Tenaha uncharacteristically began last season 0-5, but ultimately found itself in a familiar position: deep in the playoffs.

The slow start to 2015 was understandable considering Craig Horn had just taken over the programs months earlier, and his Tigers squad was filled with several freshmen and sophomores in impact roles.

Tenaha won eight of its final nine games last year, reaching the state quarterfinals for the sixth consecutive season.

And now most of those players return and several will be in place for the next few seasons.

District 11-2A Division II Preview

Overton QB Jake Marshall. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • QB C.J. Horn, Soph., Tenaha
  • OL/DL T.K. Gardner, Sr., Tenaha
  • WR/DB Jay Lloyd, Soph., Tenaha
  • WR/DB Trai Gardner, Jr., Tenaha
  • QB/DB Jake Marshall, Sr., Overton
  • OL/DL Michael Steelman, Sr., Overton
  • QB Rick Frauenberger, Soph., Grapeland
  • LB Kamari Smith, Sr., Grapeland
  • WR/DB Jordan Osby, Soph., Timpson
  • QB/DB Jase Jones, Jr., Mount Enterprise

TOP GAMES

  • Tenaha at Joaquin, Aug. 26
  • Grapeland at Overton, Oct. 7
  • Tenaha at Overton, Oct. 28

1. Tenaha Tigers

Tenaha QB C.J. Horn. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Craig Horn
  • 2015 finish: 8-6 (2A Division II quarterfinalist)
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 10 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB C.J. Horn, Soph., 6-0, 175
  • OL/DL T.K. Gardner, Sr., 6-1, 315
  • WR/DB Jay Lloyd, Soph., 5-11, 165
  • WR/DB Trai Gardner, Jr., 5-11, 175
  • RB Onterio Thompson, Jr., 5-9, 172
  • RB/DB LaDarrius Garrett, Jr., 5-8, 140
  • WR/DB Cody Foshee, Jr., 6-1, 150
  • LB Christian Ashton, Jr., 5-8, 190

Offense: It didn't take long for quarterback C.J. Horn, the head coach's son, to make his presence known as a freshman. He finished his first season on varsity with more than 2,800 yards passing and 31 touchdowns. And with a full season now under his belt, expect Horn to continue lighting up defenses in 2016. The Tigers' signal-caller will have plenty of weapons around him, including receivers Trai Gardner and Jay Lloyd, who combined for more than 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns a year ago. Running back Onterio Thompson, a 1,000-yard rusher from 2015, returns as well.

Tenaha WR/DB Jay Lloyd. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The defense might be even more loaded for Tenaha, which lost just one 2015 starter to graduation. Following a difficult five-game losing streak to begin the season, in which the Tigers allowed opponents an average of 38.6 points per game, the Tenaha defense began to round into shape. Opposing offense managed only 11.1 points on average over the season's final nine games. T.K. Gardner is a force up front after piling up 28 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season. Lloyd and Trai Gardner double as ball-hawking defensive backs.

Outlook: It might have taken a while for the new coach and young players to come together last year, but now that the Tigers are more seasoned both on the field and the sidelines, Tenaha appears to be primed for another long run in the playoffs. The rest of District 11-2A shouldn't present much of a challenge to Tenaha, considering Grapeland, Mount Enterprise, Overton, Timpson, and Wortham combined to go just 15-36 in 2015.

2. Overton Mustangs

Overton WR/DB Nicholas Croteau (left) and OL/DL Michael Croteau. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Richard Strickland
  • 2015 finish: 3-8 (2A Division II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • FB/LB Tanner Lee, Sr., 5-9, 180
  • QB/DB Jake Marshall, Sr., 5-7, 160
  • OL/DL Michael Steelman, Sr., 6-1, 245
  • OL/DL Michael Croteau, Sr.
  • WR/DB Nicholas Croteau, Sr., 5-9, 150
  • TE/LB Charles Reddick, Sr., 6-1, 210
  • OL/DL Erik Rodriguez, Sr., 5-9, 240
  • RB/DB Nathan Palmer, Soph., 5-10, 165

Offense: Overton experienced moderate success on the offensive side of the ball in 2015. The Mustangs averaged 21.5 points per game, but it all added up to just three wins. First-year head coach Richard Strickland is hoping that with seven returning starters on offense, scoring will become much easier for Overton this fall. Offensive continuity is always increased with experience at the quarterback position, and Overton has that with the return of Jake Marshall. The Mustangs' QB struggled at times a season ago, tossing six touchdowns to 10 interceptions, but should come around after acquiring valuable playing time in 2015.

Overton OL/DL Michael Steelman. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: It was also an up-and-down season for the Overton defenders a year ago. The Mustangs surrendered an average of 34.3 points per game, but seemed to turn the corner midway through the year. Following an 0-5 start to the season, Overton reeled off three consecutive wins, in which opponents averaged less than 20 points per game. However, the season ended on a down note as the Mustangs lost their final three games, allowing 53 points on average in the process. With five starters back, including linebacker Tanner Lee and defensive lineman Michael Steelman, Overton seeks a more consistent level of play on that side of the ball moving forward.

Outlook: Few things energize a program than new leadership, and with Strickland's hire, Overton can begin the process of building toward the future. Tenaha is clearly the class of the district, but with none of the other 11-2A components coming off winning seasons (Overton included), the Mustangs figure to slide right into the playoff mix. A reasonably competitive non-district schedule could do wonders for Overton's confdence as the Mustangs begin district play with back-to-back home games.

3. Grapeland Sandies

  • Coach: Wayne Mahaffey
  • 2015 finish: 4-7 (2A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB Kamari Smith, Sr., 5-11, 195
  • LB Josh Ackley, Soph., 5-8, 160
  • QB Rick Frauenberger, Soph., 6-3, 170
  • WR Rodney Davis, Sr., 6-1, 175
  • WR Riley Chipman, Sr., 5-8, 150
  • OL Joel Barbosa, Sr., 6-1, 285
  • DL Ashton Henry, Jr., 6-2, 190
  • WR Kelandris McQuirter, Sr., 6-1, 170

Offense: Grapeland showed flashes of its offensive potential a season ago, averaging more than 27 points per game. And with seven starters returning on that side of the ball, expect the Sandies to improve those numbers significantly this fall. Rick Frauenberger enjoyed breakout success as a freshman quarterback in 2015, and appears poised to surpass those accomplishments this season. He'll have a trio of senior receivers back to get the ball to in Rodney Davis, Riley Chipman, and Kelandris McQuirter, who make up one of the district's top receiving corps. If Grapeland can solve its dilemmas at running back and along the offensive line, the Sandies could challenge Tenaha for offensive explosiveness.

Defense: If Grapeland is to take the next step as a program in 2016, steady improvement on the defensive side of the ball is required. Last season, the Sandies' defense allowed opponents an average of 33.7 points per game. Luckily for veteran head coach Wayne Mahaffey, Grapeland returns seven defenders who had starting experience in 2015. Senior linebacker Kamari Smith might be the district's top overall defender after he terrorized offenses with more than 160 tackles as a junior. Fellow linebacker Josh Ackley and defensive lineman Ashton Henry have the potential to follow Smith's lead this season.

Outlook: Grapeland reached the postseason last year for the first time since 2011, and with 14 of 22 starters back, the Sandies are a safe bet to return to the playoffs. The drop from 2A Division I to Division II should also give Grapeland an advantage over smaller schools within the same classification.

4. Timpson Bears

  • Coach: Kerry Therwhanger
  • 2015 finish: 2-8 (2A Division II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL/DL Bryan Torres, Sr., 6-2, 215
  • WR/DB Jordan Osby, Soph., 6-2, 170
  • QB Jayden Johnson, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • OL/DL Nictaeo Scourton, Soph., 5-9, 260
  • RB Kendall Davis, Soph., 6-0, 185
  • OL Jose Mejia, Sr., 6-0, 260
  • LB Cutter Smith, Sr., 6-2, 167

Offense: There wasn't enough consistency on the offensive side of the ball last season for Timpson to become a legitimate district championship contender, but hope could be on the horizon. A banner track and field season last spring could lend itself to success on the gridiron this fall, as the Bears welcome back a couple of speedsters to the fold. Sophomore receiver Jordan Osby is a legitimate burner, capable of stretching opposing defenses beyond their means. Fellow sophomore, running back Kendall Davis, has the size and speed combination to cause opposing defenses problems as well.

Defense: Work needs to be done on the defensive side if Timpson hopes to improve on last year's two-win season. Despite losing eight times, the Bears held opponents to a respectable average of 27 points per game. However, Timpson graduated more than half of its defensive starters, and new playmakers must emerge in 2016. Luckily for head coach Kerry Therwhanger, the Bears do return the services of linebacker Cutter Smith, one of the top defenders in the district.

Outlook: Timpson did just enough to reach the playoffs in 2015, but with improvement expected from both Overton and Grapeland this season, Therwhanger needs to see significant improvment in all three phases of the game. Timpson could once again find itself in the postseason come November, but new playmakers must step up.

5. Wortham Bulldogs

  • Coach: Chris Tobola
  • 2015 finish: 3-7
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Zach Jones, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • WR/LB Jayce Black, Sr., 6-1, 180
  • WR/LB Cole Shivers, Sr., 5-9, 170
  • FB Ethan McCoslin, Sr., 5-7, 155
  • RB Stephon Ester, Jr., 5-11, 155

Outlook: The return of 16 players with starting experience should help Wortham's chances of qualifying for the playoffs. The offense is expected to be just a little bit ahead of the defense in the early stages of the season with quarterback Zach Jones, receiver Jayce Black and running back Stephon Ester back on the field. If the defense can figure things out by the time district play comes around, Wortham could be right in the thick of what could be an exciting postseason race in 11-2A.

6. Mount Enterprise Wildcats

  • Coach: Scott Holzhauer
  • 2015 finish: 3-6
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/DB Jase Jones, Jr., 6-0, 170
  • LB/OL Jacob Oswald, Jr., 6-0, 200
  • OL Hugo Mejia, Sr., 5-10, 155
  • WR Kidd Barrera, Soph., 5-10, 160
  • DB William Sanders, Jr.
  • LB Grant Shannon, Sr.
  • DL Ricky Price, Sr.

Offense: At times last season, Mount Enterprise's offense was in rhythm. But there were occasions when the Wildcats went M.I.A. on the offensive side of the ball as well. In the Wildcats' three victories, they averaged more than 42 points per game; and in two of ME's six defeats, the Wildcats still managed to put up at least 34 points. However, Mount Enterprise was held to 14 points or less four times, which ultimately led to the Wildcats finishing with a losing record for the third consecutive season. Sixth-year head coach Scott Holzhauer has just four returning starters to count on, so the Wildcats' offense could be a work in progress in 2016.

Defense: Complicating Mount Enterprise problems last season was a defense that yielded an average of more than 36 points per game. Obviously, improvement on the defensive side of the ball is required if the Wildcats wish to return to their winning ways this fall. Among the five returning defensive starters are all-district linebacker Jacob Oswald, and senior lineman Ricky Price.

Outlook: Mount Enterprise enters the 2016 season with the least amount of experience in the district, which means the Wildcats' young players must grow up and fall into line quick if a return to the playoffs is in order.