2016 Football Preview: Canton, Emory Rains + Wills Point Should Thrive In District 6-4A D-II
It's not East Texas bias.
The three East Texas schools in District 6-4A Division II were just the big winners of the University Interscholastic League's latest realignment process. Each school fell into a better situation compared to the one its found itself in last season.
We're picking Canton, Emory Rains and Wills Point to make it out of the league and into the postseason picture. But in what order?
Rains and Canton broke free of Bullard and Gilmer and will now be in much fairer fights. Wills Point dropped from Class 4A Division I to the Division II level, escaped Athens and Van in the process and now gets to be the largest school in a district for a change.
Canton returns do-it-all quarterback Hunter Moore and a great offensive line. Is that enough to propel it into the top spot?
Rains possesses dual-purpose athlete Michael Krantz. Will the Wildcats ride him to a top seed in the playoffs?
Wills Point's promising 2015 season was derailed with injuries. Fully healthy, is it ultimately going to be this league's champion?
A Dallas Lincoln team not all that far removed from its heyday as well as Ferris and Dallas Roosevelt round out the league. At least one of those schools is getting in when the dust clears after Week 11.
ETSN.fm's picks for District 6-4A Division II are here.
District 6-4A Division II Preview
- OL/DL Kyle Adams, Sr., Canton
- QB/LB Caden Bennett, Sr., Wills Point
- WR/DB Zach Brown, Sr., Canton
- DL/FB Tyriq Burnett, Sr., Wills Point
- WR Devodrick Bynum, Sr., Lincoln
- TE/LB Collin Eenigenberg, Sr., Rains
- DL John Kalala, Sr., Lincoln
- LB/RB Mason Krantz, Sr., Rains
- QB Hunter Moore, Sr., Canton
- QB Victor Parker, Jr., Roosevelt
- WR/DB Parker Robertson, Sr., Ferris
- LB/TE Sloan Rodberg, Sr., Wills Point
- OL/DL Drew Sharp, Sr., Rains
- DL Logan Willeford, Sr., Canton
- DB/WR Devontae Williams, Soph., Ferris
- Lincoln at Rains, Oct. 7
- Wills Point at Canton, Oct. 14
- Rains at Wills Point, Oct. 21
- Lincoln at Ferris, Oct. 21
- Canton at Rains, Oct. 28
1. Canton Eagles
- Coach: Robert Ivey
- 2015 finish: 6-6 (4A D-II area finalist)
- Returning starters: 6 offensive, 2 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Hunter Moore, Sr., 5-11, 190
- WR/DB Zach Brown, Sr., 6-0, 165
- DL/QB Logan Willeford, Sr., 6-4, 220
- OL/DL Kyle Adams, Sr., 6-2, 245
- OL/DL Robert Riley, Sr., 5-10, 245
- OL/DL Ivan Nelson, Sr., 5-11. 230
Offense: Canton's absolute strength is its offensive line. It doesn't pop off the roster size wise, but there is a lot of experience and a lot of athleticism up front.
With a good offensive line, creating a successful unit is as easy as plugging in the right fits at the seven skill positions. It's a much better position to be in than the alternative -- possessing good numbers at skill positions but not having anyone up front that can create space or buy time for bigger plays to develop in the passing game.
Ivan Nelson will anchor the line at center. Kyle Adams and Robert Riley are back at their guard spots to make up a completely experienced interior.
Behind the line will be quarterback Hunter Moore for a third season. The signal caller threw for 2,112 yards, ran for another 812 yards and scored 33 touchdowns through the Eagles' 12-game season a year ago.
Losing receivers like Brazos Hesskew and Tre Fitzgerald certainly hurts, but Zach Brown returns for his senior season off a 700-yard junior campaign. That's not a bad starting point.
Head coach Robert Ivey still has to pick a new running back, but Moore has mobility and Canton is a pass-first team.
Defense: This unit returns just two starters from a group that averaged a decent 26.3 points against per contest.
Defensive end Logan Willeford is back and will obviously be a big problem for the opposition off the edge on the heels of an all-district performance last season. Zach Brown returns to his cornerback spot up top to round out the known quantities of the 2016 Eagles defense.
Losing linebacker Brazos Hesskew to graduation and a college career is a tough blow on top of the overall losses from last year's team, but linebacker Grant Tullos brings similar size to the linebacker group.
2016 outlook: Canton was a big winner in realignment. Gone are the likes of Gilmer and Bullard, replaced by a group of middle-of-the-road Metroplex teams and similarly small-sized East Texas city schools in Emory Rains and Wills Point that produce about the same talent year-to-year.
Quarterback Hunter Moore is so integral into all aspects of the offense, and he's backed up by a good offensive line. That gives Canton a really nice offensive edge against the rest of the district before even factoring in all the pleasant surprises teams receive from new varsity starters.
The Eagles are built well enough today, especially at critical positions, to contend for the district title.
2. Wills Point Tigers
- Coach: Greg Cranfill
- 2015 finish: 3-7
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- LB/TE Sloan Rodberg, Sr., 6-3, 220
- DL/FB Tyriq Burnett, Sr., 6-0, 207
- QB/LB Caden Bennett, Sr., 5-11, 165
- OL/DL Brody Bushnell, Sr., 6-3, 240
- OL/DL Lamont Thomas, Sr., 6-0, 230
Offense: Quarterback Caden Bennett is back from a season-ending injury that derailed the past Wills Point season and will be calling the plays at the line for seven other returning starters that got tested during a difficult 3-7 campaign at the 4A Division I level.
The group could stand to improve its average of 22.2 points per game last year.
Bennett's return, the size mismatch tight end Sloan Rodberg presents at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds and a mostly experienced offensive line are good starting points.
Defense: Wills Point performed pretty well defensively against what are now similarly sized schools. Without the foresight of knowing which district it would be placed in ahead of realignment, it coincidentally played Canton and Ferris in non-district games and held both teams to 30 points or less.
Eight starters are back on the defensive side. None bigger than linebacker Sloan Rodberg.
Rodberg has an NCAA Division I linebacker frame, and he'll be playing for those kinds of offers as a senior. He had a really good day at the ETSN.fm + APEC Football Recruiting Combine in May to effectively start his final year of high school competition.
Second-team all-state nose guard Tyriq Bennett is the playmaker just in front of the sure-handed Rodberg. Bennett recorded 13 sacks in 10 games a season ago.
Junior free safety Brandon Smith brings athleticism back to the secondary and rounds out Wills Point's top flight of defensive athletes.
Brody Bushnell and Lamont Thomas are offensive linemen that also will likely be a part of the defensive line rotation. They should give the front more completeness at the outset of the season.
2016 outlook: Wills Point was another winner of realignment. It dropped from the 4A Division I to the Division II level and broke free from the likes of Athens, Kaufman and Van.
If that's not enough reason for optimism, the Tigers return 16 starters.
Head coach Greg Canfill's squad also has the toughest non-district schedule of the group to get ready for district competition. The key will be passing Chapel Hill, Irving Ranchview, Mineola, Tatum and Hillsboro with no serious injuries.
3. Emory Rains Wildcats
- Coach: Randy Barnes
- 2015 finish: 6-5 (4A D-II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- LB/RB Mason Krantz, Sr., 6-0, 190
- TE/LB Collin Eenigenburg, 6-1, 170
- DL/OL Drew Sharp, Sr., 6-0, 215
- RB/DB Weston Potts, Sr., 5-10, 162
- RB/LB Naim Diego, Sr., 5-10, 180
Offense: Rains returns six starters. A lot of it is backfield talent.
Mason Krantz is a two-way star and the team's most valuable player. Offensively, he ran for 938 yards and seven touchdowns a season ago behind now-graduated quarterback Ryan Ratliff.
Weston Potts and universal athlete Naim Diego are other options in the running game. Diego can be shifted to receiver and use his speed skills on the perimeter as well.
Replacing Ratliff and rebuilding what was a decent offensive line are the biggest questions surrounding the Wildcats ahead of kickoff.
Defense: Six players are back from a unit that performed pretty well last season -- especially considering Rains' placement in a district with Gilmer, Bullard and Canton. Aside from those teams, the Wildcats' defense gave up somewhere around 18 points per game.
Linebacker Mason Krantz had a great year on the defensive side compared to a good year at running back. He recorded 154 tackles, including 39 for negative yardage, and should really give the middle portion of the defense a bite.
Collin Eenigeburg packs a second punch at linebacker, the absolute strength of the defense.
2016 outlook: Rains, like Canton, is going to benefit from getting away from Bullard and Gilmer.
Projected to be a mid-level finisher, the Wildcats have a slight experience advantage against Dallas Lincoln and Ferris and a much better year-to-year track record than Dallas Roosevelt.
Big games against Wills Point and Canton come in straight weeks. Rains will travel to Wills Point Oct. 21 and then host Canton before closing the regular season against Roosevelt.
Don't be shocked to see first-year head coach Randy Barnes hit it off with fans by way of a successful district performance.
4. Dallas Lincoln Tigers
- Coach: Jamal Adams
- 2015 finish: 5-5
- Returning starters: 9 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB Devodric Bynum, Sr., 5-11, 175
- DL John Kalala, Sr., 5-11, 231
- QB Keiontay Coleman, Jr., 6-2, 200
- RB/DB Lamarsay Austin, Jr., 5-6, 152
2016 outlook: New head coach Jamal Adams, formerly Lancaster's defensive coordinator at the Class 5A level, has no time to lose. He was offered the job in June and inherited a program with unquestinably deep athletic resources but also a program that has seen better days.
A turnaround could begin this season with a district-best 18 returning starters.
Receiver and defensive back Devodric Bynum is a big bright spot with NCAA Division I FBS offers from a handful of mid-level teams. Quarterback Keiontay Coleman is another player who might have a future at the college level following a relatively successful sophomore campaign of 739 passing yards and eight touchdowns.
Defensive end John Kalala won his old district's defensive newcomer of the year award last season.
Dallas Lincoln must improve its offensive output of 27.5 points per game. It often hung a defense capable of holding opponents to 26.4 points per game out to dry toward a 5-5 overall record and a narrow miss of the postseason.
5. Ferris Yellowjackets
- Coach: Brandon Layne
- 2015 finish: 3-8 (4A D-II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB Parker Robertson, Sr., 6-0, 160
- WR/DB Devontae Williams, Soph., 5-8, 165
- K/P Ignacio Gomez, Sr., 5-6, 182
- QB Ryan Fagan, Jr., 5-10, 160
2016 outlook: Brandon Layne inherits a team in a decent starting position back in his comfort region. The longtime former Ennis offensive coordinator is back inside the outer fringe of the Metroplex after a one-year stint at La Vernia.
Layne led La Vernia to a 7-5 record last season, highlighted by a 5-0 run in district play.
Ferris, meanwhile, scraped into the playoffs by nature of winning all three of its games within its district -- which also featured Dallas Lincoln.
Junior quarterback Ryan Fagan stands to gain the most immediately with Layne in the fold. He'll get his first varsity snap this season as the team's starter.
Parker Robertson and Devontae Williams will be Fagan's top targets. Those two players also should make the secondary the most formidable part of Ferris' defense.
6. Dallas Roosevelt Mustangs
- Coach: Randell Johnson
- 2015 finish: 1-9
- Returning starters: 9 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Victor Parker, Jr., 5-9, 160
- WR/DB Donovan Davidson, Sr., 6-0, 173
2016 outlook: Dallas Roosevelt does not have much of a winning tradition and, as a result, the participation rate is very low.
Fourteen letter winners are back from last season's 20-man roster, but the school counts 16 returning starters because some athletes play both ways.
Roosevelt cannot afford any injuries this season because depth already is razor thin.
Victor Parker had a good sophomore season and should give people a reason to keep an eye on the future of the program. He threw for 1,005 yards and ran for another 231 yards toward seven total touchdowns.