Gilmer had no issues whatsoever in District 5-4A Division II last season en route to winning the Class 4A Division II state championship and becoming the second-highest scoring team in state history.

It's looking good for the somewhat new-look Buckeyes again. But Bullard and Canton in particular should have more of a say in 2015.

The Panthers and the Eagles are bringing back an awful lot of talent. Future college football talent in Bullard's case.

Melissa took a step back last season from being a dominant program through the decade. With former Frankston head coach Matt Nally now a part of the staff, could the Cardinals turn it around as early as this year?

Emory Rains and Nevada Community also have teams capable of winning now.

Here's our surveyor course on District 5-4A Division II.

District 5-4A Division II Preview

Bullard tight end Major Tennison. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • OL Jake Allen, Sr., Bullard
  • WR/DB Cameron Bowman, Sr., Gilmer
  • ATH Demarco Boyd, Sr., Gilmer (committed to Texas)
  • WR/DL Jalen Carter, Sr., Melissa
  • LB Kelton Collier, Jr., Gilmer
  • RB/LB Cambron Granville, Sr., Gilmer
  • WR/DB Tre Fitzgerald, Sr., Canton
  • WR/LB Brazos Hesskew, Sr., Canton
  • LB Mikah Hughes, Sr., Bullard (committed to Harvard)
  • WR/DB Kollin Hurt, Jr., Gilmer
  • RB/LB Mason Krantz, Jr., Emory Rains
  • RB/LB Dillon McCormick, Sr., Nevada Community
  • QB Hunter Moore, Sr., Canton
  • ATH Karson Munson, Sr., Melissa
  • OL Johnny Perez, Sr., Gilmer
  • ATH Ryan Ratliff, Sr., Emory Rains
  • FB/LB Jackson Sikes, Sr., Gilmer
  • TE Major Tennison, Jr., Bullard
  • RB/LB Casey Vice, Sr., Nevada Community
  • WR/DB Tom Whitson, Sr., Melissa
  • QB Tate Whittington, Soph., Melissa

 

TOP GAMES

  • Melissa at Gilmer, Oct. 9
  • Gilmer at Canton, Oct. 16
  • Bullard at Gilmer, Oct. 23
  • Canton at Melissa, Oct. 23
  • Emory Rains at Nevada Community, Oct. 23
  • Canton at Emory Rains, Oct. 30
  • Bullard at Canton, Nov. 7

 

1. Gilmer Buckeyes

Gilmer offensive lineman Johnny Perez. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Matt Turner
  • 2014 finish: 16-0 (4A D-II state champions)
  • Returning starters: 3 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • ATH Demarco Boyd, Sr., 6-1, 230 (committed to Texas)
  • OL Johnny Perez, Sr., 6-0, 250
  • FB/LB Jackson Sikes, Sr., 6-0, 190
  • WR/DB Kollin Hurt, Jr.
  • RB/LB Cambron Granville, Sr., 5-7, 160
  • LB Kelton Collier, Jr., 6-0, 200
  • WR/DB Cameron Bowman, Sr., 5-10, 165
  • DL Tristain Olivares, Sr., 5-7, 185
  • QB Zac Spears, Sr., 5-9, 170
  • WR/DB Devin Smith, Sr., 5-10, 163

 

Gilmer senior receiver Cameron Bowman (4) and senior quarterback Zac Spears (10). (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: No bones about it, Gilmer's offense probably won't be as dominant as last season with Texas and Baylor commitment receivers and an Incarnate Word quarterback gone from a team that put up the second-highest scoring total in state history last season. But that's OK because the Buckeyes have gotten it done in the past without those ultra-elite players in previous runs. Charlie Strong and Texas like Demarco Boyd for his defensive capabilities, but he can get it done on the offensive side of things as well at running back and sometimes at receiver on the high school level. There's just no one in Class 4A and that can absolutely contain him. The offensive line enjoys the most continuity with two returning starters, headlined by Johnny Perez who recorded 96 pancakes and allowed zero sacks.

Other than the aforementioned, this is a new offense. One that will rely on Gilmer's ability to produce outstanding high school talent. Receiver Cameron Bowman and quarterback Zac Spears highlight that aspect of the community. They should be ready to go out of the box now that incredible depth in front of them has graduated.

 

Gilmer's Demarco Boyd (5) brings down West Orange-Stark's Will Johnson during the Buckeyes' 35-25 win in the Class 4A Division II championship game on Dec. 19, 2014, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. (Jeff Stapleton, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The best college defenses now switch freely from the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes, which is why Texas is so high on Demarco Boyd. Gilmer is going to be afforded that luxury this season as he moves back and forth from being a down lineman and a linebacker. More than Boyd, there's a playmaker at every level which makes talks of another deep playoff run legitimate. Tackle Tristain Olivares is overlooked, but he did a lot of damage for the program last year. Kelton Collier and Cambron Granville are great returning assets at linebacker, and there are more quality defensive backs on the roster than you can shake a stick at. But if you had to, Devin Smith and Kollin Hurt turned in excellent seasons in the secondary as underclassmen. Heck, Hurt still is an underclassmen. The seven returning starters held opponents to about 17 points per game last year.

2015 outlook: Gilmer knows first-hand how difficult it is to win, let alone reach, a state championship game. If the Buckeyes get back, it's not going to be as smooth of sailing with Kris Boyd and Blake Lynch out of the picture. However, there's a state championship caliber core around this team and -- if other players can step up with them -- the sky is the limit. The district should be much tougher than it was in 2014. Bullard and Canton look like they can compete, and that just wasn't the case last year.

2. Bullard Panthers

Bullard senior linebacker and Harvard commitment Mikah Hughes. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Shannon Wilson
  • 2014 finish: 7-4 (4A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
  • LB Mikah Hughes, Sr., 6-2, 210 (committed to Harvard)
  • TE Major Tennison, Jr., 6-6, 240
  • OL Jake Allen, Sr., 6-3, 280
  • FS Tre Crayton, Jr., 5-8, 170
  • RB/LB Brooks Parham, Jr., 5-11, 215

 

Bullard offensive lineman Jake Allen. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: There's lots to like about what the Panthers bring back to the fold, but the team does have two major issues to address. Quarterback Connor Mebane was a huge portion of Bullard's offense last season and graudated. Secondly, there's not much proven depth behind senior running back Brooks Parham. Offensive line is a strength with three starters back, including Jake Allen back off a 37-pancake junior season. You've probably guessed Major Tennison can give a push at his tight end spot as well. One thing is for sure, the 2015 edition of the Panthers' offense won't exclusively hinge on quarterback play as it did last season. Tennison, who holds early offers from Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, can open things up in multiple ways. But again, Bullard needs to answer its quarterback question and improve running back depth to contend with a team like Gilmer for District 5-4A Division II supremacy.

Defense: Head coach Shannon Wilson's defensive unit could make a case for the best in the district. Linebacker Mikah Hughes has a lot to do with it as a highly-regarded FCS recruit and a Harvard commitment. But he's only one piece of an excellent linebacking corps and secondary. Brooks Parham is going to spend a lot of time next to Hughes and Major Tennison might even come in during critical plays. The secondary is proven as well. Safety Tre Crayton's return is more than welcome, and he'll also be on the 2016 roster.

Bullard receiver, defensive back and possibly starting quarterback Tre Crayton. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

2015 outlook: A window is opening for Bullard. This season is the intermediary year of what should be a nice three-season run. We talked about the Panthers needing to find a few answers at quarterback and running back, but there is emerging talent within the program at those spots. Gilmer probably won't be as dominant, Canton's sheer athleticism is about a step behind the Panthers' own and the three other teams are even farther away. Beating Gilmer and Canton would be huge. Adjacent District 6-4A Division II is very tough starting with whom the Panthers could draw in the bi-district round. Gladewater, Atlanta and Tatum are practically interchangeable and one of those will likely come down the pipe if Bullard finishes anywhere but first in the league. The Panthers should have plenty of confidence for the district run though. Their non-district schedule is very winnable.

3. Canton Eagles

Canton receiver and defensive back Tre Fitzgerald. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Robert Ivey
  • 2014 finish: 5-5
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
  • WR/DB Tre Fitzgerald, Sr., 6-1, 200
  • WR/LB Brazos Hesskew, Sr., 5-11,180
  • QB Hunter Moore, Jr., 5-11, 205
  • OL/DL Ivan Nelson, Jr., 5-10, 230
  • RB Ladarius Coffey, Jr.

 

Canton receiver and linebacker Brazos Hesskew. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Losing now-Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Chandler Eiland to a broken leg was the worst thing that could have happened to the program in the short-term. In the long-term, however, his sidelining helped develop an offensive unit that could not be so reliant on his dual-threat capability. Quarterback Hunter Moore became a great player in Eiland's absence while receivers Tre Fitzgerald and Brazos Hesskew as well as running back Ladarius Coffey were among the players that stepped up through the course of the season. The offensive line is in pretty good shape and having Moore as a two-year solution bodes well for the program through. Look for Fitzgerald and Hesskew to get some college interest as the season progresses.

Defense: With exception to quarterback Hunter Moore, the aforementioned players are all fair game to have roles on the defensive side of things. Brazos Hesskew can contend right with Gilmer's corps and Mikah Hughes at Bullard. Tre Fitzgerald has shown good things at safety. And, in total, Canton retained eight defensive starters from a group that allowed a winnable 28 points per game. Things are looking up.

2015 outlook: Experience and skilled players across both sides of the ball indicate the Eagles are a playoff team. But each game is going to count for Robert Ivey's club. Gilmer is Gilmer and Bullard looks better as well. Emory Rains, Melissa and Nevada Community show signs of improvement, so staying ahead of that pack is essential. Non-district games against Tyler Grace Community, Crandall, Spring Hill and Wills Point will serve this team well.

4. Melissa Cardinals

  • Coach: Seth Stinton
  • 2014 finish: 4-7 (4A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
  • ATH Carson Munson, Sr., 5-7, 155
  • WR/DB Tom Whitson, Sr., 5-10, 165
  • QB Tate Whittington, Soph., 6-2, 175
  • LB Gunnar Murphy, Jr., 6-2, 240

 

2015 outlook: A dominant program for the past decade, Melissa took a step back last season with a 4-7 overall record and a 3-2 league record, including a victory against injury-riddled Canton. Former Franskton head coach Matt Nally should add something to the offensive unit as its new coordinator. Frankston was extremely explosive last season. But there are some depth concerns this year. The Cardinals bring back 10 starters, some counting on both sides of the ball. Fortunately, 20 letter winners are back and probably hold more answers. That being said, there are opportunities for Gilmer and Bullard, more specialized teams, to wear down Melissa through the course of a game.

5. Emory Rains Wildcats

  • Coach: Derek Smith
  • 2014 finish: 4-6
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/LB Mason Krantz, Sr., 6-0, 160
  • QB Ryan Ratliff, Sr., 6-4, 230
  • TE/DB Michael White, 6-1, 165
  • RB Dylon Mosely, Soph.

 

Offense: Ryan Ratliff is expected to be the district's Connor Mebane from Bullard last season. He's big and durable and can throw a nice ball when he has to. Mason Krantz could be a guy to see more touches this season and, when Rains did throw the ball last season, five of Michael White's six receptions went for touchdowns. Seven starters are back from a unit that averaged 33.3 points last season, so the team could be a defensive match up problem at particular places. Inexperience on the offensive line is a big concern though.

Defense: Linebacker Mason Krantz leads a group of six returning starters with 102 tackles last season. The unit as a whole gave up 32.3 points per game and made the offense work hard last season. Experience on at all levels of the defense should help, but the team needs some newcomers to make big contributions from the outset.

2015 outlook: Chasing for a playoff spot certainly is fathomable, especially if Canton and Melissa get a little banged up down the stretch. But every single game on the Wildcats' district schedule is a must-win. Non-league games against Mount Vernon, Cooper, Farmersville, Quitman and Sabine all should be competitive.

6. Nevada Community Braves

  • Coach: Bryan O'Neal
  • 2014 finish: 3-7 (4A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/LB Dylan McCormick, Sr., 5-9, 170
  • RB/LB Casey Vice, Sr., 5-10, 195
  • WR/DB Tommy Heard, Sr., 5-9, 165
  • OL/DL Alex Escandon, Soph., 5-11, 240

 

2015 outlook: Nevada Community has depth problems as the smallest school in the district, more than 200 students short of league-leader Gilmer's 685 students. This season, the team will have to deal with losing quarterback Jordan Graham to graduation. Running backs Dylan McCormick and Casey Vice, two-way stars, should help shoulder the load. Despite the total enrollment, the Braves do bring back 14 returning starters. Nevada Community just can't lose any of them.