A decline in enrollment dropped Jasper down in classification, and the UIL didn't stop there. It placed the Bulldogs in District 8-4A Division II, where its fellow members managed to go just 12-29 a season ago.

With several impact performers returning to the field in 2016, Jasper expects to not only have its way in district, but also make some noise in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, new head coach Craig Barker is hoping Tatum can rebound from an unexpected 0-10 season.

District 8-4A Division II Preview

Tatum DL/LB D'Torian Smith. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • RB/LB DeCorrian Holmes, Sr., Jasper
  • WR Lorenzo Thomas, Sr., Jasper
  • DL/LB D'Torian Smith, Sr., Tatum
  • TE Shay Rodgers, Sr., Tatum
  • RB Desmond Shelby, Sr., Diboll
  • DB Wade Finley, Sr., Diboll
  • QB Jake Hugghins, Sr., Rusk
  • RB Sam Thomas, Jr., Rusk
  • RB Paul Reyes, Jr., Huntington
  • OL/DL Eli Steele, Sr., Huntington

 

TOP GAMES

  • Jasper at Silsbee, Sept. 9
  • Huntington at Rusk, Oct. 21
  • Tatum at Jasper, Oct. 21

 

1. Jasper Bulldogs

Jasper QB/DB Jay Adams. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Darrell Barbay
  • 2015 finish: 7-5 (4A Division I area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 4 defensive

 

Players to watch

  • QB/DB Jay Adams, Sr.
  • OL Sabian Bluitt, Sr., 6-5, 330
  • TE/DL Jaquion Daniels, Sr., 6-1, 240
  • WR/DB Reese Durand, Jr., 6-0, 170
  • RB/LB DeCorrian Holmes, Sr., 5-8, 194
  • LB Juvenile Lee, Sr., 5-8, 180
  • WR Lorenzo Thomas, Sr., 6-5, 180
  • RB/LB Kellian Weathered, Sr.

 

Offense: Jasper's offense averaged almost 34 points per game in 2015, but will need a few newcomers to step up this season to replace the production of a couple of key standouts. The Bulldogs lost leading rusher, quarterback Tiger Williams, and tight end Cody Mitchell (Louisiana-Lafayette) to graduation. The good news for head coach Darrell Barbay and company: several seasoned veterans on the offensive side of the ball return in 2016. Running back DeCorrian Holmes posted almost 900 yards rushing a season ago, while receiver Lorenzo Thomas' size makes him a mismatch against most defensive backs. Sabian Bluitt, a 330-pound lineman, packs a punch up front for what could be another strong Jasper offense.

Jasper OL Sabian Bluitt. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The defensive side of the ball was inconsistent for Jasper last season. In their seven wins, the Bulldogs allowed just 16.7 points per game, but in losses, Jasper surrendered an average of 43 points per game to opposing offenses. Despite returning just four defensive starters, Coach Barbay is hoping his defense can perform much better this year. Two players Jasper will be counting on greatly in 2016 are defensive lineman Jaquion Daniels, who posted six sacks last year, and defensive back Reese Durand.

Outlook: Declining enrollment figures caused the UIL to move Jasper down to 4A Division II, and it placed the Bulldogs in what figures to be a very manageable district. Fellow 8-4A D-II members Diboll, Huntington, Rusk, and Tatum combined to post an overall record of 12-29 in 2015. Jasper should navigate through its district fairly easily, but potential trouble lurks in the bi-district round of the playoffs against a loaded field from 7-4A D-II.

 

2. Tatum Eagles

Tatum's Shay Rodgers (left) and D'Torian Smith. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Craig Barker
  • 2015 finish: 0-10
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • DL/LB D'Torian Smith, Sr., 6-3, 226 (committed to Air Force)
  • TE Shay Rodgers, Sr., 6-4, 240
  • OL George Blanton, Sr., 6-0, 270
  • WR D.D. Boyd, Sr., 5-9, 163
  • DB Malcolm Davis, Sr., 5-10, 150
  • RB LeMarcus Harmon, Sr., 5-10, 200
  • WR Spencer Liles, Sr., 6-3, 175
  • DL J.T. Norris, Jr., 5-11, 210

Offense: It was a brutal season for Tatum in 2015, as the Eagles posted their first winless campaign since 1962. While there was plenty of blame to go around, the lack of explosiveness on offense was among the biggest culprits. Tatum managed less than 20 points per game on average, a disappointing figure considering the amount of experience the Eagles had returning to the field. With just four offensive starters back this time around, Tatum will be thin in experience, but that could be a good thing for new coach Craig Barker. While a new quarterback needs to be found, Tatum will build its offense around the abilities of running back LeMarcus Harmon and receiver Spencer Liles, a couple of holdovers from 2015.

Tatum RB LeMarcus Harmon. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: It was just as difficult on the defensive side of the ball for Tatum last season. Opposing offenses put up an average of more than 40 points per game, which put a strain on the Eagles' struggling offense. Fortunately for Tatum, a couple of significant veterans return on defense, including DE/OLB and Air Force commit D'Torian Smith. Lineman J.T. Norris and defensive back Malcolm Davis will also be asked to play crucial roles on Tatum's defense.

Outlook: No one expected an 0-10 season for Tatum last year, and no one expects that from the Eagles this year, either. With a new coaching staff and a fair number of impact performers returning, Tatum should rebound in 2016 with a season more in line with the program's recent history. Few programs in East Texas have collected more wins than Tatum since 2004. The Eagles are an impressive 115-40 over the past 12 years, which gives the current crop of Tatum players a solid foundation to build upon.

 

3. Diboll Lumberjacks

  • Coach: Blake Morrison
  • 2015 finish: 7-4 (4A Division II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Desmond Shelby, Sr., 5-11, 183
  • DB Wade Finley, Sr., 5-9, 140
  • RB Lucio Monroy, Jr., 5-9, 190
  • OL/DL Jovanni Concha, Jr., 6-1, 265
  • OL Daniel Zarzoza, Sr., 6-0, 280
  • OL Jeffery Dover, Sr.

Offense: Diboll experienced great success on the offensive side of the ball in 2015, averaging more than 32 points per game in finishing with a winning record for the first time since 2008. Graduation took a toll for the Lumberjacks, who will need to replace seven starters on offense. Head coach Blake Morrison does have talented senior running back Desmond Shelby returning, along with a solid offensive line, anchored by Jovanni Concha, Daniel Zarzoza, and Jeffery Dover. If the 'Jacks can find consistency at the quarterback position in 2016, Diboll should be in good shape to build on last year's accomplishments.

Defense: It was an up-and-down year for Diboll's defense, which surrendered more than 30 points per game a season ago. With just four players with starting experience returning to the field, Diboll will need a few newcomers to step into big roles on defense. The Lumberjacks do return talented senior defensive back Wade Finley, a solid player for Coach Morrison to build around defensively.

Outlook: Year No. 1 was a success for Morrison, but now the challenge is to continue what was started in 2015. While challenging for a district title might be asking too much, Diboll certainly has the pieces necessary to make a run at another playoff berth. The 'Jacks have not qualified for the postseason in back-to-back years since 2007-08, so there is plenty of motivation for Diboll moving forward.

 

4. Rusk Eagles

Rusk QB Jake Hugghins. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Jowell Hancock
  • 2015 finish: 2-8
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 9 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Jake Hugghins, Sr., 6-2, 190
  • DL Jace Rogers, Jr., 6-3, 200
  • RB Sam Thomas, Jr., 5-9, 190
  • WR Adrian Morris, Jr.
  • DL Jeremiah Lopez, Sr., 5-11, 214
  • LB Bailey Dosser, Sr.
  • WR Jonathan Long, Sr., 5-6, 135
  • RB Damion Freeney, Jr., 5-10, 155

Offense: No school in the district brings back more starters than Rusk, which has six offensive players with starting experience back in the fold. The most important of those is senior quarterback Jake Hugghins, who passed for almost 2,000 yards in 2015. Running back Sam Thomas nearly rushed for 1,000 yards last year as a sophomore, and receiver Adrian Morris is hoping to follow up his strong sophomore season with a breakout 2016 campaign. Despite managing just two wins a year ago, Rusk still averaged more than 27 points per game, so the Eagles appear to be in good shape on the offensive side of the ball.

Defense: Rusk struggled mightily on defense a season ago, surrendering an average of 43.3 points per game to opposing offenses. But with nine returning defensive starters at their disposal, the Eagles expect significant improvement. Among the key returners are the defensive line duo of Jace Rogers and Jeremiah Lopez, while linebacker Bailey Dosser could easily average more than 10 tackles per game in 2016.

Outlook: Not only was last season a difficult one for Rusk, the offseason was just as challenging. The Eagles hired Chip Keel to replace Ted Patton as head coach, but just months into his tenure, he was let go. Rusk finally settled on Jowell Hancock to help right the ship, but the road ahead is a long one. Fortunately for the Eagles, a bevy of impact players are back to help aid the new coaching staff.

 

5. Huntington Red Devils

Huntington's Paul Reyes (left) and Preston Loggins. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Brian Gandy
  • 2015 finish: 3-7
  • Returning starters: 2 offensive, 2 defensive

Players to watch

  • ATH Tre Anderson, Jr.
  • WR/DB Ryan Havard, Sr.
  • FB/LB Preston Loggins, Jr.
  • RB Paul Reyes, Jr., 5-8, 175
  • OL/DL Eli Steele, Sr., 6-4, 308
  • QB Brinden Stephens, Sr., 6-2, 200
  • OL Dillon Glawson, Sr., 5-8, 190
  • DL Blake Lilley, Sr.

Offense: In many ways, the 2015 Huntington season was a historical one. Despite missing out on the playoffs yet again, the Red Devils snapped a 34-game district losing streak, which dated back to 2007. And even though Huntington dropped its next three games to miss out on the postseason, a measure of excitement returned to the Red Devils' program. Huntington averaged a little more than 20 points per game, but graduated its top offensive weapon in running back Jeremiah Robertson, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in just 10 games. Head coach Brian Gandy is counting on Tre Anderson, Ryan Havard, and Paul Reyes to help pick up the slack caused by Robertson's graduation.

Huntington OL/DL Eli Steele. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: While Robertson got most of the headlines for Huntington a season ago, an underrated aspect of the Red Devils' 2015 season was their defense. Opposing offenses managed a mere 26.5 points per game last year, but with just two returning defensive starters, several newcomers will need to step up in order for Huntington to maintain the same level of defensive consistency. Linebacker Preston Loggins and lineman Blake Lilley are a couple of players to watch on the Red Devils' defense.

Outlook: With just five teams competing in District 8-4A Division II, all it really takes to qualify for the playoffs is one victory. And with Huntington picking up a rare league win a season ago, it does not seem like such a stretch for the Red Devils to end a length playoff drought in 2016.