District 10-2A Division I will be a drastically different experience for all teams involved.

The University Interscholastic League essentially looked at District 9-2A Division I and District 11-2A Division I, split the middle and carved out a new league.

Big Sandy, Hawkins and Union Grove are all familiar from district play last year. The same is true for Cayuga, Cross Roads and Kerens. But no team has seen all five opposing teams it will face in 2016.

Who are the winners of realignment? Who are the losers?

Despite a disappointing 2015 season, Kerens has to be excited about 16 returning starters. Are they picked to win this district?

Union Grove lost a great athlete two seasons ago and mostly held their own in the followup campaign. Are they ready to take it to the next level?

Big Sandy has some holes to fill, but there's a lot of optimism in that community about what this season will bring. Do we agree with them?

Cayuga has a killer offensive line. Hawkins returns a bevy of still-young starters. Cross Roads switched it up and has a new head coach. Are those teams going to dance the second week of November?

ETSN.fm's District 10-2A Division I picks are here.

 District 10-2A Division I Preview

Big Sandy running back Seth Burk has a bright future. He averaged 14.1 yards per carry last season as a sophomore. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • LB/RB C.J. Bivins, Sr., Kerens
  • RB/LB Seth Burk, Jr., Big Sandy
  • OL/DL Colby Cooper, Sr., Cayuga
  • QB/DB Taylor McKenzie, Sr., Cross Roads
  • OL/DL Brennan Daughty, Sr., Union Grove
  • RB/DB Kiyandre Faulk, Jr., Kerens
  • RB Tristian Garrett, Soph., Hawkins
  • OL/DL Josh Ingram, Jr., Cayuga
  • LB/FB WR Nic Kilburn, Sr., Big Sandy
  • QB/DB Austin Owens, Sr., Union Grove
  • DL/OL Austin Restine, Sr., Big Sandy
  • LB Dustin Threlkeld, Sr., Hawkins

TOP GAMES

  • Cayuga at Union Grove, Oct. 7
  • Kerens at Big Sandy, Oct. 14
  • Big Sandy at Union Grove, Oct. 20
  • Cross Roads at Hawkins, Oct. 21
  • Cayuga at Cross Roads, Oct. 28
  • Kerens at Union Grove, Oct. 28
  • Union Grove at Hawkins, Nov. 4

1. Big Sandy Wildcats

Big Sandy linebacker Nic Kilburn recorded 104 tackles last year and headlines the Wildcats' defense as a a senior. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Larry Minter
  • 2015 finish: 7-4 (2A D-I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/LB Seth Burk, Jr., 6-2, 180 (60 carries, 850 yards, 10 TDs)
  • LB/FB Nic Kilburn, Sr., 5-10, 155 (104 tackles)
  • DL/OL Austin Restine., Sr., 6-2, 285 (74 tackles)
  • DB/WR Jacob Shipman, Sr., 6-0, 155
  • RB/LB Khameron Pippins, Soph., 5-7, 160
  • TE/DL Grayson White, Sr., 6-1, 225
Head coach Larry Minter expects running back Seth Burk (2) to have a breakout junior season.

Offense: Big Sandy enters the season with three big question marks. One, it must replace graduated quarterback Shawn Isaac. Two, it needs someone to step up and replace physical running back Kaloni Kirby. Three, the offensive line was nearly wiped out by graduation.

The quarterback battle wages on, but there are a handful of good athletes to choose from. At running back, however, the choices are clear.

Head coach Larry Minter is very excited about Seth Burk's remaining career. Burk ran for 850 yards on 60 carries last season -- an average of more than 14 yards per carry. Of course, it's easier to do that when you're the feature back behind Kirby. But Burk has the size at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds to withstand the beating several district teams are capable of providing.

Khameron Pippins also will be a starter in the backfield as a sophomore. Solid receivers in Jacob Shipman and Grayson White plus the running backs should take some pressure off the new signal caller.

Big Sandy has the athletes. But they need virtually a new offensive line to be ready by the time league play starts. Austin Restine, a senior at 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, might be a nice starting point despite his reputation as a defender first and foremost.

Defensive lineman Austin Restine made 74 tackles last season as a junior. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Wildcats are just a little more experienced on the defensive side of the ball with five starters back from a unit that averaged an impressive 19.5 points against through an 11-game season.

Defensive lineman Austin Restine is a huge returning asset. He made 74 tackles from his defensive tackle spot a year ago.

Linebacker Nic Kilburn leads returning starters in total tackles. He had 104 a year ago, and he has flexibility to move into the secondary if he needs to.

Big Sandy is historically tough defensively under head coach Larry Minter, so it's a responsible guess the newcomers will be ready to go by the start of district season.

Challenging non-district games against Alto and Harleton should help get the unit ready.

 

2016 outlook: Picking the Wildcats to win District 10-2A Division I is straight forward. It is the only team that managed a winning regular season among the group and one of just three that qualified for the playoffs.

Bringing back nine starters isn't an optimal number -- and a lack of collectively experienced offensive linemen is a red flag -- yet Big Sandy has enough experienced athletes at essential spots to lift the newcomers as they come along. Particularly on offense.

District 10-2A Division I teams will be paired against District 9-2A Division I in the bi-district round. The opposing district is easily the weakest of the all-encompassing Region III, so there's a great chance the highest finishers of the Wildcats' district have room to run early in the playoffs.

Expect Big Sandy to be one of the teams to skate into the area round.

2. Kerens Bobcats

  • Coach: Terrell Harris
  • 2015 finish: 4-6
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/DB Kiyandre Faulk, Jr., 6-1, 175 (1,800 yards, 23 TDs)
  • LB/RB C.J. Bivins, Sr., 6-1, 200 (130 tackles)
  • LB/WR Stacey Bailey, Jr., 5-10, 195
  • TE/DB Noeh Solis, Sr., 6-1, 155

2016 outlook: Kerens went young last season and should begin reaping the benefits as early as this season with room to grow from here. The program lost just six seniors to the 20 letter winners it brought back, and a significant part of the returning group will be back once again in 2017.

Running back and defensive back Kiyandre Faulk is one of the guys with two more years to go and perhaps years beyond high school considering what he accomplished as a sophomore. Faulk ran for a staggering 1,800 yards in 10 games. If Faulk was inside ETSN.fm's coverage zone, he would have been fourth among true running backs in total rushing yards and the top performer among Class 2A backs.

This will be the last go-around for linebacker and No. 2 running back C.J. Bivins, however. He made 130 tackles at linebacker last year -- often times ensuring opponents were held to intermediate gains in the run game.

Proven players taper off after those two guys, but surely other players from the youth movement will begin to stand out this campaign.

Considering what Kerens did last year with a young team, and the fact it returns 16 starters, it's a safe bet head coach Terrell Harris has a playoff team in 2016. One that should reach at least the area round thanks to its bi-district round pairing.

3. Union Grove Lions

Tristan Chavers should become a bigger part of Union Grove's offense as an experienced junior. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Roger Adams
  • 2015 finish: 4-7 (2A D-I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB/DB Austin Owens, Sr., 6-4, 205 (1,075 rushing yards, 850 passing yards)
  • OL/DL Brennan Daughtry, Jr., 6-3, 280
  • RB/LB Alec Mayhan, Sr., 5-9, 178
  • LB/WR Tristan Chavers, Jr., 5-10, 160
  • RB/DB J.D. Kessler, Jr., 6-2, 180
  • WR/DB Tanner Stanley, Sr., 6-0, 165
The Lions are asking senior Alec Mayhan to do double duty as a running back and linebacker. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: It all starts with dual-threat quarterback Austin Owens. The signal caller is back, like most of the offense, after an 11-game season of about 1,925 total yards. He certainly took away the most of the blow of losing star universal athlete Tristen Thompson at the end of 2014.

There are a lot of good athletes around Owens, but his numbers speak most to the offensive line. Brennan Daughtry, at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, headlines the offensive line pool ahead of the season. Daughtry was an all-state selection as a sophomore last season.

No issues at running back. The tandem of Alec Mayhan and J.D. Kessler also returns and should be able to take some of the load off Owens, who defenses will be keying against all season.

Tanner Stanley is a good player out on the perimeter.

As a unit, Union Grove's offense returns seven players from a team that averaged 16 points per game. That number certainly needs to improve if Union Grove is truly going to complete for the district championship. Experience should up the Lions' average this year.

Defense: Union Grove kind of anticipated the growing pains it would experience last season and faced a loaded non-district schedule. It was the backlash to scheduling strong teams to forge a real contender in 2014. West Rusk, a Class 3A Division II regional championship game team, headlined the schedule.

The result was an inflatedly bad defensive total -- an average of 30 points against per game in 11 contests. Within their own district, however, the Lions performed pretty well. They averaged 17.2 points against per game.

Linebackers Alec Mayhan and Tristan Chavers lead a group of seven returning starters. Brennan Daughtry can add bite to the front at defensive tackle if he needs to.

Head coach Roger Adams' secondary is expected to have athleticism, if not all-around great size.

 

2016 outlook: Union Grove was very competitive and pretty young last season. Fourteen starters back is a great place to start the new year.

But both sides of the ball have to improve. Neither side did a particularly great job of carrying the other side when it was asked to in the toughest games of 2015.

The Lions are deep enough with experience that you can expect natural improvement after another offseason in the strength and conditioning program.

But the best news for Union Grove is, if it makes the playoffs, it has a great chance of tying or beating the best finish in school history the past 48 years due to the weakness of the adjacent district, where no team enjoyed a winning season last year. The Lions program only recently snapped a 44-year playoff drought and advanced to the area round their best year in 2014.

4. Hawkins Hawks

  • Coach: Marty Moore
  • 2015 finish: 1-9
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB Tristian Garrett, Soph., 6-0, 185 (632 yards)
  • LB Dustin Threlkeld, Sr. (73 tackles)
  • QB/ATH Akim Richmond II, Fr., 5-11, 155
  • WR/DB Camron Taylor, Soph., 6-0, 140

Offense: By no means did Hawkins have a good offensive year last season. It mustered less than two touchdowns in seven of its 10 games.

However, the Hawks played nearly well enough to steal some district games last season against the co-district champ, Harleton, and third-place Union Grove. Seven starters return from that team as part of 15 returning starters in total.

Hawkins has waited a long time for freshman Akim Richmond II to reach high school. He could be a four-year solution at quarterback, and he'll be supplemented by durable sophomore running back Tristian Garrett immediately.

Obviously, the offense will be young this season. But it was young last year as well.

Expect incremental improvement this season toward even stronger years for Richmond and Garrett.

Defense: Bringing back eight defensive starters is a great thing. Now, the unit has to get tougher.

Hawkins' offense was mostly touch-and-go, but the defensive side did no favors in four losses of 20 points or more last year.

But eight starters back is eight starters back. The Hawks' defense should have a better year.

2016 outlook: It could be a playoff year for the Hawks. They will enjoy the third-most experienced team in the league behind Kerens and Union Grove.

Head coach Marty Moore is in a great position. Most of his guys will be back for more seasons, and his running back-quarterback tandem could be a three-year solution.

Don't expect Hawkins to compete for a district championship, but the team should be able to hold its own against the middle tier of the district.

 

5. Cayuga Wildcats

Offensive tackles Josh Ingram (left) and Colby Cooper (right) will make it very difficult on opposing defenses this season. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Cody Mohan
  • 2015 finish: 2-9 (2A D-I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
  • OL/DL Colby Cooper, Sr., 6-3, 310
  • OL/DL Josh Ingram, Jr., 6-6, 300
  • QB Tristan Davis, Sr., 6-0, 155
  • DL/OL Albert Calhoun, Sr., 5-9, 225
  • LB/RB Ryder Sparkman, Soph.

Offense: With a good offensive line, anything is possible. Cayuga has the making of a great offensive line.

At the tackle spots are senior Colby Cooper and junior Josh Ingram. Cooper is 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds while Josh Ingram is 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds. Good luck to all opposing defensive fronts.

Yet the Wildcats faced a bad chicken-or-the-egg situation last year. Neither side of the ball held its own without the other side, and the two units were hardly ever in harmony. Cayuga mustered 88 points in five district games last season and gave up 168 points.

Regardless of how much the two offensive and defensive units improve, the team will benefit if it can sustain long drives and keep the ball away from the opposition.

Cooper and Ingram can help in that regard. A lot.

The offense as a whole returns five starters.

Defense: Obviously, the defense needs to do a better job this season.

Linebacker Ryder Sparkman shined as a freshman and is back to lead four returning starters. Albert Calhoun was a good defensive lineman and returns.

Colby Cooper and Josh Ingram can add more meat to the defensive line if required.

 

2016 outlook: Cayuga's offense has to do a better job of supporting the defense, too. That unit scored far too few points against the high-end of its old district -- Alto, Carlisle and Grapeland -- to give the team a chance.

All that said, the Wildcats went a perfect 2-0 against teams in its old district that came along with it to make up half the league. It played gritty games against both Cross Roads and Kerens and won both by one possession.

You can safely expect Cayuga to contest for a playoff spot.

6. Cross Roads Bobcats

  • Coach: Michael Gain
  • 2015 finish: 3-7
  • Returning starters: N/A
Players to watch
  • QB/DB Taylor McKenzie, Sr.
  • RB Tyler Johnson, Sr.

2016 outlook: Cross Roads improved leaps and bounds in 2015, but it still didn't win a district game, including relevant competitions against Cayuga and Kerens. Maybe new head coach Michael Gain can get the ball rolling into district play following last year's 3-2 non-district finish.

Gain joined the program this offseason after serving as an assistant coach at Latexo, a local six-man school in football.

The Bobcats can afford to up their numbers despite a relatively successful 2015 season for the program, which has not made the postseason for 16 straight years. The team got outscored last year 332-191.