Jacksonville, Lindale, Nacogdoches and Whitehouse were parts of the best top-to-bottom Class 5A district in the state the past two seasons. Things have changed a little bit and should be more fair for the group of four East Texas teams plus their regular out-of-region adversaries in Corsicana and Ennis.

The University Interscholastic League plucked away John Tyler and Lufkin and promoted them to the Class 6A level due to growing student populations.

And who did the UIL replace those guys with? No one.

Since John Tyler and Lufkin reached the playoffs and occupied two of four postseason seeds last year, that means at least two teams that didn't reach the playoffs last season are going to get that experience and should be able to build upon it.

Lindale and Ennis are the only two teams that reached a year ago. How has graduation shaken those teams up?

Corsicana and Nacogdoches are awfully upset Lindale was able to get to the playoffs despite a three-team tie for the fourth and final playoff berth. Are they in with the two freed up spots?

It's easy to see Whitehouse enjoying a bounce-back year. Are they back in the top four picture?

Jacksonville? With Cameron High back along with some critical offensive line pieces, are they a big surprise awaiting the league?

ETSN.fm's picks for District 17-5A are here.

Jacksonville ATH Cam High. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

District 17-5A Preview

PLAYMAKERS

  • OL Deven Collins, Sr., Ennis
  • DL Terrell Cooper, Sr., Lindale
  • DB/WR Trevor Denbow, Sr., Corsicana
  • QB Cameron High, Sr., Jacksonville
  • QB Noah Hildebrand, Sr., Nacogdoches
  • RB Kyree Holloway, Sr., Ennis
  • RB/LB Wooda Johnson, Sr., Jacksonville
  • RB Phillip Jones, Sr., Nacogdoches
  • LB/RB Khyree Key, Sr., Whitehouse
  • QB Kishawn Kelly, Sr., Corsicana
  • WR Jaylon Maxie, Sr., Nacogdoches
  • QB Montana Meador, Sr., Lindale
  • RB Jamicah Polk, Sr., Corsicana
  • LB Kale Ridge, Sr., Lindale
  • QB Tanner Roach, Sr., Whitehouse
  • OL Trendon Rolen, Sr., Ennis
  • RB/LB Braylon Shackelford, Sr., Whitehouse
  • TE Cameron Sir Louis, Sr., Lindale
  • DB Josh Thompson, Sr., Nacogdoches
  • RB Tycen Thompson, Jr., Ennis
  • RB John Woods, Sr., Corsicana

TOP GAMES

  • Nacogdoches at Lindale, Oct. 7
  • Nacogdoches at Corsicana, Oct. 14
  • Jacksonville at Whitehouse, Oct. 14
  • Ennis at Lindale, Oct. 14
  • Corsicana at Lindale, Oct. 21
  • Nacogdoches at Ennis, Oct. 28
  • Lindale at Jacksonville, Oct. 28
  • Whitehouse at Lindale, Nov. 4
  • Ennis at Corsicana, Nov. 4

1. Ennis Lions

 

  • Coach: Jack Alveraz
  • 2015 finish: 6-5 (5A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB Tycen Thompson, Jr., 5-9, 170
  • OL Deven Collins, Sr., 6-2, 305
  • OL Trendon Rolen, Sr., 6-4. 305
  • RB Kyre Holloway, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • LB Brandon Bata, Sr., 5-10, 185
  • LB/WR Kevyon Davis, Jr., 6-0, 180
  • TE/WR J.T. Mackey, Sr., 6-3, 185
  • DL Jaylan Hill, Sr., 6-2, 275

2016 outlook: Ennis is now two seasons removed from a Class 5A Division II state championship and starting in a very similar position to last year. The past season's team had seven returning starters. This team has eight, four on both sides of the ball.

Last year's team was upset by Hallsville in the first round of the 5A Division II playoffs after a third-place finish in the league behind John Tyler and Lufkin.

Why could this season be different? For starters, John Tyler and Lufkin are gone and participating at the state's highest level -- Class 6A. But, more than that, the experienced players really compliment what Ennis football is about.

Head coach Jack Alveraz's team is, by far, the most physical in the district with a power run game and a defense that puts more value on its front than backfield. Retaining the services of 305-pound offensive linemen Devon Collins and Trendon Rollin gives this team a boost right off the bat. Behind them, running back Tycen Thompson ran for 1,1,259 yards and 15 touchdowns as the offense's feature back.

Kyre Holloway will compliment Thompson, who is now the lead back.

Defensively, Ennis has a lot of weight at the middle spots. Linebackers Brandon Bata and Kevyon Davis are back and combined for 131 tackles a year ago.

Jaylan Hill gives the front a bite at 275 pounds from his end spot.

Ennis also does a good job producing athletes as exemplified by its 2014 title and a fantastic run of teams between 2000 and 2005.

This team is just a few skill players away from contending for a state championship. If it finds those guys, look out.

Anyway, Ennis attacks teams differently than the rest of the district. It's not a routine game for the opposing five teams in the league.

 

2. Corsicana Tigers

  • Coach: Steve Hoffman
  • 2015 finish: 6-4
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB Kishawn Kelley, Sr., 6-2, 202
  • WR/DB Trevor Denbow, Sr., 6-0, 190
  • RB Jamicah Polk, Sr., 5-6, 160
  • RB John Woods, Sr., 5-10, 160
  • LB Caleb Johnson, Sr., 5-11, 220
  • LB Desmond Hawkins, Sr., 5-10, 215

2016 outlook: Corsicana was a victim of scheduling last season. Needing to win a final district game, it got the brunt of the district's best teams the last three weeks of the year and could not steal a game. It tied with Lindale and Nacogdoches for fourth place in the final standings and Lindale was awarded the playoff berth based on head-to-head point differential.

Most of the team is back from that disappointment. Corsicana returns 15 starters, including all of its most essential offensive skill position players.

Dual-threat quarterback Kishawn Kelley recorded 1,157 total yards last season and 11 total touchdowns. Running backs Jamicah Polk and John Woods went for 1,065 and 715 yards, respectively, in 10 games.

If Corsicana finds the right fits along the offensive line, it's going to be a tough team to slow down.

The team is in an even better position defensively -- where eight of the 15 starters are located. Those guys averaged 25.6 points against per game last year as underclassmen.

Corsicana is pretty mad about being left out of the postseason. With two of four playoff spots opening up for new teams in the absence of John Tyler and Lufkin, look for it to get into the big dance pretty easily.

3. Nacgodoches Dragons

Nacogdoches RB Phillip Jones. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Bobby Reyes
  • 2015 finish: 4-6
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • DB Josh Thompson, Sr., 6-0, 187
  • RB Phillip Jones, Sr., 5-9, 163
  • QB Noah Hildebrand, Sr., 6-1, 180
  • WR/DB Jaylon Maxie, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • DL Brad Phillips, Sr., 6-3, 210
  • WR/DB Kris Wade, Jr., 6-0, 170
  • DL Benjamin Gibbs, Sr., 5-9, 180
  • OL Harrison Gibbs, Sr., 6-1, 270
Nacogdoches QB Noah Hildebrand.

Offense: Continuity is not an issue for the Dragons with nine offensive starters back in the fold.

The three most important skill players are Noah Hildebrand, running back Phillip Jones and receiver Jaylon Maxie.

Hildebrand is a Arkansas-Monticello commitment, an NCAA Division II caliber prospect. Maxie holds an offer from Stephen F. Austin. Jones is playing for a post-high school career after going for 1,274 hard yards on 259 carries a season ago.

This will be Hildebrand's second year under center at Nacogdoches and his third year as a starter in total. He was the starter at Bossier City (La.) Airline as a sophomore.

Head coach Bobby Reyes takes great pride in trench play. Those guys are always in his first breath when reviewing a good game.

There's a lot of continuity along the offensive line. Harrison Gibbs headlines the unit.

Nacogdoches DL Brad Phillips. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Nacogdoches will enjoy its third straight blue chip defensive back this season in Texas cornerback commitment Josh Thompson. For the Dragons, Thompson will play safety because it's a more complex position head coach Bobby Reyes thinks the future Longhorns player can handle.

One of Thompson's biggest assets this season will be his intimidation. It's a lot easier to defend the field when one side is covered by him at safety. You just don't want to prod someone who has generated 24 major college football offers since the offseason began.

It's not just hype. Thompson won the defensive most valuable player award at the ETSN.fm + APEC Football Recruiting Combine in May.

Seven players, including Thompson, are back on the defensive side of the ball. The carryovers were part of a unit last season that averaged 26.1 points against per game, which reflects offensive issues more than defensive ones.

Defensive line should be the Dragons' absolute strength. End Brad Phillips and tackle Benjamin Gibbs can be stacked together to crip down half the offensive line without even considering who's there on the other half of the field.

Opposing teams are going to be reduced to taking intermediate gains over the defensive front and under the secondary. Expect Nacogdoches to capitalize on turnovers this season with their defensive strengths and offensive improvement.

2016 outlook: What else is there to say?

Nacogdoches passes all the preseason benchmarks that would suggest it will be an improved team in 2016. And it tied with Corsicana and Lindale for fourth place last season, with that fourth and final playoff berth going to Lindale.

The Dragons should benefit from the absences of John Tyler and Lufkin and reach the postseason for the third time in four seasons.

Five years ago, the program went 0-10. It has not been a bad turnaround.

4. Lindale Eagles

Lindale LB Kale Ridge. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Mike Meador
  • 2015 finish: 5-6 (5A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 3 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
  • LB Kale Ridge, Sr., 6-2, 215
  • DL Terrell Cooper, Sr., 6-3, 240
  • TE Cameron Sir Louis, Sr., 6-4, 220
  • QB Montana Meador, Sr., 5-11, 162
  • DB De'vion Dingle, Sr., 6-2, 160
  • OL Matt Coley, Sr., 6-0, 230
  • WR Joe Noble, Jr., 6-3, 180
  • WR Colton Brown, Soph., 6-0, 175
Lindale QB Montana Meador. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Lindale's 2015 team performed the same way as a boxer. It relied on defense and counters in the form of big plays.

Unfortunately, the biggest offensive playmakers from last season's team have graduated and are playing college football. Running back and the receiver spots are serious questions that need to be addressed before entering the district schedule.

Quarterback Montana Meador is someone the team can lean on as a senior. The signal caller has started 16 games and has been the offense's bus driver. This year, the team is optimistic he can open things up in the running game with his athleticism and the natural fact quarterbacks operate in open space.

Passing wise, Meador will get to work with big but unproven targets aside from proven tight end Cameron Sir Louis, who owns an NCAA Division II offer ahead of the campaign.

Joe Noble, at 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, is a second big target and will probably emerge as the team's most athletic perimeter player. You can't double up Noble because Sir Louis can overload the defense while receiver Colton Brown is supposed to be a burner as a varsity rookie.

Lindale DL Terrell Cooper. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Lindale possessed East Texas' best big school defense last season by a significant margin. But it was sliced up by graduation nearly as bad as the offensive side, and it was far and away more valuable.

If the team could have only picked two players to return, however, those two players would have been defensive tackle Terrell Cooper and linebacker Kale Ridge. Cooper has the higher college ceiling, based on his offer list, but Ridge is going to be the more valuable player here on the high school level with the flexibility to play linebacker or even creep up and play an edge role.

Lindale's flexibility to shift fronts by using Ridge will undoubtedly confuse opposing offenses at times.

Together, Cooper and Ridge should be able hold together the Eagles' reputation as a program with a great defensive front.

The situation in the backfield is much murkier. De'Vion Dingle is the sole returner.

2016 outlook: On one hand, we're pessimistic about the defense's ability to maintain its averaged of just 20.8 points surrendered per game with half of the 2015 defense gone.

On the other hand, we're optimistic the offense can improve its 24.3 points per game with complicated receiver match ups even ahead of Lindale announcing its starting running back and other players around the offense.

The Eagles strengths and weaknesses have balanced out in recent years, and the team has noticeably become bigger and more athletic recently. We're expecting an above-average and balanced team.

Lindale won't be an easy team to dispose of and it's sophisticated enough to win particular match ups against any team.

A clear goal for the Eagles is reaching the postseason by utilizing its match ups and taking it from there.

5. Whitehouse Wildcats

Whitehouse LB Khyree Key. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Adam Cook
  • 2015 finish: 2-8
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB Tanner Roach, Sr., 6-0, 170
  • LB/RB Khyree Key, Sr., 6-2, 243
  • LB/RB Braylon Shackelford, Sr., 5-11, 190
  • WR/LB Isaac Little, Sr., 6-0, 195
  • DB/WR Javier Neal, Jr., 5-10, 155
  • WR/DB Zach Parker, Sr., 6-1, 185
  • WR/DB Seth Dolan, Jr., 6-0, 155
Whitehouse QB Tanner Roach. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: It should be business at usual at Whitehouse.

The Wildcats love to trot out a bevy of universal athletes. Pounding running backs that double as linebackers and deep wealth at the receiver spots backed up by a formidable offensive line.

Quarterback issues have plagued the team since Patrick Mahomes II played his final game in 2013. Whitehouse has not used a signal caller wire-to-wire since.

Bank on Tanner Roach going wire-to-wire this season. Also a premiere shortstop on the Wildcats' regional championship baseball team, Roach completed 60.6 percent of his 165 throws for 1,183 yards while splitting time with the now-graduated Collin Bullard.

When you pair all those things, Whitehouse should be as explosive as ever since the Mahomes era ended.

Whitehouse DB Javier Neal. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Whitehouse surrendered an unacceptable 42.5 points per game last season en route to a very surprising 2-8 final record and 0-7 record within league play.

Nine starters are back on defense, so that number should drop with experience.

Khyree Key headlined a group of heavy linebackers, the absolute strength of the defensive unit.

The secondary should be able to rely on the athleticism the Wildcats program always seems to produce. Javier Neal leads the defensive backfield off 60 tackles and two interceptions a season ago.

2016 outlook: This is the team that could appear out of thin air and become a serious contender for the district crown. Similar to what Lindale did last season.

There are some reservations, however.

Both sides of the ball have a long way to go to make the playoffs. While the defense gave up 42.5 points per game, the offense mustered 27.1 points per game.

Sixteen returning starters is reason enough to think both offense and defense will improve in 2016. Will their race to meet each other be enough though?

6. Jacksonville Indians

Jacksonville OL Jadarius Blake. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Wayne Coleman
  • 2015 finish: 2-8
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB/ATH Cameron High, Sr., 5-9, 158
  • RB/LB Wooda Johnson, Sr., 5-9, 210
  • LB/RB Josh McDowell, Sr., 6-3, 200
  • OL/DL Jadarius Blake, Sr., 6-3, 270
  • OL/DL Justin Crowe, Sr., 6-2, 265
  • WR/DB Camryn Franklin, Sr., 6-3, 170
  • DL Zandrick Morrow, Sr.
Jacksonville OL Justin Crowe. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Jacksonville might possess the most fearless player in the district in quarterback and universal athlete Cameron High. He's undersized, but he ran for 1,592 yards last season on 231 carries and threw for another 366 yards.

A good-sized offensive line should mean another good season for High as a senior.

But this is an offense that has to diversify to compete with the rest of the district. It's too simple for opposing defenses to key on just one player.

Running backs Wooda Johnson and Josh McDowell are durable backs that can utilize the same line.

Jacksonville RB/LB Wooda Johnson. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Jacksonville brings back five starters from a unit that must improve after giving up an average of 40.9 points per game.

The Indians have good size at the linebacker spots and will have to lean on them because they're undersized elsewhere other than the tackle spots.

 

2016 outlook: Depth is the biggest issue facing head coach Wayne Coleman.

Good non-district games against Pine Tree, Palestine, Hallsville, Mount Pleasant and Alvarado should provide a nice mix of challenges ahead of the league schedule. Hopefully, the time finds a few pleasant surprises during the course of those games.