2016 Football Preview: Does Arp Have What It Takes to Unseat Waskom in 9-3A D-II?
Between Waskom, West Rusk, and Arp, District 9-3A Division II sported an 11-2 record in the playoffs.
Waskom won its second consecutive state championship, while West Rusk and Arp did not meet their end until facing Waskom in the postseason.
What's in store for 2016?
A talented Arp squad could make a serious run at Waskom for district supremacy, while Beckville and Harleton make the transition to 3A after successful 2015 seasons in Class 2A.
District 9-3A Division II Preview
- RB Kayce Medlock, Sr., Arp
- WR/DL DeMarvion Overshown, Jr., Arp
- LB Jordan Brantley, Sr., Arp
- RB/DB Jason Jinks, Sr., Waskom
- WR/DL Keylon Johnson, Sr., Waskom
- WR/DB Kevin Jones, Sr., West Rusk
- WR/DB Dylan Parker, Sr., Elysian Fields
- RB/DB Ted Fuller., Sr., Harleton
- TE/DL Jase Dixon, Sr., Beckville
- LB Zeke Adams, Sr., Troup
- Arp at Tatum, Aug. 26
- Waskom at Arp, Sept. 23
- Beckville at Elysian Fields, Oct. 21
1. Arp Tigers
- Coach: Dale Irwin
- 2015 finish: 7-6 (3A Division II regional semifinalist)
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Kayce Medlock, Sr., 5-10, 186 (committed to SMU)
- RB/DB Tray Baker, Sr., 5-7, 150
- LB Jordan Brantley, Sr., 5-9, 200
- RB/LB Jacobe Hunt, Sr., 5-10, 180
- RB/LB Terry Nance, Sr., 5-9, 175
- WR/DL DeMarvion Overshown, Jr., 6-4, 200
- QB Tyler Stewart, Sr., 6-2, 175
- OL/DL Mack Stroupe, Sr., 6-1, 215
Offense: It took a while, but the Arp offense came together nicely toward the end of the 2015 season. The Tigers dropped five of their first six games, and averaged only 23.5 points per game in the process. But Arp then went on a six-game winning streak when it outscored opponents by an average final score of 39-13. Longtime head coach Dale Irwin has plenty of offensive firepower returning this season with eight returning starters, including one of the area's most explosive athletes. Running back Kayce Medlock, despite sharing carries last season, still managed to produce more than 1,000 rushing yards in 2015. The SMU commit is expected to serve a much bigger role this season, which is bad news for Arp opponents.
Defense: Arp's defense mirrored the team's midseason turnaround. In the first six games of the year, the Tigers surrendered an average of 37 points per game, but over the next six, Arp yielded just 13. And just like the offense, the Tigers return eight starters on the defensive side of the ball. Jordan Brantley, Jacobe Hunt, and Terry Nance all come back at linebacker, while the D-line is in good hands with the return of Mack Stroupe and DeMarvion Overshown. If the Arp defense comes along and becomes a real strength, the Tigers have a chance to do some serious damage in 2016.
Outlook: Arp has had to play a backseat to Waskom and its back-to-back state championships the last two seasons, but with a wealth of talent and experience at their disposal, the Tigers believe this may be the year for them to end Waskom's run of district dominance.
2. Waskom Wildcats
- Coach: Whitney Keeling
- 2015 finish: 16-0 (3A Division II champion)
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/DB Jason Jinks, Sr., 5-9, 141
- WR/DL Keylon Johnson, Sr., 6-1, 170
- OL/DL Jack Smith, Jr., 6-3, 260
- OL/DL Bradley Cochran, Jr.
- RB/LB Tay Green, Sr., 5-7, 157
- OL/DL Chris Smith, Jr., 5-9, 280
- RB T.K. Hamilton, Soph.
- LB Chris Stafford, 5-8, 155
Offense: Scoring came easy for Waskom on the way to its second consecutive Class 3A Division II state crown. The Wildcats put up more than 45 points per game, and made it look effortless at times. However, Waskom graduated four-year starter Chan Amie (SMU), who rolled up 2,415 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior. Waskom must replace six other starters on the offensive side of the ball, but the offensive line could be a strength with the return of Jack Smith, Bradley Cochran, and Chris Smith, who all played as sophomores in 2015.
Defense: Waskom may have been even better on the defensive side a season ago, holding opponents to an average of less than 13 points per game. However, Amie had just as big an impact on defense as he did on offense, and will be a difficult man to replace. As a senior, Amie made 190 tackles (44 for loss) with nine sacks and five forced fumbles. With only three returning defenders with starting experience, Waskom coach Whitney Keeling will rely on safety Jason Jinks, who is the Wildcats' most seasoned defensive starter.
Outlook: Waskom begins the 2016 season on a 31-game winning streak, and is 46-2 since the beginning of 2014. But for the first time in quite a while, Waskom will be relying mostly on unproven players this season. The Wildcats graduated several impact performers from their 2014 title team and responded with a 16-0 campaign. While another perfect season might seem unlikely, Waskom has proven in recent years it's not wise to bet against it.
3. West Rusk Raiders
- Coach: John Frazier
- 2015 finish: 12-2 (3A Division II quarterfinalist)
- Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB Kevin Jones, Sr., 6-3, 175
- RB/LB DeVonta Medford, Sr., 6-0, 195
- OL/DL Cameron Richmond, Sr., 6-6, 245
- RB/LB Jacob Waller, Sr., 6-0, 210
- RB Jaylon Garland, Soph., 5-8, 153
- LB Tyree Wilson, Jr., 6-5, 210
- DL Matthew Davidson, Jr., 5-7, 230
- QB/LB LaJavius Harper, Soph., 5-8, 145
Offense: West Rusk enjoyed breakout success in 2015, and the offense certainly played a prominent role in that. The Raiders put up an average of 34 points per game a season ago, but graduated some quality players on the offensive side, including quarterback Dee Starling, running back Nick Ballard, receiver D.J. Hicks, and lineman Corey Brister. The good news for head coach John Frazier is that six offensive starters come back, which could soften the blow graduation delivered over the offseason. Sophomore quarterback LaJavius Harper is small in stature, but will be counted upon to make big plays and direct the offense in 2016.
Defense: The Raiders return seven players with starting experience on the defensive side of the ball, but must find a replacement for linebacker Joe Wright, the heart and soul of the West Rusk "D." Fortunately, senior defensive back Kevin Jones returns after coming down with 10 interceptions as a junior. Despite Wright's absence, the Raiders' linebacking corps appears to be in good shape with DeVonta Medford, Jacob Waller, and Tyree Wilson coming back. Defense was certainly a strength for West Rusk in 2015, as the Raiders yielded a little more than 20 points per game to opposing offenses. With several key players back in the fold, defense could once again lead the way this year.
Outlook: West Rusk won 12 games last season for the first time since 2010, which could perhaps usher in a new era of dominance for the Raiders' program. It won't be easy this season with a loaded Arp team and back-to-back state champion Waskom expected to compete for the district title. But as we found out a year ago, do not underestimate West Rusk.
4. Elysian Fields Yellowjackets
- Coach: Scott Ford
- 2015 finish: 4-6
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB Dylan Parker, Sr., 6-4, 180
- RB/LB T.J. Ratliffe, Jr., 5-11, 165
- WR/DB Sharay Ratliffe, Sr., 5-10, 170
- OL/DL Malik Johnson, Jr., 6-3, 275
- OL/DL Cole Stillman, Sr., 5-10, 250
- DL Austin Vallejio, Sr., 5-10, 190
- OL Jade Ashalintubbi, Soph., 6-5, 300
- DB Caleb Mosley, Jr., 6-1, 160
Offense: Elysian Fields might have underachieved as a team last season, but the Yellowjackets' offense certainly held up its end of the bargain. The 'Jackets averaged more than 30 points per game, and there are quite a few important offensive pieces returning to the field in 2016. Chief among them is senior receiver Dylan Parker, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving plateau and caught 18 touchdown passes as a junior. T.J. Ratliffe is ready to fill the void at running back created by Kyree Ratliffe's graduation, while senior Sharay Ratliffe is capable of becoming the perfect compliment to Parker in the receiving corps.
Defense: It was a struggle on the defensive side of the ball in 2015 for Elysian Fields, which surrendered an average of 34.3 points per game. During the Yellowjackets' crucial four-game losing streak to end the season, they allowed almost 44 per game. Head coach Scott Ford is hopeful those numbers improve moving forward with six defensive starters coming back. Linemen Malik Johnson, Cole Stillman, and Austin Vallejio will set the tone for the EF defensive unit.
Outlook: Elysian Fields began the 2015 season with high expectations; some preseason publications even picked the 'Jackets to unseat Waskom as district champions. But a tough four-game losing streak to end the year cost EF a chance at making the playoffs. However, the sun was risen on a new football season, and Elysian Fields has all the ingredients needed to challenge for the postseason in 2016.
5. Beckville Bearcats
- Coach: Mike Bickham
- 2015 finish: 11-2 (2A Division I regional semifinalist)
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- OL Robert Baker, Sr., 6-0, 240
- WR Zach Collins, Sr., 6-0, 160
- OL Ty Jones, Jr.
- RB Jayvon Lewis, Sr., 5-5, 139
- QB Trey Lindsay, Jr., 5-11, 150
- LB TyKembo Osborn, Sr.
- TE/LB Jase Dixon, Sr., 5-10, 180
- OL/DL Brandon Campos, Jr.
Offense: Beckville's offense was in a rhythm all season last year, averaging more than 41 points per game. The Bearcats rode that offense to an 11-win season and berth in the Class 2A Division I regional semifinals. Beckville graduated one of its biggest offensive weapons in running back Jacari Reed, so first-year coach Mike Bickham will be looking for new playmakers in 2016. Luckily, the Bearcats have several key pieces returning, including quarterback Trey Lindsay, receiver Zach Collins, and linemen Robert Baker, Ty Jones, and Brandon Campos. It may be difficult to find the level of production the 2015 offense had, but don't expect that big of a drop-off this fall.
Defense: As with any quality team, consistent play on the defensive side of the ball is a pre-requisite. Last season, Beckville held opponents to just 18.3 points per game. Graduation took its toll, however, as the Bearcats will be breaking in seven new defensive starters. Two of the holdovers on defense -- linebackers Jase Dixon and TyKembo Osborn -- are expected to lead the way.
Outlook: It's hard to imagine Beckville achieving the same level of success it did a season ago in 2A. With the Bearcats' ascension to Class 3A and with their being placed in a district with the likes of Arp, Waskom, West Rusk, and Elysian Fields, Beckville will definitely have its work cut out in trying to return to the postseason in 2016.
6. Harleton Wildcats
- Coach: Terry Ward
- 2015 finish: 6-6 (2A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/DB Ted Fuller, Sr., 5-11, 200
- OL/DL Zane Campbell, Sr., 6-2, 178
- QB/DB Will Davis, Sr., 5-11, 160
- RB/LB Cade Dickeson, Sr., 5-11, 166
- WR/DB Hayden Stanley, Sr., 5-11, 155
- TE/DL Andy Ward, Sr., 6-2, 212
- RB Mason Goode, Sr., 5-11, 170
- OL Dillon King, Sr.
Offense: Harleton made the most of what turned out to be its last season in Class 2A for a while by reaching the playoffs. The Wildcats broke even with six wins and six losses in 2015, but the offense struggled at times. Harleton averaged a little more than 22 points per game, but with eight returning starters on offense, head coach Terry Ward is confident those numbers will climb in 2016. The biggest reason for optimism is senior running back Ted Fuller, who posted more than 1,700 yards on the ground and rushed for 20 touchdowns as a junior. Quarterback Will Davis, receiver Hayden Stanley, and tight end Andy Ward also return for what could be a solid offensive season for Harleton.
Defense: Despite the ups and downs on offense, the Harleton defense delivered a solid 2015 campaign. The Wildcats yielded an average of just 21 points per game, and held opponents to six points or less three times. Coach Ward welcomes back seven returning starters on the defensive side of the ball, which should help Harleton make the difficult transition from 2A to 3A.
Outlook: Harleton and Beckville are in the same boat, going up a class after enjoying success in 2A the year before. The Wildcats' chances of challenging for a postseason spot hinge on the offense's ability to pick up their production after underachieving a year ago. That makes Fuller, who could get as many as 30 touches per game, one of the district's most important players.
7. Troup Tigers
- Coach: John Eastman
- 2015 finish: 1-9
- Returning starters: 9 offensive, 10 defensive
Players to watch
- LB Zeke Adams, Sr., 5-10, 185
- OL Brandon Casteel, Sr.
- OL/DL Reece Clark, Sr.
- WR/DB Drake Colvin, Sr.
- DL Chris Phillips, Sr., 6-0, 170
- RB/LB Ramiro Martinez, Jr.
- TE/DL Shane Thomas, Jr., 6-4, 215
- ATH Demontrae Wade, Jr., 6-0, 190
Offense: Not much went right for Troup last season as the Tigers finished 1-9, their worst season since 2010's winless campaign. Offensive production was at a premium in 2015 as Troup managed just a little more than 17 points per game. Fortunately for new coach John Eastman, the Tigers bring back all but two starters on the offensive side of the ball. If Troup can find the end zone with more regularity this fall, the Tigers can begin the process of rebuilding a program that was once a beacon of excellence in East Texas.
Defense: The defense had its fair share of shortcomings a season ago as well. Troup allowed 36.8 points per game in 2015, which coupled with a struggling offense, made for a difficult season all the way around. However, there was a silver lining: Troup was forced to play several underclassmen on the defensive side of the ball a season ago, and most of the Tigers' defense returns intact.
Outlook: Troup has just three wins total over the last two seasons, and with a fourth coaching change since 2005, the Tigers' program has certainly fallen on hard times. But with 19 returning starters, and the excitement that comes with a new coach and new season, Troup might be on its way to brighter days.