An East Texas presence in the state's largest classification will be on full display in District 11-6A this season as John Tyler and Longview make the jump up from 5A.

How that will affect the league race remains to be seen.

John Tyler returns some awfully talented playmakers, while Longview will be busy trying to vill several voids left by graduation.

Meanwhile, Tyler Lee looks to get back on track under first-year head coach Clayton George, a former offensive guru at Southlake Carroll.

District 11-6A Preview

Longview DB Traveion Webster. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • WR Sam Crawford, Sr., Rockwall
  • ATH Korrey Barron, Jr., Rockwall
  • QB Bryson Smith, Sr., John Tyler
  • WR Damion Miller, Sr., John Tyler
  • QB/ATH Ja'Quez Gooch, Sr., North Mesquite
  • RB Dreshawn Minnieweather, Sr., North Mesquite
  • DB Traveion Webster, Sr., Longview
  • QB Gaylon Wiley, Sr., Longview
  • WR/DB Grant Buckholt, Sr., Rockwall-Heath
  • QB Chris Robison, Sr., Mesquite Horn
  • QB Chance Amie, Jr., Tyler Lee
  • DB Makyle Sanders, Sr., Tyler Lee

 

TOP GAMES

  • Longview at Marshall, Sept. 2
  • Rockwall at John Tyler, Sept. 16
  • John Tyler at Longview, Oct. 21

 

1. Rockwall Yellowjackets

  • Coach: Rodney Webb
  • 2015 finish: 10-4 (6A Division II quarterfinalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 4 defensive

 

Players to watch

  • WR Sam Crawford, Sr., 6-1, 190
  • ATH Korrey Barron, Jr., 5-10, 230
  • RB/DB A.J. Blacknall, Sr., 5-7, 195
  • QB Matt Jones, Sr., 5-11, 170
  • WR Cameron Crayton, Jr., 6-2, 180

 

Outlook: It's been an excellent couple of seasons for Rockwall, which enters the 2016 season on the heels of a trip to the 6A Division II quarterfinals. In the last two years, the Yellowjackets are 22-4, and have gone at least three rounds deep in the playoffs both seasons. With several impact performers returning to the field this fall, expect Rockwall's winning ways to continue. Receiver Sam Crawford, a major Division I recruit, is back after catching 77 passes for 1,459 yards and 15 touchdowns a season ago. Senior Matt Jones takes over at quarterback, and a few new weapons will need to be discovered for the 'Jackets. Cameron Crayton is hoping to follow his strong sophomore campaign at receiver.

 

2. John Tyler Lions

John Tyler WR Damion Miller. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Ricklan Holmes
  • 2015 finish: 8-4 (5A Division I area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 8 defensive

 

Players to watch

  • QB Bryson Smith, Sr., 6-0, 175 (committed to Houston)
  • WR Damion Miller, Sr., 6-2, 195 (committed to Texas)
  • DB Javonta Mosley, Sr., 6-2, 175 (committed to UTSA)
  • DL/LB DeKalen Goodson, Jr., 6-2, 215
  • LB Tre Allison, Jr., 6-2, 200
  • WR Ke'Andre Street, Soph., 6-4, 195
  • DB Kieran Freeman, Sr., 5-9, 170
  • LB Shaundrick Williams, Sr., 5-11, 220

 

Offense: Following a slow start to the 2015 season, the John Tyler offense began to hit its stride down the stretch. The Lions struggled to an 0-3 beginning last year, but won their next eight, averaging more than 43 points per game in the process. One of the biggest reasons for the improvement was the development of quarterback Bryson Smith, who returns to lead the offense as a senior. Smith, who has committed to Houston, passed for 2,415 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions a year ago. He added a team-leading 1,421 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground as well. Also returning to the offense is receiver and Texas pledge Damion Miller, who caught 41 passes for a team-best 912 yards and nine scores in 2015.

John Tyler DL DeKalen Goodson. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The John Tyler defense graduated a couple of stalwarts up front in linemen Braylon Jones (Houston) and Pierre Leonard (Texas A&M-Commerce), but the Lions have plenty of talent returning to the defensive side of the ball. Junior end DeKalen Goodson, who has already caught the attention of major college programs, will be the Lions' primary pass-rusher after he totaled six sacks as a sophomore. The linebacking corps should be a strength as well with the return of senior Shaundrick Williams and junior Tre Allison, another Division I recruit. Cornerback and UTSA commit Javonta Mosley headlines a talented secondary, which also welcomes back Kieran Freeman, who led JT with five interceptions a season ago.

Outlook: John Tyler has gone 63-19 the last six seasons at the 5A/4A level, but now takes its program back up to Class 6A. The Lions will be tested in non-district with games against Plano West, Ennis, and Louisiana power New Orleans Warren Easton. JT certainly has the talent to compete at the state's highest level, but depth may become an issue for the Lions later on during the season. With offensive stars like Smith and Miller expected to play some on defense, the Lions can't afford to lose either one to injury for any extended stretches of the year.

 

3. North Mesquite Stallions

  • Coach: Mike Robinson
  • 2015 finish: 10-3 (6A Division I regional semifinalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/ATH Ja'Quez Gooch, Sr., 5-8, 185
  • LB Dillon Owens, Sr., 6-0, 195
  • DL Stephen Turner, Sr., 6-2, 230
  • RB Dreshawn Minnieweather, Sr., 6-0, 205
  • WR Donte Howell, Sr., 6-3, 192

Outlook: North Mesquite enjoyed breakout success a season ago by capturing 10 wins and reaching the third round of the playoffs. And with 13 starters returning, the Stallions feel awfully good about their chances of continuing to trend upward. North Mesquite will count on the offensive trio of quarterback Ja'Quez Gooch, running back Dreshawn Minnieweather, and receiver Donte Howell to pile up the points in 2016. Last season, the Stallions averaged more than 38 points per game, so head coach Mike Robinson is hopeful that those numbers will carry over this fall. Defensively, North Mesquite will build around the play of lineman Stephen Turner and linebacker Dillon Owens.

 

4. Longview Lobos

Longview QB Gaylon Wiley. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: John King
  • 2015 finish: 11-3 (5A Division I quarterfinalist)
  • Returning starters: 2 offensive, 2 defensive

Players to watch

  • DB Traveion Webster, Sr., 6-0, 215
  • OL Kendall Starling, Sr., 6-3, 300
  • QB Gaylon Wiley, Sr., 6-4, 185
  • RB D'Crayvan Polk, Sr., 5-9, 180
  • RB/LB Kendravian White, Sr., 5-9, 215
  • LB Ja'Quavion Faggans, Sr., 5-9, 185
  • TE Jaylin Brown, Jr., 6-4, 225
  • WR Eric Timberlake, Jr., 5-10, 165

Offense: Graduation hit the Longview offense hard, as the Lobos must replace their starting quarterback, three of their top four rushers, their three top receivers, and several key offensive linemen. However, longtime head coach John King feels good about the players he has coming up through the program. The Longview JV posted a perfect 10-0 record in 2015, and the Lobos will count on several of those players to help lead the way this year. Senior Gaylon Wiley, after backing up starter Michael Ross a season ago, will get the nod at quarterback. D'Crayvan Polk, who managed more than 800 rushing yards as junior, will share ball-carrying duties with senior Kendravian White. The receiving corps figures to be a work in progress, but expect promising juniors Jaylin Brown and Eric Timberlake to emerge.

Longview RB D'Crayvan Polk. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Just like the offense, the Longview defense will need to replace several key members of last year's unit. One player Coach King is happy to have back is senior defensive back Traveion Webster, a Division I recruit, who started at safety in 2015 after spending the first two years of high school career at quarterback and fullback, respectively. Senior linebacker Ja'Quavion Faggans is another potential bright spot for the Longview defense, which will try to build upon the success of last year's group. Last season, the Lobos surrendered 16.7 points per game in helping Longview reach the state quarterfinal round of the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Outlook: It's never wise to bet against the Longview Lobos, even if most of this year's players will be first-year starters. Coach King has a proven track record, having guided Longview to the playoffs all 12 years he's been in charge. The Lobos are a remarkable 131-31 under King, a run that includes nine seasons with at least 10 wins. Longview has played at the 5A level the last couple of seasons and flourished with a 20-6 overall record, but the Lobos have won at the state's highest level before, as evidenced by Longview's proud history in the last decade-plus.

 

5. Rockwall-Heath Hawks

  • Coach: Mickey Moss
  • 2015 finish: 8-4 (5A Division I area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR/DB Grant Buckholt, Sr., 6-3, 185
  • LB Desmon Williams, Jr., 6-1, 234
  • DB Tanner McCalister, Jr., 6-0, 185
  • DB Tyrus Fort, Jr., 5-10, 160
  • QB Canaan Smith, Sr., 5-11, 210

Outlook: Just like John Tyler and Longview, Rockwall-Heath makes the move up from Class 5A to 6A, and like the Lions, the Hawks have several experienced veterans returning to action. Among the 15 returning starters is two-way standout Grant Buckholt, who has the potential to become an all-district performer on both sides of the ball at receiver and safety. Heath also has experience at quarterback as head coach Mickey Moss welcomes back senior Canaan Smith. Defensively, the Hawks should be solid with junior linebacker Desmon Williams, and junior defensive backs Tanner McCalister and Tyrus Fort back in the mix.

 

6. Mesquite Horn Jaguars

  • Coach: Mike Overton
  • 2015 finish: 6-5 (6A Division II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Chris Robison, Sr., 6-2, 195
  • LB Chika Nwabuko, Sr., 6-0, 245
  • DL Junius King, Sr., 6-1, 305
  • DB Chris Hawkins, Sr., 6-2, 195
  • RB Elton Taylor, Sr., 5-7, 170

Outlook: Half of the starters return for the Jaguars, who reached the playoffs a season ago. Senior quarterback Chris Robison might end up being the district's most productive signal-caller, while running back Elton Taylor's speed makes him a threat to go the distance any time he hits the open field. Defensively, Horn will be led by a trio of gifted performers in 300-pound lineman Junius King, linebacker Chika Nwabuko, and defensive back Chris Hawkins. Six of the eight teams in 11-6A reached the playoffs a season ago, and Horn will be one of the squads hoping to be playing beyond the regular season again.

 

7. Mesquite Skeeters

  • Coach: Robbie Robinson
  • 2015 finish: 5-5
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Anthony Tennison, Sr., 6-2, 185
  • DB Chris Crosby, Sr., 5-10, 165
  • DL Jarryn Forbit, Sr., 6-0, 235
  • LB Robert Presley, Sr., 5-8, 185
  • DB Antonio Taylor, Sr., 5-9, 155

Outlook: Mesquite broke even in 2015, and missed out on the playoffs. With 11 starters coming back, head coach Robbie Robinson is hoping the Skeeters can end the postseason hiatus. Of the seven returning starters on offense, senior quarterback Anthony Tennison will be asked to do much of the heavy lifting. The defensive side of the ball figures to be in good hands as well with the return of lineman Jarryn Forbit, linebacker Robert Presley, and defensive backs Chris Cosby and Antonio Taylor. It won't be easy to reach the playoffs in a district with so much depth, but if the breaks bounce the right way, Mesquite could see itself returning to the postseason in 2016.

 

8. Tyler Lee Red Raiders

Tyler Lee QB Chance Amie. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Clayton George
  • 2015 finish: 5-5
  • Returning starters: 3 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • DB Makyle Sanders, Sr., 6-2, 185
  • QB Chance Amie, Jr., 6-4, 205
  • DL Campbell Miller, Sr., 6-2, 260
  • LB/DB Royland Black, Sr., 5-11, 178
  • WR Isaiah Davison, Sr., 5-9, 145
  • WR Keashun Davis, Sr., 6-1, 156
  • OL Davone Morgan, Sr., 5-11, 275
  • WR/LB Rhett Parker, Jr., 5-8, 150

Offense: The offensive side of the ball certainly wasn't the problem for Tyler Lee in 2015. Despite losing starting quarterback Zach Hall (SFA) to injury for a few games in the middle of the season, Tyler Lee still managed to average 44.8 points per game. The silver lining in losing Hall for an extended period of time was that Chance Amie was able to get some reps behind center. Amie, a strong-armed prospect in the 2018 class, was solid in relief, and expectations are high. New head coach Clayton George, who has a proven track record with QBs during his time as an offensive coordinator at perennial state power Southlake Carroll, should help in Amie's development.

Tyler Lee DB Makyle Sanders. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: No matter how the explosive the offense is, the Red Raiders' defense must improve. Lee surrendered a whopping 49.1 points per game a season ago, which made things difficult for an offense that had to score virtually every time it had the ball. There's not much experience returning on the defensive side of the ball with just three starters coming back, but there are a couple of solid pieces to build around. Senior Campbell Miller is a disruptive force along the defensive line, while safety Makyle Sanders may be the district's top overall defensive back.

Outlook: After spending a couple of seasons in a district with Garland-area schools, Lee moves over into a league with Mesquite and Rockwall ISDs, along with a couple of old East Texas rivals in John Tyler and Longview. It will be an uphill climb for the Red Raiders to challenge for a playoff spot, but Coach George will have some talented players to work with in year No. 1.