Representatives from three District 9-2A Division I proudly boasted that they're the team to beat in the league during ETSN.fm Photo Days.

A fourth, Harleton, made a case for the best coaching hiring of the offseason is its successful attempt of luring head coach Terry Award from a very comfortable job at Tenaha.

Can Union Grove keep on trucking without the services of Tristan Thomspon? Big Sandy and Ore City think they can run down the Lions this season.

What about Harleton? Ward's new program isn't without leftover talent from the Jackie Lloyd era.

You can't count out Hawkins either. The team has a lot to prove, but it returns the best number of total starters of any team in the league.

Hold onto your hats. District 9-2A Division I is one you'll have to keep track of through the final week of the regular season.

District 12-2A Division I Preview

Running back Kardaylun Tennyson returns to Hawkins after a 1,400-yard junior campaign. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • QB Colten Allshouse, Sr., Ore City
  • QB/DB Preston Beason, Sr., Big Sandy
  • RB Caige Crowley, Sr., Simms Bowie
  • OL/DL Brennan Daughtry, Jr., Union Grove
  • WR/DB Cody Fregia, Sr., Harleton
  • RB/DB Ted Fuller, Jr., Harleton
  • LB Hayden Gray, Sr., Union Grove
  • OL/DL Kris Kelley, Sr., Big Sandy
  • RB/LB Dennis Kennedy, Sr., Ore City
  • RB/LB Colson Klein, Sr., Union Grove
  • OL Dylan Smith, Jr., Simms Bowie
  • RB Kardaylun Tennyson, Sr., Hawkins
  • FB/LB Kyle Williams, Sr., Big Sandy
  • WR/WB Jordan Womack, Sr., Big Sandy

 

TOP GAMES

  • Union Grove at Big Sandy, Oct. 9
  • Ore City at Big Sandy, Oct. 15
  • Union Grove at Ore City, Oct. 23
  • Simms Bowie at Hawkins, Oct. 23
  • Harleton at Ore City, Oct. 30
  • Union Grove at Harleton, Nov. 6

 

1. Union Grove Lions

Union Grove linebacker Hayden Gray. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Roger Adams
  • 2014 finish: 11-1 (2A D-I regional semifinalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • LB Hayden Gray, Sr., 5-9, 165
  • OL/DL Brennan Daughty, Jr., 6-4, 265
  • RB/LB Coleson Klein, Sr., 5-8, 175
  • QB/DB Austin Owens, Jr., 6-3, 180
  • OL/LB Chase Day, Sr., 5-8, 180
  • OL J.T. Blalock, Jr.

 

Union Grove offensive lineman J.T. Blalock. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Union Grove had no issues within District 9-2A Division I with now-graduated quarterback Tristan Thompson running the show. The Lions won each of their five games by double digits and thrashed most schools on the level in its non-district schedule en route to an appearance in the 2A Division I regional semifinals. This season provides new challenges for a group returning five starters. Thompson's athleticism just isn't replaceable on a year-to-year basis. Fortunately, the returning unit is fairly in tact. Coleson Klein had a nice junior season at running back and will be pushed forward by a bulky offensive line. Hayden Gray, primarily a linebacker, also can get the job done if needed.

Defense: It's the better known quantity of the team. Last year's group averaged 18.4 points against in league play and exactly 14 points overall through 11 games before running into a buzz saw in Alto in the regional semifinals. The front seven is a big strength with Hayden Gray and Alec Mehan in the picture and big Brennan Daughtry along the defensive line. The unit returns six total starters, so it should be in a good position to compete from day one. District 9-2A Division I's offenses are balanced. The Lions are in good position on each level to make a case back toward the league championship.

2015 outlook: It's not going to be as easy as last season. There's an argument that Big Sandy, Harleton and Ore City improved while the only direction for Hawkins and Simms Bowie is up. Internally, the Lions need to make standard adjustments to keep their edge. But 11 total returning starters from a district championship team is nothing to sneeze at. Moreover, the team has a taste of the regional level of the playoffs after decades of frustration that only began to turn around in 2013. This program probably is here to stay for a while.

 

2. Ore City Rebels

Ore City quarterback Coleton Allshouse. (Rob Graham, ETSn.fm)
  • Coach: Tracy Blankenship
  • 2014 finish: 9-3 (2A D-II area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB Colten Allshouse, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • RB/LB Dennis Kennedy, Sr., 5-4, 160
  • WR/DB Darren Bowens, Sr., 6-0, 165
  • OL/DL Trey Potter, Sr., 5-11, 250
  • RB/LB Nick Hughes, Sr., 5-10, 150

 

 

Ore City running back Nick Hughes. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Ore City is in good standing with six returning starters from last season's area finalist and district runner-up team. Colten Allshouse makes a case as the best quarterback in the league following his guidance of a unit which averaged 41 points per game last season. Factor in primary runner Nick Hughes and key linebacker Dennis Kennedy as a situational guy, the running backs group is stout as well. Offensive line is another strength with big Trey Potter anchoring the line at tackle. Receiver Darren Bowens, paired with Allshouse, gives the Rebels a one-two punch.

 

Ore City linebacker Dennis Kennedy. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Six returning starters from a middle-of-the-road district defense is not a bad way to start the 2015 campaign. There is room for improvement though as the third-ranked unit within District 9-2A Division I last season. Dennis Kennedy will be the leader on this side of the ball at a linebacker spot. Darren Bowens, a defensive back, and Trey Potter, a defensive tackle, add experience among the other two levels. It's not easy to go up against the offenses in this league, but Ore City will have to take the intermediate step to get out of the district and beyond the area round this year.

2015 outlook: The majority makeup of the Rebels team is quite remarkable. The team reached the area round just one year removed from an 0-10 season in 2013. WIth that experience, nothing is out of the reach of the team. Certainly not district championship dreams if the team can remain healthy. Games against Big Sandy and Harleton are enormous when it comes to obtaining the league goal. Non-district games against Overton, Linden-Kildare, Winona, De Kalb and Bogata Rivercrest should help ahead of the district opener Oct. 9 at home versus Simms Bowie. The biggest knock on Ore City is it lost 17 letter winners while retaining 12.

3. Harleton Wildcats

Harleton receiver Cody Fregia. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Terry Ward
  • 2014 finish: 8-3 (2A D-I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
  • WR/DB Cody Fregia, Sr., 6-0, 160
  • RB/DB Ted Fuller, Jr., 5-10, 170
  • FB/LB Hunter Wright, Sr., 5-8, 175
  •  WR/LB Jordan Tingle, Sr., 5-9, 150
  • QB/TE/LB Andy Ward, Jr., 6-3, 200

 

Harleton running back Ted Fuller. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: The Wildcats appear to be a team with a multi-pronged attack this season. New head coach Terry Ward seems awfully proud of receiver Cody Fegia and Jordan Tingle entering his first year on the job at Harleton and junior running back Ted Fuller is a known quantity in the backfield. Ward helped develope former Tenaha star running back Cobe Caraway -- East Texas leading rusher last season -- and has two seasons to work with Fuller. With six returning starters, the offense is the more experienced side for the Wildcats. There is room for improvement, however. The Wildcats averaged about 21 points last season and relied on a defense that is now rebuilding.

Harleton linebacker Andy Ward (right) and head coach Terry Ward (left). (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: It could be great, but there are certainly questions entering the season. The defensive side of the ball only brings back four starters from a group that led the pack with a district-low 46 points given up through five league games. Harleton also averaged a league-best 12.2 points per game against through its 11 ball games. Cody Fregia, Jordan Tingle, Ted Fuller should help ensure opposing gains are minimized as two-way starters at the skills positions. Hunter Wright also is a strong asset with good size for the level. The remaining group of defenders will need to come along quickly if the Wildcats want to sniff the district championship. Big non-district games against Timpson and Tyler Grace Community should help.

2015 outlook: Hiring Terry Ward was a home run for the program on the heels of Jackie Lloyd's retirement this past spring. The head coach took Tenaha to at least the regional championship game in each of his four last years at the school, including a 2011 state championship win and another title game appearance in 2012. There is certainly talent at the top-tier level. Challenges for Ward in his first season at Harleton include strengthening what was a vaunted defensive unit a year ago and pushing the offense to the next level. The Wildcats have a big say in the outcome of the district race with games against Ore City and Union Grove in the final two weeks of the regular season.

4. Big Sandy Wildcats

Big Sandy offensive lineman Kris Kelley. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Larry Minter
  • 2014 finish: 6-4
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/DB Preston Beason, Sr., 6-0, 175
  • TE/DL Mason Maxwell, Sr., 6-2, 225
  • QB Shaun Isaac, Sr.
  • LB Kyle Williams, Sr.
  • OL/DL Kris Kelley, Sr., 5-10, 235

 

 

Big Sandy receiver Jordan Womack. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Big Sandy brings back a district-best nine offensive starters from a unit that easily handled the lower district and non-district teams but struggled against the likes of Union Grove and Harleton last season. Nine starters back indicates experience on the offensive line no matter where the losses actually occurred. The Wildcats are big and mean up front and should help a set of dynamic runners set a tone in games this season. As important as line play is anywhere, it is amplified on the Class 2A level. Controlling the line of scrimmage is the single most important aspect of the game.The line is headlined by guard Kris Kelley, a 235-pound senior that plays much larger than his size.

Defense: It's in good shape with six contributors back in the fold. Big Sandy will definitely miss three players from last year's squad that made 100 or more tackles, but there should be enough left from that group to put together a unit which competes for the lowest point total given up within the district for a second year in a row.The Wildcats' aforementioned offensive contributors will play both ways. Furthermore, there are probably decent answers to fill out the missing pieces with 13 other retuning lettermen.

2015 outlook: The Wildcats are confident about what they have returning and can make a statement at home with games against Union Grove and Ore City in back-to-back weeks to open their league schedule. Non-district games against Carlisle and Alba-Golden just before district will help as well. Big Sandy is the second best team in the district from a returning numbers standpoint and just one off from Hawkins at the top. It wouldn't be a shock at all if the team outdoes its preseason projection.

 

5. Hawkins Hawks

Hawkins quarterback Jason Hass. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Marty Moore
  • 2014 finish: 4-6
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB Kardaylun Tennyson, Sr., 5-8, 145
  • QB/LB Jason Hass, Sr., 6-2, 198
  • OL/LB Jesse Harwell, Sr.

 

Offense: It should be much better than the adequate group it was last season. Hawkins returns nine starters from a group which averaged 24.7 points per game last season, including running back Kardaylun Tennyson. As a junior, Tennyson rushed for about 1,400 yards. Just like Big Sandy, the Hawks' offensive line should be a strong point. Quarterback Jason Hass is a standout passer with 850 yards last season in the run-first offense. If everything goes to plan, this unit can help the team make a strong push toward the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Hawkins linebacker Jesse Harwell. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: With seven starters back, Hawkins has the experience factor. It just wasn't a good experience last year. The group allowed the Hawks to be outscored 299-247 despite the offense's winnable average of 24.7 points per game. Linebacker Jesse Harwell is a great building block to work with though. He had 80 tackles last season. Marty Moore's defensive bunch will have to play a little tougher this season. Fortunately, the experience aspect is there.

2015 outlook: Hawkins certainly has the experience factor. It leads the district in terms of returners to the lineup. The team has gone 11-19 through the past three years. This group gives Marty Moore a chance to begin turning his head coaching record around at the school. It won't be easy to find a playoff spot, but you can't rule out this squad. Each game will be important for the Hawks, but games sandwiched into the middle of district play against Simms Bowie and Big Sandy are absolute must-wins.

 

6. Simms Bowie Pirates

  • Coach: Charles Hudgeons
  • 2014 finish: 2-8
  • Returning starters: 3 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB Caige Crowley, Soph., 6-0, 202
  • OL/DL Talor Stinson, Sr., 6-1, 185
  • OL/DL Dylan Smith, Sr., 6-0, 280
  • QB/DB Dylan Trissel, Jr., 5-9, 125

Offense: District play was a rough for the Pirates last season. The unit averaged 11.6 points per game after scoring more than 100 between its two non-district opening games against Wolfe City and Detroit. Simms Bowie returns three starters from that team. It looks like it's going to be an uphill battle this season with only eight returning lettermen in total.

Defense: District opponents put up 41.6 points per game against the Simms Bowie defense. Four starters are back. Even more so than the offense, the Pirate defense must improve to help make the squad closer to a complete team.

2015 outlook: The depth at Simms Bowie is a red flag entering the 2015 season. There are only eight returning lettermen. Hopefully the freshman class brings more talent to the table. If not, it's going to be another rough year.