Two traditional Northeast Texas powers Hooks and Daingerfield seem to be in perfect position to battle for the District 7-3A Division II championship in 2016.

Hooks, which reeled off nine consecutive wins to claim the league title a year ago, and the Hornets are one of the most talented 3A teams in the area.

Daingerfield, with a new head coach leading the program, is hopeful that a drop down in classification can help return the Tigers to the top of the mountain.

District 7-3A Division II Preview

New Diana QB Jackson Sampson. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • WR/DB Montrell Estell, Sr., Hooks
  • QB/LB Jordan Soper-Johnson, Sr., Hooks
  • RB/LB Malik Estell, Sr., Hooks
  • DL Cody Davis, Sr., Daingerfield
  • WR/DB Cedric Arthur, Sr., Daingerfield
  • ATH Tyshun Mitchell, Sr., Paul Pewitt
  • RB/DB JaQuan Jackson, Jr., DeKalb
  • RB Nick Hughes, Sr., Ore City
  • QB Jackson Sampson, Jr., New Diana
  • FB/LB Jaeger Jaynes, Sr., Queen City

 

TOP GAMES

  • Daingerfield at White Oak, Sept. 16
  • DeKalb at Ore City, Sept. 30
  • Hooks at Daingerfield, Oct. 14

 

1. Hooks Hornets

Hooks WR/DB Montrell Estell. (Evan Lewis, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Chris Birdwell
  • 2015 finish: 9-2 (3A Division II bi-district finalists)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive

 

Players to watch

  • WR/DB Montrell Estell, Sr., 6-3, 180 (committed to Texas)
  • QB/LB Jordan Soper-Johnson, Sr., 6-0, 195 (committed to Air Force)
  • RB/LB Malik Estell, Sr., 6-1, 175
  • RB/LB Seth Mahar, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • OL/DL Alec Smith, Jr., 6-0, 220
  • WR/DB Logan Murray, Soph.
  • OL/DL Ishmael Threadgill, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • Ol/DL Dylan Pool, Sr.

 

Offense: Hooks' offense was explosive at times and it's easy to understand why with three Division I-caliber players on that side of the ball. Between running back Reshawn Parker (Oklahoma State signee), quarterback Jordan Soper-Johnson (2017 Air Force commit) and receiver Montrell Estell (2017 Texas pledge), the Hornets were among the most talented 3A programs in all of East Texas. Two-thirds of that trio returns as head coach Chris Birdwell expects even more explosiveness in 2016. Hooks will need a couple of newcomers to step up on offense, but with potential standouts Malik Estell, Seth Mahar, and Logan Murray lining the field, the Hornets are a safe bet for offensive excellence this season.

Hooks QB/LB Jordan Soper-Johnson. (Twitter)

Defense: The Hornets' defense was often overlooked in 2015, but it was one of the biggest reasons for its nine-game winning streak. Hooks surrendered less than 12 points per game to opposing offenses, and with six defenders with starting experience returning, the odds of the Hornets remaining solid defensively are very good. Malik and Montrell Estell are legitimately two-way stars, and might be even better on the defensive side of the ball. Hooks will need someone to replace the effectiveness Parker displayed as linebacker a season ago, but the Hornets' defensive line and secondary appear to be solid strengths.

Outlook: Following a season-opening loss to Harmony last year, Hooks reeled off nine consecutive wins before falling to eventual regional semifinalist Arp in the first round of the playoffs, 20-13. Now that Arp has been realigned into a different region, the path has been cleared for Hooks to make a much deeper run in the postseason come November. The Hornets should get challenged by perennial power Daingerfield, which just moved down to 3A Division II, in district, but there's no reason to think Hooks can't make serious noise following the regular season.

 

2. Daingerfield Tigers

Daingerfield WR/DB Cedric Arthur. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Mike Waldie
  • 2015 finish: 5-7 (3A Division I area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR/DB Cedric Arthur, Sr., 6-0, 170
  • RB/LB Chris Castleberry, Jr., 5-7, 180
  • DL Cody Davis, Sr., 6-4, 240
  • OL/DL Dalton Morgan, Sr., 6-0, 225
  • WR/DB Keiston Rushing, Sr., 5-10, 175
  • RB/LB Markevian Grant, Sr., 5-11, 187
  • OL Jordan Williams, Sr.
  • QB Jaukari Woods, Soph., 5-11, 160

Offense: It was an up-and-down season for the Daingerfield offense in 2015, but the numbers can be misleading. The Tigers' non-district schedule was loaded with regional powerhouses Gladewater, Malakoff, Atlanta, Gilmer, and Henderson. Daingerfield lost all five of those games, and averaged just 19.2 points per game. But once district play began, the Tigers' offense began to find a rhythm, putting up an average of 27.4. With a much less challenging non-district schedule and a drop in classification, expect Daingerfield's offensive numbers to trend upward in 2016. The Tigers have five offensive starters back, including receiver Cedric Arthur and running backs Markevian Grant and Chris Castleberry.

Daingerfield RB/LB Markevian Grant. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Daingerfield lost seven defensive starters to graduation, but brings back one of the area's most dominant defenders in senior defensive end Cody Davis. The 6-4, 240-pound disruptor was among the East Texas leaders in sacks and tackles for loss in 2015. Just like their offensive counterparts, the Daingerfield defense performed well once it got past its murder's row of non-district foes. In their first five games of the year, the Tigers yielded an average of 45.5 points per game. Meanwhile in league play, Daingerfield limited opposing offenses to a meager seven points per game on average.

Outlook: Daingerfield responded nicely from its disastrous 1-9 season in 2014 by reaching the playoffs for the eighth times in nine years. Head coach Aric Sardinea took a job in the Houston area in the offseason, and Daingerfield hired East Texas veteran Mike Waldie as his replacement. With a new coach coming in to take over a rejuvenated program, it would not be surprising to see Daingerfield return to prominence.

 

3. Paul Pewitt Brahmas

  • Coach: Ryan Gentry
  • 2015 finish: 8-5 (3A Division II regional semifinalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 2 defensive

Players to watch

  • ATH Tyshun Mitchell, Sr., 5-8, 160
  • OL Jovani Zavala, Sr., 6-1, 265
  • RB Labrandon Houston, Jr., 5-8, 184
  • WR Love White, Sr., 6-2, 190
  • LB Jonah Hungerford, Sr., 5-11, 190

Offense: The 2015 season could not have started out any worse for the Paul Pewitt offense, which didn't score its first points of the year until Week 3. But the Brahmas eventually turned things around by averaging 31.5 points per game the rest of the way in reaching the regional semifinals. Duplicating last year's success on offense might be difficult as Paul Pewitt graduated seven offensive starters. Head coach Ryan Gentry will be relying on several newcomers this season, but has high hopes for the combination of Tyshun Mitchel and Labrandon Houston, who figure to get the lion's share of carries in the Brahmas' run-heavy scheme.

Defense: The Paul Pewitt defense was hit even harder by graduation as only two of last year's starting defenders return to the field. The Brahmas allowed a little more than 20 points per game in 2015, but with so many inexperienced defenders breaking into action, the going may be difficult in the early stages of the season. Paul Pewitt does return hard-hitting linebacker Jonah Hungerford, one of the district's most sound and instinctual defenders.

Outlook: Despite finishing behind Hooks in the district standings a season ago, Paul Pewitt went further in the playoffs, reaching the third round for the first time since 2010. The addition of Daingerfield and a star-studded Hooks roster figure to make it challenging for Paul Pewitt to compete for the district championship. However, it's been nine years since the Brahmas have missed the playoffs, so Paul Pewitt should once again be in the postseason mix.

 

4. DeKalb Bears

  • Coach: Eddy May
  • 2015 finish: 5-6 (3A Division II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 2 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/DB JaQuan Jackson, Jr., 6-0, 170
  • RB KenTavius Williams, Sr., 5-8, 175
  • RB Gavin Flowers, Sr., 5-11, 163
  • OL/DL Deonta Brown, Sr., 6-0, 266
  • OL/DL David Kizer, Sr., 5-8, 205

 

Outlook: DeKalb may only have six returning starters from last year's playoff team, but the Bears' running game should be in good hands. The trio of JaQuan Jackson, KenTavius Williams, and Gavin Flowers each rushed for at least 600 yards in 2015 and combined to run for 18 touchdowns. The offensive line figures to be a strength as well with the return of seniors Deonta Brown and David Kizer. DeKalb broke a three-year playoff drought last season, but it will take some doing for the Bears to get back in 2016. The good news: Ore City, which is moving up from Class 2A, Queen City (1-9 in 2015), and New Diana (0-10) figure to be DeKalb's competition for the district's fourth and final playoff spot.

 

5. Ore City Rebels

  • Coach: Tracy Blankenship
  • 2015 finish: 9-2 (2A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Nick Hughes, Sr., 5-8, 160
  • WR Wesley Chilton, Sr., 6-1, 170
  • OL James Uehling, Jr., 5-6, 179
  • QB Cartea Douglas, Sr., 6-3, 190
  • RB/LB Dustin Ritter, Sr., 5-8, 170
  • WR Tanner Organ, Jr., 6-2, 155
  • RB Jalen Taylor, Jr.
  • OL Seth Allen, Jr., 5-10, 210

Offense: Ore City followed up its breakthrough 2014 campaign with another playoff season last year. The Rebels' offense was among the area's most consistent units in the area, evidenced by its scoring average of more than 30 points per game. Ore City returns quite a few impact performers on the offensive side of the ball, including running back Nick Hughes, quarterback Cartea Douglas, and receiver Wesley Chilton. The question in 2016: how will Ore City handle the step up in classification from Class 2A to 3A. The Rebels arrive in 3A on the heels of two very successful seasons down a classification, so they have a solid foundation to build upon.

Defense: Ore City was outstanding on defense, especially in district play, last year. The Rebels allowed an average of 15.4 points per game, and just 8.0 in league competition. Ore City brings back five defenders with starting experience, including senior linebacker Dustin Ritter, who could be one of the district's top defenders by season's end. But with a step up to 3A in a district with the likes of Hooks, Daingerfield, and Paul Pewitt, it may be a tall task for Ore City to replicate its defensive numbers from 2015.

Outlook: Despite a more challenging schedule in 2016, Ore City still expects to challenge for a playoff spot. The make-or-break game on the Rebels' schedule could be their Sept. 30 clash at home against DeKalb, which may end up deciding the league's last postseason spot.

 

6. New Diana Eagles

New Diana's Dennis Drennon (left), Jacob Choyce (center) and Keonata Davis. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Robbie Coplin
  • 2015 finish: 0-10
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • ATH Jacob Choyce, Soph.
  • WR Keonata Davis, Sr.
  • WR Dennis Drennon, Jr., 6-0, 150
  • FB/DL Cole Freeman, Sr., 6-0, 205
  • QB Jackson Sampson, Jr., 5-10, 155
  • OL Donovan Watley, Jr., 6-0, 215
  • WR/DB Marquice Wilkerson, Jr., 5-6, 149
  • LB Aaron Jahr, Jr., 6-0, 199

Offense: Not much went right for New Diana during its 0-10 season, and the offense definitely had its fair share of struggles. The Eagles averaged less than seven points per game, which pretty much eliminated any chance New Diana had every week. New head coach Robbie Coplin is hoping that with eight returning starters back, the New Diana offense will be much improved in 2016. Quarterback Jackson Sampson was thrown into the fire as a sophomore, and should be better for it moving forward. The Eagles also have a few intriguing pieces at receiver in Jacob Choyce, Keonata Davis, Dennis Drennon, and Marquice Wilkerson.

New Diana ATH Jacob Choyce. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The offensive issues certainly had a negative effect on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles' inability to even sustain drives caused the New Diana defense to be on the field for most of each game. As a result, opposing offenses averaged a staggering 46.6 points per game. Fortunately for New Diana, most of those defenders were underclassmen and return in attempt to make amends. Junior linebacker Aaron Jahr was one of the few individual bright spots in an otherwise dreadful 2015 season for the Eagles' defense.

Outlook: New Diana escaped its brutal district consisting of two-time defending state champion Waskom, and regional powers Arp and West Rusk during realignment. The softer landing spot of 7-3A Division II figures to make the new coaching staff's transition a smooth one. It might be asking a lot for New Diana to challenge for the postseason a year removed from a winless campaign, but expect to see a much-improved product on the field in 2016.

 

7. Queen City Bulldogs

  • Coach: Justin Burk
  • 2015 finish: 1-9
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • FB/LB Jaeger Jaynes, Sr.
  • ATH Josh Henry, Sr., 6-0, 168
  • OL/DL Dylan Savage, Jr.
  • OL/DL Daniel Keene, Jr.
  • RB/DB David Price, Soph.
  • ATH William Harris, Sr., 5-5, 150
  • FB/LB Dwight Glover, Sr.
  • OL/DL Kody Nichols, Soph.

Offense: Scoring points was a challenge for Queen City a season ago. The Bulldogs managed just 16 points per game in 2015, and was limited to eight points or less in four of their 10 games. It all added up to a 1-9 record, and with just four starters returning on the offensive side of the ball, things could get worse before they get better for Queen City's offense. Head coach Justin Burk will rely on several newcomers, but feels confident in proven playmakers Josh Henry, David Price, and William Harris making a difference in 2016.

Defense: Queen City allowed almost 40 points per game last season, and that number will obviously have to come down if the Bulldogs wish to transform into a legitimate playoff contender this fall. Senior linebacker Jaeger Jaynes is a ferocious defender who will be counted upon to provide leadership both on and off the field for a program in need of a culture change.

Outlook: While it seems unlikely Queen City is ready to become a player in the district's playoff race, a step in the right direction is all Coach Burk is looking for in 2016. There is nowhere to go but up for the Bulldogs, who hope to begin the program's turnaround this season.