2015 Football Preview: John Tyler + Defending Champ Ennis Highlight Another Deep 16-5A Field
The new District 16-5A certainly lived up to the hype in 2014. It spawned the Division II state champion in Ennis, and also housed a Division I state semifinalist in John Tyler.
What will the decorated district have in store for an encore?
John Tyler and Ennis will once again enter the season as prohibitive favorites, but there is plenty of intrigue to follow.
As many as five teams -- Lufkin, Whitehouse, Nacogdoches, Corsicana, and Lindale -- could be in play to claim 16-5A's final two playoff spots. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville program hopes to turn over a new leaf under a first-year head coach.
District 16-5A Preview
- DL Braylon Jones, Sr., John Tyler
- WR Damion Miller, Jr., John Tyler
- DB Bryston Gipson, Sr., John Tyler
- RB Tre Elliott, Sr., Ennis
- WR Dee Wilson, Sr., Ennis
- DB Logan Lipscomb, Sr., Ennis
- DL Bronson Massie, Sr., Lufkin
- OL Jerrod Johnson, Sr., Lufkin
- QB Kordell Rodgers, Jr., Lufkin
- WR Trent Williams, Sr., Whitehouse
- LB Khyree Key, Jr., Whitehouse
- DB Brandon Jones, Sr., Nacogdoches
- DB Corey Lane, Sr., Nacogdoches
- QB Kishawn Kelley, Jr., Corsicana
- LB Kale Ridge, Jr., Lindale
- Lufkin at Longview, Aug. 28
- Whitehouse vs. Chapel Hill (in Tyler), Sept. 3
- John Tyler vs. Tyler Lee, Sept. 11
- Lufkin vs. West Monroe (in Shreveport), Sept. 11
- Nacogdoches at Lufkin, Sept. 25
- John Tyler at Lufkin, Oct. 9
- Ennis at John Tyler, Oct. 16
- Nacogdoches at Whitehouse, Oct. 30
1. John Tyler Lions
- Coach: Ricklan Holmes
- 2014 finish: 12-3 (5A Division I state semifinalist)
- Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- DL Braylon Jones, Sr., 6-3, 285 (committed to Houston)
- WR Damion Miller, Jr., 6-2, 205 (committed to Texas)
- DB Bryston Gipson, Sr., 6-1, 185
- DL Pierre Leonard, Sr., 5-10, 245
- QB Bryson Smith, Jr., 6-0, 170
- OL Adrian Harris, Sr., 6-4, 300
- LB Shaundrick Williams, Jr., 6-1, 220
- WR Duntayviun Gross, Sr., 5-9, 160
- RB Tre Allison, Soph., 6-2, 190
- OL Dau'Quawn Montgomery, Jr., 6-2, 265
Offense: Ordinarily, when a team graduates a 3,000-yard passer, an 1,800-yard rusher, and two of its top five receivers, the offense is expected to suffer the following year. That's not necessarily the case for John Tyler, which does lose a ton of talent, but has plenty impact performers returning to go with a promising crop of newcomers. Led by quarterback Geovari McCollister and running back Jeremy Wilson, the Lions averaged more than 43 points and 420 yards per game in 2014. Junior Bryson Smith will take over at quarterback after breaking into the offense as a receiver his sophomore year. Smith, a supremely athletic player, has drawn comparisons to former JT great and current Houston quarterback Greg Ward. The running back position will be filled by a talented 2018 prospect full of potential in Tre Allison. And he'll be running behind what should be a strong offensive line anchored by senior Adrian Harris and junior Dau'Quawn Montgomery. The Lions' receiving corps is expected to be a strength as well with the return of senior Duntayviun Gross and junior Damion Miller, who committed to Texas over the summer.
Defense: John Tyler's defense was among the very best in East Texas last season. The Lions held opposing offenses to an average of 22.4 points per game, including only 15.4 in district contests. What made JT so good on the defensive side of the ball was its strong play at the line of scrimmage and its collection of tremendous defensive backs in the secondary. The Lions lose end Jassavia Reese to graduation, but do bring back the senior duo of Braylon Jones (Houston commit) and Pierre Leonard, which combined for 19 sacks and 28 tackles for loss a season ago. Their ability to excel against both the run and pass makes Jones and Leonard one of the top D-line tandems in the area. JT must replace three of its starters in the secondary -- cornerbacks Isaac Warren and Deandre Williams, and safety Jordan Owens. However, the Lions are excited to welcome back safety Bryston Gipson, who led the team in defensive touchdowns a season ago. Junior linebacker Shaundrick Williams will also be a key figure in the middle of John Tyler's defense.
2015 outlook: When a program does as much winning as John Tyler has in recent years, expectations remain high no matter how much experience returns each season. In addition to being one of East Texas' all-time most winningest programs, JT has been among the most successful over the last half-decade. Since 2009, the Lions' overall record is 67-17 (.798). which includes trips to at least the state-quarterfinal round of the playoffs in all but one season. When the Lions' last great senior class, which consisted of Ward, Fred Ross, and others, graduated, it took JT a full year to return to its state title-contending form. However, there are enough quality impact performers coming back to help keep the Lions from experiencing a significant downturn in production. Another tough non-district schedule featuring Plano, Longview, and crosstown rival Tyler Lee should prepare JT for what figures to be a challenging trek through 16-5A. All signs point to the Lions' Oct. 16 clash with defending state champion Ennis in Tyler ultimately deciding the league title.
2. Ennis Lions
- Coach: Jack Alvarez
- 2014 finish: 14-2 (5A Division II state champion)
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Tre Elliott, Sr., 5-11, 210
- WR Dee Wilson, Sr., 5-10, 170
- DB Logan Lipscomb, Sr., 6-1, 195
- QB Caleb Clark, Sr., 6-0, 180
- DL Adam Gillespie, Sr., 6-2, 220
2015 outlook: Ennis rebounded from an 0-2 start to the 2014 season by winning 14 consecutive games and capturing the school's fifth state championship, and first since 2004. The Lions handled their first season in the East Texas-centric District 16-5A with flying colors, running the table, thanks in large part to a last-second, three-point victory over John Tyler. With graduation taking a heavy toll on Ennis, can the Lions entertain the possibility of back-to-back titles? Ennis did lose it top weapon on both offense and defense in wide receiver Donta Thompson (Texas Tech) and defensive end James Lockhart (Texas A&M), but head coach Jack Alvarez welcomes back a handful of 2014's key contributors. Senior running back Tre Elliott returns after a productive junior campaign, while the defense will be anchored by the combination of lineman Adam Gillespie and safety Logan Lipscomb. The Lions should once again be considered a favorite in the district championship chase, and their game at John Tyler in mid-October has al the makings of another classic.
3. Lufkin Panthers
- Coach: Todd Quick
- 2014 finish: 6-5 (5A Division I bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- DL Bronson Massie, Sr., 6-3, 215
- OL Jerrod Johnson, Sr., 6-3, 285
- QB Kordell Rodgers, Jr., 6-0, 175
- WR Dhailon Phillips, Jr., 6-3, 195
- RB Dalvin Smith, Jr., 5-10, 220
- OL Joseph Bell, Jr., 6-1, 280
- DL Eric Smallwood, Sr., 6-2, 265
- DL Karl Chatman, Sr., 6-1, 250
- LB Javeon Johnson, Sr., 6-1, 190
- WR Malik Jackson, Soph., 5-9, 155
Offense: There will be tons of new faces on the field for Lufkin's offense this season after the Panthers lost almost their entire 2014 production to graduation. The Pack will be without Trey Cumbie, a two-year starter at quarterback, 1,000-yard rusher Steven Sowell, and its duo of Division I receivers -- Keke Coutee (Texas Tech) and Terry Mark (Houston). Lufkin also graduated standout offensive lineman Erik McCoy, who signed with Texas A&M in February. In order for the Panthers to duplicate last season's offensive success, which included a scoring average of 43.2 points per game, they'll need their large concentration of newcomers to contribute immediately. Junior Kordell Rodgers will take over the quarterbacking responsibilities, and while he is smaller than his predecessor in stature, his natural athletic ability and arm strength should serve Lufkin well in 2015. Rodgers helped lead the Pack to a consolation championship at the state 7-on-7 tournament in College Station in July, and looked great in last week's dual scrimmage with Conroe and Huntsville. Rodgers' primary target in the passing game figures to be fellow junior Dhailon Phllips, a move-in from Mount Enterprise.
Defense: Lufkin went in a new direction this offseason by hiring Chapel Hill defensive coordinator Jason Holman to run the Panthers' defense this season. And he'll have a couple of outstanding players up front to work with in senior end Bronson "Boom" Massie and fellow senior lineman Eric Smallwood. Each player possesses their own strengths. Massie, who holds a few Division I offers, is a pass-rushing specialist who relies on his quickness, high football I.Q., and intimidating physicality. Smallwood, on the other hand, is a jack of all trades. While more than capable of getting after the opposing quarterback in obvious passing downs, Smallwood is also adept at stuffing the running game. Just like the offense, Lufkin's defense will need a boost from several newcomers in order to keep the Panthers on the right track.
2015 outlook: Despite reaching the playoffs for the 17th consecutive year in 2014, last season was a difficult one for Lufkin. The Panthers dropped five games, but they came by a combined 20 points. And in the first round of the playoffs, Lufkin faced longtime rival Longview, a team the Pack defeated by 30 points in the season opener. Lufkin led by as many as 28 points in the first half, but was ultimately eliminated by Longview on a successful two-point conversion attempt in the closing seconds. The heartbreaking nature of Lufkin's defeats, coupled with the graduation of several standouts, raise the question: how will the Panthers respond in 2015? If their summer performance in 7-on-7 or preseason success are any indication, it appears as if Lufkin will be just fine moving forward.
4. Whitehouse Wildcats
- Coach: Adam Cook
- 2014 finish: 5-5
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- WR Trent Williams, Sr., 6-3, 190
- LB Khyree Key, Jr., 6-2, 220
- QB/ATH Tanner Roach, Jr., 6-0, 170
- WR Shemar Smith, Sr., 5-8, 165
- LB Cade Parrish, Sr., 5-11, 195
- DB Connor Clark, Jr., 5-10, 160
- OL Anthony Brown, Sr., 5-11, 250
- LB Braylon Shackelford, Jr., 5-8, 180
- WR Javier Neal, Soph., 5-7, 140
- RB Zi Coffer, Sr., 5-11, 180
Offense: Many wondered what Whitehouse's offense would look like following the graduation of star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and while the 2014 edition wasn't as high-scoring as years passed, the Wildcats were plenty capable of putting the ball in the end zone. Whitehouse, playing with mostly first-year starters, still managed to average more than 37 points and 460 yards per game. With graduation taking another quality group of seniors with it, Whitehouse is left with just four returning starters on the offensive side of the ball. A new starting quarterback will emerge from preseason practice, and the odds suggest it will either be junior Tanner Roach or senior Collin Bullard. Which ever player ultimately wins the job will have a couple of talented playmakers to target. Senior receivers Trent Williams and Shemar Smith give the Wildcats' offense a little bit of everything. Williams is a bigger receiver, capable of winning physical battles and moving the chains on third down, while Smith is a speed-burner and threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. Senior Anthony Brown will anchor a young offensive line, while senior Zi Coffer will get a shot as the team's featured running back.
Defense: Whitehouse experienced difficulty in shutting down opposing offenses in 2014. For the season, the Wildcats surrendered an average of more than 36 points per game, which ultimately prevented Whitehouse from extending its campaign beyond the regular season. Despite a surprising 3-0 start to the 2014 season, the warning signs were there. In those three games, Whitehouse allowed an average of 37.3 points. And things didn't get any better after that as the Wildcats' three-game losing streak was ignited by a defense that yielded 44.3 a game. Whitehouse is bringing back just three starters to the defensive side of the ball, so the newcomers must be prepared to contribute on Friday nights right away. Fortunately for third-year head coach Adam Cook and his staff, there are a couple of defenders they can build around in 2015. The linebacking corps has a chance to be the strength of the Wildcats' "D." Khyree Key, an intriguing college prospect in the 2017 class, will lead the way, while senior Cade Parrish and junior Braylon Shackelford should serve as excellent compliments.
2015 outlook: For the first time since 2005 the Whitehouse Wildcats were denied a trip to the playoffs a season ago. A blown 19-point lead at Nacogdoches in Week 10 ultimately sealed Whitehouse's fate, and the Wildcats followed that with a disappointing defeat to Lindale in the regular-season finale. By definition, Whitehouse was an average squad in 2014, and its seasonal arch was emblematic of that. A three-game winning streak to begin, a three-game skid after that, then consecutive wins, concluded by back-to-back losses. What disrupted Whitehouse's season last year, more than anything else, was a lack of consistency. Cook is hopeful that the lessons learned a season ago will ultimately pay dividends in 2015 as Whitehouse prepares to make it back to the playoffs.
5. Nacogdoches Dragons
- Coach: Bobby Reyes
- 2014 finish: 7-4 (5A Division II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 3 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- DB Brandon Jones, Sr., 6-0, 190
- DB Corey Lane, Sr., 6-0, 185
- LB Derrick Wright, Jr., 5-8, 180
- WR Alex Gregory, Sr., 6-0, 175
- ATH Pearce Adams, Sr., 5-9, 170
- WR Josh Thompson, Jr., 6-0, 175
- WR Jaylon Maxie, Jr., 6-0, 165
- DL Kamron Yarbrough, Sr., 5-11, 300
- DL Devaunte Johnson, Jr., 6-0, 250
- WR Decorius Williams, Sr., 5-8, 190
Offense: Nacogdoches' offense was one of the best all-around units in all of East Texas in 2014. The Dragons, who averaged a little less than 40 points per game, were able to attack opposing defenses in a multitude of ways. Quarterback Hunter McClellan exhibited strong leadership skills and had the talent to carry the team on his back during stretches, running back Coronado Tolbert was one of the most consistent backs in the area, and the Dragons' receiving corps was filled with speedsters that all performed well during track season. Most of that offensive talent has graduated, and the Dragons will be entering the new campaign relying on a large collection of players unfamiliar with starring roles. But that doesn't mean they won't be able to excel. Senior wideout Alex Gregory is one of the holdovers, and he can make defenses pay dearly for singling him up on the outside. The rest of the pass-catchers have promise as well. But the real key will be how well the Dragons' new quarterback and running backs come together.
Defense: Nacogdoches had its moments on the defensive side of the ball in 2014, but all in all, last season was a disappointment for the Dragons' defense. Sure, Nac was without its top defender -- safety Brandon Jones -- for half the year, but there were weeks the Dragons were out of games early because of an underperforming defense. In Nacogdoches' four losses -- Ennis, Jacksonville, John Tyler, and Marshal -- the Dragons yielded an alarming 63.3 points per game. In fairness, that number is skewed because of the 85 points Nac allowed in a five-overtime loss to Jacksonville, but the fact that the Dragons were forced into that many overtime periods showed an inability to string together stops. And if the level of play doesn't improve substantially in the coming months, Nacogdoches may find it difficult to get back to the postseason. The good news for head coach Bobby Reyes and Co. is that Jones is back for what everyone hopes is a healthy senior year. He'll be joined by fellow Division I recruit Corey Lane in the secondary, which again should be one of the best defensive backfields in East Texas.
2015 outlook: For most of its existence, the Nacogdoches football program has been a punching bag to its East Texas counterparts. In fact, the Dragons' run of back-to-back playoff appearance is the school's first such accomplishment since 1965-66. And if Nacogdoches is able to qualify for the postseason in 2015, the Dragons will make it three consecutive playoff seasons for the first time in program history. Obviously, there is a lot to play for in Nacogdoches this year, but there is just as much standing in the way. Another loaded field awaits the Dragons in 16-5A, not the least of which are perennial heavyweights Ennis, John Tyler, and Lufkin. Nac must play playoff hopefuls Corsicana, Lindale, and Whitehouse on the road this fall, which could throw a wrench in the Dragons' quest for history.
6. Corsicana Tigers
- Coach: Steve Hoffman
- 2014 finish: 3-7
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Kishawn Kelley, Jr., 6-2, 200
- OL Jonathan Estrada, Sr., 6-4, 270
- DB Trevor Denbow, Jr., 6-0, 185
- RB Ja'Micha Polk, Jr., 5-6, 155
- LB Desmond Hawkins, Jr., 5-10, 215
2015 outlook: There was a time when the Corsicana football program was among the most feared and respected in the state. From 1982-2005, the Tigers compiled an overall record of 210-73-8 (.735), played in two state championship games, and advanced to at least the quarterfinal round of the playoffs on six occasions. But the going has been considerably rougher for Corsicana in recent years. The Tigers did reach the state semifinals in 2011, but Corsicana's overall record since 2006 is just 50-49. In fact, Corsicana has won just nine games total in the previous three seasons. But help could be on the way in 2015, as the Tigers return 15 starters from last year's team that finished tied for fifth in district -- two wins short of reaching the playoffs. Among the biggest reasons for renewed optimism in Corsicana is the return of junior quarterback Kishawn Kelley, who raised a few eyebrows with his play as a sophomore.
7. Lindale Eagles
- Coach: Mike Meador
- 2014 finish: 2-8
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- LB Kale Ridge, Jr., 6-3, 210
- RB Ryan Taylor, Sr., 5-8, 175
- OL Justin Fisher, Sr., 6-0, 285
- DL Tyler Segrest, Sr., 6-1, 250
- QB Montana Meador, Jr., 5-11, 155
- DL Terrell Cooper, Jr., 6-3, 215
- WR Kendrick Price, Sr., 6-3, 185
- TE Cameron Sir Louis, Jr., 6-3, 205
- WR/DB Tayton Williams, Sr., 5-7, 160
- DB Carson Mizell, Sr., 6-1, 185
Offense: For most of the 2014 season, Lindale had trouble scoring, finishing the year with an average of 23.1 points per game. In all fairness, the Eagles were playing with a bevy of underclassmen, and were the smallest member of one of the state's toughest 5A districts. With seven offensive starters returning, and the full understanding of what type of competition the Eagles are up against, Lindale hopes it can put forth a more productive season on offense. It all starts with quarterback Montana Meador, who was thrust into the starter's role as a sophomore. Meador showed tremendous footwork and accuracy during the offseason, which included a trip to the state 7-on-7 tournament in College Station, where Lindale held its own against more athletic competitors from the likes of Manvel and Mesquite Horn. Meador won't be alone, as the Eagles are also welcoming back running back Ryan Taylor, who hopes to find daylight behind an offensive line anchored by senior Justin Fisher. Lindale also feels good about its pass-catchers, which include seniors receivers Kendrick Price and Tayton Williams and junior tight end Cameron Sir Louis.
Defense: Lindale must improve on the defensive side of the ball if it wants to make a push toward the playoffs. Last season, the Eagles allowed opposing offenses an average of almost 39 points per game. Even if Lindale improves production on offense, it won't do much good if the defense's numbers don't come down. Fortunately, for 10th-year head coach Mike Meador, Lindale returns seven defensive starters. The defensive line combination of senior Tyler Segrest and junior Terrell Cooper has the chance to compare favorably with opposing offensive lines in the district. Eagles junior linebacker Kale Ridge has arguably the highest ceiling of any Lindale defender, while the secondary will lean on Williams and senior Carson Mizell for back-line support.
2015 outlook: After registering a 10-win season in 2011, Lindale has struggled in its return to Class 5A (formerly 4A), going just 8-23 (.258) the previous three seasons. Lindale also happens to be one of the smallest 5A programs in the state in terms of enrollment with 1,122 students. The rest of District 16-5A's average enrollment is 1,654, while perennial area powers Lufkin and John Tyler rank in the state's 28 most populous 5A schools. Lindale realizes it can't do anything about which classification or district it belongs to, but now that the Eagles have a taste of what they're up against, they may have a better chance of competing against the bigger programs.
8. Jacksonville Indians
- Coach: Wayne Coleman
- 2014 finish: 4-6
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- LB Dedrick Tatum, Sr., 5-9, 180
- DB Deverick Tatum, Sr., 6-0, 165
- QB Cash Cleaver, Sr., 5-11, 185
- LB Tevin White, Sr., 6-0, 190
- WR Ezell Woods, Jr., 5-11, 165
- RB Vadall Johnson, Jr., 5-9, 210
- OL Justin Crowe, Jr., 6-2, 245
- DL Davieon McGowan, Sr., 5-8, 285
- RB Ja'Modrick Taylor, Sr.
- DL Jadarrius Blake, Jr., 6-3, 270
Offense: The numbers say Jacksonville's offense averaged more than 32 points per game during the 2014 season. But that doesn't tell the whole story. In the Indians' four wins last year, they put up an average of 61.5 points, which includes an 85-point performance in their five-overtime victory over Nacogdoches. However, in Jacksonville's six losses (all in district play), the Tribe could only muster 13.3. First-year head coach Wayne Coleman, a former offensive coordinator under legendary Jacksonville coach Danny Long in the 1990's, is in charge of turning those numbers around. And he'll have five returning offensive starters to build around in 2015. The ground game is likely to feature a combination of senior Ja'Modrick Taylor and junior Vadall Johnson running behind an offensive line that welcomes back junior Justin Crowe. Senior Cash Cleaver is expected to handle the quarterbacking duties following the graduation of three-year starter Carter McCown. The receiving corps has a chance to be a real weapon for Jacksonville this season, especially if junior Ezell Woods follows up on his success as a sophomore.
Defense: The offense wasn't the only unit that experienced its fair share of struggles in 2014. The Jacksonville defense was exposed to the tune of more than 45 points per game a season ago, a figure that must drastically improve if the Tribe is entertaining thoughts of returning to prominence. The Indians are bringing back six starters on the defensive side of the ball, so there is hope that Jacksonville can at least make strides against opposing offenses moving forward. Senior Davieon McGowan and junior Jaddarius Blake are two of the biggest defensive linemen in the district, capable of clogging up running lanes. The linebacking corps will be anchored by the senior duo of Dedrick Tatum and Tevin White, while the defensive backfield will count on the experience of senior Deverick Tatum.
2015 outlook: Jacksonville went just 8-23 in three seasons under Taber, and the Indians haven't really been the same since Coach Long left following the 2002 season. In Long's 12 seasons at Jacksonville, the Tribe compiled an overall record of 94-47 (.667), which included five years of at least 10 wins. In the dozen years since, Jacksonville's record is 54-74 (.422), and includes eight losing seasons. Coleman is hoping to change the culture of mediocrity that's seeped into the once-proud East Texas program. It won't be easy with establishing programs like Ennis, John Tyler, Lufkin, and Whitehouse standing in the way, but it typically takes more than one year to completely turn around the fortunes of a football program.