You never want to count any team out in the preseason, but it is hard to see any of the six other District 7-3A Division I teams competing with Mineola for the league crown in 2016.

The Yellowjackets are pegged to win their district for a third consecutive season on the heels of a 2014 Class 3A Division I state championship game appearance and a run to the state semifinals last season with 18 players that mostly started on both teams.

But there is a lot of good talent behind the Yellowjackets.

Grand Saline made a remarkable turnaround last season. It went from 0-10 in 2014 to the playoffs last season. Are the Indians in or out?

Winnsboro is a winning program year after year. Will it survive in a league with Mineola, Commerce and a Farmersville program not all that far removed from the top flight of teams in the state?

Mount Vernon and Quitman have struggled in recent years. Is either team ready to make the turn like Grand Saline did last year?

ETSN.fm's District 7-3A Division I picks are here.

Grand Saline QB Trent Easley. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

District 7-3A Division I Preview

PLAYMAKERS

  • RB Isaiah Askew, Jr., Commerce
  • QB Jeremiah Crawford, Sr., Mineola
  • LB/TE Michael Drennon, Jr., Mineola
  • QB Trent Easley, Sr., Grand Saline
  • ATH Kevi Evans, Jr., Mount Vernon
  • LB Kartney Hampton, Sr., Mineola
  • DL Sammy Palma, Sr., Grand Saline
  • RB Chantz Perkins, Sr., Mineola
  • OL/DL Nic Smith, Sr., Commerce
  • DB Noah Sneed, Sr., Mineola
  • DL Drason Tenner, Sr., Mineola
  • RB/LB Marcus Tucker, Sr., Winnsboro
  • ATH Caleb Twyford, Sr., Farmersville

TOP GAMES

  • Commerce at Grand Saline, Oct. 7
  • Grand Saline at Winnsboro, Oct. 14
  • Winnsboro at Commerce, Oct. 21
  • Quitman at Mt. Vernon, Oct. 21
  • Mount Vernon at Farmersville, Oct. 28
  • Mineola at Winnsboro, Nov. 4
  • Farmersville at Grand Saline, Nov. 4

1. Minneola Yellowjackets

Mineola QB Jeremiah Crawford. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Joe Drennon
  • 2015 finish: 14-1 (3A D-I state semifinalist)
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 11 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB Jeremiah Crawford, Sr., 5-10, 185
  • RB Chantz Perkins, Sr., 5-6, 155
  • DB Noah Sneed, Sr., 6-0, 195
  • LB/WR Kartney Hampton, Sr., 5-8, 165
  • DL Drason Tenner, Sr., 5-9, 255
  • LB/TE Michael Drennon, Jr., 6-1, 210
  • WR/DB Frankie Meason, Sr., 6-2, 177
  • DL Devon Goguen, Sr., 6-4, 190
  • DL/FB Kourtland Sinches, Sr., 5-10, 165
Michael Drennon is more respected at linebacker, but he might have a breakout season as a tight end. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: All three lost starters are along the offensive line, and two of those guys are now with the Texas A&M football program. Mineola obviously might not be as strong up front again this season.

That being said, the Yellowjackets offense is fully capable of working around the issue.

Quarterback Jeremiah Crawford and running back Chantz Perkins are back for fourth and final seasons as starters. They make up the most electric backfield in 3A Division I.

Crawford ran for 2,600 yards last season, threw for 1,400 more yards and accumulated 32 total touchdowns in a race to the state semifinals last season. Perkins ran for about 1,600 yards and 26 scores from his spot at running back.

Mineola also has a few good receivers, like Frankie Meason and Michael Drennon, that will force opposing defenses to be honest.

Every single starting skill player and two offensive linemen are back from a state semifinalist team.

Mineola CB Noah Sneed. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: All 11 starters are back from the state semifinalist team. Each level of the defense has at least one difference maker.

Before getting into it, consider the fact every player has enjoyed an additional season in the weight room off a campaign where the defense gave up an average of 14.5 points per game.

Drason Tenner and Kourtland Sinches are huge assets on the defensive line. Tenner recorded 20 tackles for loss and Sinches made 109 tackles through the 15-game 2015 season.

Kartney Hampton and Michael Drennon headline the linebackers group.

Hampton is an all-around athlete that gives the team speed to defend both the pass and the run at the mid-level of the defense. Drennon won ETSN.fm's Defensive Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore last season and might begin receiving college attention this year.

Noah Sneed is a third-year starter at cornerback and anchors a unit that will be entirely the same. Aaron Stanford and Cameron Sorenson are bright spots at safety.

 

2016 outlook: When you bring back 18 starters from a team that reached the state semifinals one season ago with other players that competed in a state championship game two years ago, your goal is pretty clear.

Mineola is a real state championship contender.

The Yellowjackets will stretch themselves a bit in non-district competition with solely Class 4A teams on its schedule -- Brownsboro, Kaufman, Van and Wills Point. Three of those four teams reached the postseason last year. Kaufman went three rounds deep.

This team will be battle tested when it reaches district competition.

The only thing that can derail Mineola is injuries. Quarterback Jeremiah Crawford and running back Chantz Perkins are absolutely essential to the game plan.

But, if one or both of them are lost, it's still going to be tough to compete against the Yellowjackets' defense.

2. Winnsboro Red Raiders

  • Coach: Steve Pinnell
  • 2015 finish: 7-4 (3A D-I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/LB Marcus Tucker, Sr., 6-1, 205
  • FB/LB Kolby Brown, Jr., 5-7, 165
  • QB/DB Logan Cortez, Jr., 5-9, 155
  • FB/DL/LB Jonathan Spurlin, Sr., 5-11, 165

Offense: Winnsboro returns five offensive players from a team that averaged just about four touchdowns a game in a run to the first round of the 3A Division I playoffs.

Marcus Tucker is the most essential. He ran for more than 100 yards per game last season.

The Red Raiders' backfield as a whole is at a great starting point. Fullback Kolby Brown packs a punch despite being 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds. Logan Cortez was an athletic receiver last season making the move to quarterback.

Obviously, offensive line is the big question for Winnsboro. Jared Yarbroigh will anchor that unit from his center spot at 5-foot-10 and a good 220 pounds for the position.

Defense: Six players are back from a team that surrendered about 23 points per game last season.

Marcus Tucker is as valuable defensively as he is as a returning 1,200-yard rusher. He made 95 tackles as a junior a season ago.

Kolby Brown also doubles on the defensive side as a linebacker.

Jonathan Spurlin can either make up a completely experience linebacker crew or he can drop down to end and be a quick pass rusher. He'll probably end up doing a little bit of both as a senior.

 

2016 outlook: Winnsboro teams have a longstanding reputation of being tough, physical and consistent under 17th-year head coach Steve Pinnell. That will serve them well in a district full of teams hoping to just take the next competitive step, beyond Mineola in the top position.

Marcus Tucker is an incredibly valuable player on both sides of the ball.

The Red Raiders just need a few more playmakers to come out of the woodwork to firm up plans to finish high in the district standings.

 

3. Grand Saline Indians

Grand Saline DT Sammy Palma. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Michael Ridge
  • 2015 finish: 5-6 (3A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB Trent Easley, Sr., 6-3, 181
  • DL Sammy Palma, Sr., 5-10, 250
  • RB/DB Carlos Aguilar, Jr.
  • DL Ryan Alcalan,  Sr.

Offense: The Indians are in good hands with Trent Easley returning at quarterback for a third season.

Easley has seen it all. He was thrust into the starting lineup as a sophomore as an injury replacement and endured an 0-10 season. As a junior, he guided Grand Saline to a postseason berth.

The signal caller has the tools to make him one of the league's best. And, as a senior, he's playing for scholarship opportunities with some college interest ahead of the year.

Junior running back Carlos Aguilar should be able to take some of the load off Easley, who is a bit of a dual-threat.

Senior receiver Chris Wilson is back to lead that positional group.

Defense: This side of the ball needs to improve if Grand Saline is going to make it out of a much tougher district compared to last season, but bringing back six starters makes a better performance a realistic proposition.

Defensive lineman Sammy Palma will be a big issue for the interior of opposing offensive lines while Ryan Alcalan will occupy the tackles from his end position.

Carlos Aguilar can bring athleticism to the secondary if he has to.

But, again, the Indians have to bring down their average of 32 points surrendered per game to compliment a balanced, possession-oriented offense.

 

2016 outlook: Just when Grand Saline found solid footing in 3A Division II, it got summoned by the University Interscholastic League to the Division I level.

Can the Indians survive here? We think so, especially with quarterback Trent Easley and defensive lineman Sammy Palma leading the way.

Non-district games against Como-Pickton, Edgewood, New Diana and Winona provide a nice mix of confidence building games and real challenges.

From there, head coach Michael Ridge's program got handed a great draw with winnable district games against Mount Vernon and Commerce right off the bat ahead of Winnsboro and Mineola.

4. Commerce Tigers

  • Coach: Jeff Cleveland
  • 2015 finish: 5-6 (3A D-I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB Isaiah Askew, Jr., 5-10, 180
  • OL/DL Nic Smith, 6-5, 275
  • OL/DL Justin Hall, Sr., 6-6, 240
  • QB Jordan Miller, 6-0, 170

2016 outlook: Most of Commerce's 12 starters are on the defensive side of the ball, but its offense just might be the most formidable part of the team.

The offensive line has freakish size for the 3A Division I level and should pave the way for a lot of yards by experienced running back Isaiah Askew. This should be Askew's breakout season following a respectable sophomore debut last season.

Commerce's offense will have to improve upon the 12 points it averaged in five district ballgames last season. This league has more depth.

Good non-district games against Lone Oak, Leonard and Edgewood should sharpen the team. The non-district finale against Bullard from Class 4A Division I will be a massive challenge.

Like Grand Saline, Commerce got a good early district schedule. Mount Vernon and Farmersville are its first two opponents.

Commerce will have to take advantage of those games. Mineola and Winnsboro are two of the squad's final three opponents of the regular season.

5. Farmersville Farmers

  • Coach: Sammy Bennett
  • 2015 finish: 4-6
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • ATH Caleb Twyford, Sr., 6-4, 170
  • QB Chase Hacker, Sr., 6-0, 165
  • LB Elijah Caroll, Jr., 5-10, 195
  • OL/DL Lyle Hibbits, Jr., 6-0, 250

2016 outlook: Farmersville could be the league's biggest surprise with a district third-best 15 starters returning.

While the Farmers went winless in district competition a year ago, consider the competition. Callisburg and Pottsboro are tough opponents Mineola even has had to battle with in the postseason over the past two seasons. Whitesboro and Van Alstyne were no slouches either.

The bottom of this district will be easier for the team to handle.

But Farmsville did lose each game league contest last season by a lopsided margin.

The Farmers absolutely most improve the 27 points per game they averaged offensively to the nearly 40 points they surrendered on defense a season ago.

6. Mount Vernon Tigers

Mount Vernon ATH Kevi Evans (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Dickey Meeks
  • 2015 finish: 2-8
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 10 defensive
Players to watch
  • ATH Kevi Evans, Jr., 5-8, 160
  • WR/DB Ty'rese Linwood, Jr., 6-6, 175
  • TE/LB Hylke Talsma, Sr., 6-2, 190

Offense: The Tigers' were non-competitive last season. They averaged 10.1 points per game on offense.

Universal athlete Kevi Evans gives the squad hope this season. He can play virtually any skill position spot and possesses some of the best speed in the region.

Ty'Rese Linwood is a 6-foot-6 target at receiver.

Mount Vernon will benefit from continuity along the offensive line. Only two starters from last season's team were lost to graduation.

Defense: Ten players are back to a defensive unit that allowed a respectable 30.1 points against considering the offensive struggles.

Kevi Evans will bring his speed to a defensive back spot and linebacker Hylke Talsma is an imposing linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds.

 

2016 outlook: Head coach Dickey Meeks is back for a second season at Mount Vernon and has a great history of turning programs around.

While the Tigers bring back a district-best 19 starters, the school's participation rate isn't very good. Many of the players double on both sides of the ball and there are only 18 letter winners on the roster in total.

It wouldn't be surprising to see Meeks and company steal some district wins this season, but it might be too soon to talk about the playoffs. Especially when you look at the projected top of the district.

A tough non-district schedule of Caddo Mills, Bullard Brook Hill, Hooks and Ore City will get the team ready for the league challenges.

 

7. Quitman Bulldogs

  • Coach: John Woodard
  • 2015 finish: 0-10
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/DB Brad Davenport, Sr., 5-8, 175
  • OL/DL Sebastian Howell, Jr., 6-3, 260
  • RB/LB Andrew Dunn, Fr.

Offense: Quitman has long awaited running back Andrew Dunn to become eligible on the high school level and Dunn's time finally is here. Dunn dominated the middle school level and is expected to supplement starting running back Brad Davenport through the season before taking the reigns as a sophomore next season.

All Bulldogs runners will benefit from an athletic offensive line. Guard Sebastian Howell headlines the position group.

Quitman only averaged 8.1 points per game last season.

Defense: There's work to do on the defensive side after surrendering 39.5 points per game last season, but nine players gained experience while getting virtually no consistent help from the offense.

Sebastian Howell and Isaac Simms will anchor the defensive line, the strong point of the overall unit.

2016 outlook: Quitman is going to try to snap a 23-game losing streak dating back to the 2013 campaign.

Big Sandy, Beckville, Harmony will be enormous challenges in non-district. Eustace in non-district play and Mount Vernon within the league are the Bulldogs' best chances of finding a win to build upon.