J. Emmert, Sr., 6-3, 175
  • RB/DB Tristan Williamson, Sr., 5-9, 175
  • WR/DB Tyler Frazier, Sr.

 

2015 outlook: Brandon Carpenter has been a godsend for Celeveland Tarkington, a school no one gave much thought to before last season. The Longhorns snapped a 58-year playoff drought in 2014 and shocked Mexia in the opening round before falling to Atlanta. It was their second trip to the playoffs ever. Things are looking good for a return this season. Tarkington, with 14 starters returning, ties Diboll for the most within the district. Eight players return to the defensive side, the magic number that ensures consistency all over the field. The offense does not lag far behind with six returners. Tarkington's non-district schedule is extremely weak save a Sept. 4 game against Winnie East Chambers. The good side to that, however, is the Longhorns should be confident and healthy when district play begins on Oct. 9.

3. Shepherd Pirates

  • Coach: Chip Keel
  • 2014 finish: 6-5 (4A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • DL Jonathan Marshall, Sr., 6-3, 245 (committed to TCU)
  • FB/DE Catarino Moreno, Sr., 5-11, 225
  • DL Cedric Green, Sr.
  • LB Deontae Skinner, Sr.

 

2015 outlook: Shepherd brings back exactly half of last season's bi-district round playoff team, but there is some work to do before reaching the postseason in 2015. Most of the big-name offensive players need replacement. Defense looks like it's going to be a real strength, particularly the line. TCU verbal commitment Jonathan Marshall returns to his spot at end while Catarino Moreno and third-year starter Cedric Green are other highly respected defensive linemen. Linebacker Deontae Skinner also is expected to have a big senior year. Shepherd has a solid non-district slate to get ready for league action. Cleveland, Kountze and Crockett are all on the schedule.

4. Madisonville Mustangs

  • Coach: Greg Morgan
  • 2014 finish: 4-7 (4A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • FB/LB Robert Culbreath, Sr., 6-0, 200
  • OL/DL Michael Phillips, Sr., 6-0, 219
  • OL/DL Keion Salas, Sr., 6-3, 300
  • RB Charkeith Whaley, Sr.

 

2015 outlook: Madisonville also returns half its roster from a bi-district playoff team. There is a lot of room for improvement for the Mustangs this season. Its offense averaged 21 points per game and the defense averaged 30.6 points given up per game. Bringing back 11 total starters, five on the offensive side and six on the defensive side, should help. Robert Culbreath is a critical starter -- a first-team all-district member and a Class 4A all-state honorable mention last season -- that the team can build around.

5. Diboll Lumberjacks

  • Coach: Blake Morrison
  • 2014 finish: 2-8
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB Kevin Hurley, Sr., 6-2, 175
  • WR/DB Jamarcus Polk, Sr., 6-1, 174
  • RB/LB Jaquane Garrett, Sr., 5-11, 190
  • DL Demarcus Hubert, Sr.
  • DL Kaelan Whitworth, Sr.

 

Offense: Diboll's offense is the strength of the team. Quarterback Kevin Hurley, receiver Jamarcus Polk and running back Jaquane Polk are all back in the fold after good junior seasons. Eight starters return in total after averaging 21.8 points per game last year. The scoring average will have to improve this season if the Lumberjacks want to sniff the playoffs, but there's promise it can take the next step in the returning talent alone.

Defense: The Lumberjacks' defense is going to have to improve fairly dramatically from last season. Six returning starters were part of a unit that allowed an average of 41 points per game. You just can't win with that kind of number. Fortunately, a majority group of the defense this year has at least one varsity season of experience. Defensive line is looking particularly stout between Demarcus Hubert and Kaelan Whitworth.

2015 outlook: Diboll struggled against the top half of the district last season but was very competitive in the chase for the final two playoff spots. It defeated Madisonville last year as well as Huntington and finds itself in better preseason standing than Huntington once again. Scratching out two more district wins should be enough to give the Lumberjacks their first earned trip to the playoffs since 2010. Non-district games against Athens, Crockett and Corrigan-Camden are daunting tasks, but those teams should forge a competitive roster for district play.

6. Huntington Red Devils

  • Coach: Brian Gandy
  • 2014 finish: 1-9
  • Returning starters: N/A
Players to watch
  • OL Dylan Cartwright, Sr.
  • RB Jeremiah Robertson, Sr.
  • OL Tanner Dickerson, Sr.
  • DL Trapper Dickey, Sr.

 

Offense: Huntington is in the same boat as Diboll. Its offense averaged about 21 points per game on offense, which is just below the cusp of putting together multiple district wins. It will have to improve in district play. The unit's average dropped to 14.6 points in league games. This season, the Red Devils' offensive line looks strong and Jeremiah Robertson is a running back capable of shouldering the heavy load.

Defense: The Red Devils' defense averaged 47.6 points against in league games last season. That's simply not a winnable number. Defensive end Trapper Dickey is a standout on this side of the ball and something to build around.

2015 outlook: Huntington has its work cut out for it, but there is talent and it's the second biggest school in the district behind Madison. Maybe there are some players that will emerge this season. Back-to-back games against Madisonville and Diboll on Oct. 16 and Oct. 23 are the biggest games on the schedule. A non-district slate of Palestine Westwood and Elkhart should help. There are also winnable games against Houston Scarborough and Warren for confidence purposes.