With only two of the current members of District 8-3A Division I coming off winning records in 2015, the White Oak Roughnecks ought to feel confident in their ability to bring home another district title.

White Oak returns 12 starters off last year's 10-win team that reached the regional semifinals, while Redwater, Hughes Springs, New Boston, Sabine, and Jefferson combined to go 18-35 a season ago.

District 8-3A Division I Preview

Jefferson RB/LB Damian Hines. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • ATH Heath Hood, Jr., White Oak
  • WR/DB Brandon Cook, Sr., White Oak
  • RB Connor Hearron, Sr., White Oak
  • QB Jon Michael Russ, Sr., Redwater
  • ATH Shamori Ivory, Sr., Hughes Springs
  • QB Alex Bruce, Jr., Hughes Springs
  • DL Deandre Dedmon, Sr., New Boston
  • QB Philip Sissons, Sr., New Boston
  • QB River Bennett, Sr., Sabine
  • RB/LB Damian Hines, Sr., Jefferson

 

TOP GAMES

  • Daingerfield at White Oak, Sept. 16
  • White Oak at Redwater, Oct. 21
  • Sabine at New Boston, Oct. 28

 

1. White Oak Roughnecks

White Oak quarterback Heath Hood (top) hands off to running back Connor Hearron during Friday's scrimmage against Van.
  • Coach: Kris Iske
  • 2015 finish: 10-3 (3A Division I regional semifinalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive

 

Players to watch

  • ATH Heath Hood, Jr., 5-10, 170
  • WR/DB Brandon Cook, Sr., 5-10, 153
  • RB Connor Hearron, Sr., 6-0, 178
  • WR/LB Antonio Castiglione, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • LB Chase Reeves, Sr., 5-11, 175
  • WR/DB Colby Siegley, Jr., 5-11, 168
  • ATH Chandler Gordy, Jr., 6-0, 160
  • ATH Jacob Young, Soph., 5-7, 150

 

Offense: White Oak had a successful season of offensive football in 2015, averaging almost 34 points per game. And with more than half of those starters returning, head coach Kris Iske must feel good about the Roughnecks' capability on the offensive side of the ball this season. Heath Hood, who can do a little bit everything on offense, is expected to spend most of his time at quarterback in 2016. Connor Hearron is back as well after rushing for more than 1,000 yards a season ago. Receivers Brandon Cook and Antonio Castiglione may figure quite prominently on offense, too.

White Oak ATH Heath Hood. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: In past years, the Roughnecks have prided themselves on shutting down the opposition. Last season, White Oak's defense surrendered an average of just 10.6 points per game. That number included four shutouts, including three in a row during district play. Just like the offense, the Roughnecks' "D" welcomes back six starters. Cook and Castiglione were stalwarts on the defensive side of the ball last year, combining for more than 200 tackles, including 17 behind the line of scrimmage. Linebacker Chase Reeves was impressive as well in 2015, piling up 122 tackles (11 for loss).

Outlook: White Oak won 10 games a season ago, and since 2012, the Roughnecks are a solid 39-12. With 12 starters back from last year's regional semifinalist squad, White Oak is expected to once again field a quality squad. How far the 'Necks advance in the playoffs depends on how Hood, who split reps at QB in 2015, handles full-time duties behind center.

 

2. Redwater Dragons

  • Coach: Tommy Graf
  • 2015 finish: 5-6 (3A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/LB John Michael Russ, Sr., 5-11, 190
  • RB/DB Nick Carter, Sr., 5-9, 160
  • RB/DB Seth Lathrop, Jr., 5-8, 140
  • OL Austin Jones, Sr., 5-9, 200
  • OL/DL Colton Bradford, Jr., 6-2, 220
  • FB Tyler Dewitt, Sr., 5-7, 150
  • FB/LB Mason McCloskey. Jr., 5-9, 170
  • RB/DB Lavondrick Vaughn, Jr., 5-7, 135

Offense: Redwater advanced to the playoffs last season despite averaging a little more than 16 points per game. The Dragons are hoping those numbers are on the rise in 2016 with the return of five offensive starters, including quarterback John Michael Russ, who got a handful of starts under his belt a season ago. Redwater will also need to rely on the rushing abilities of Nick Carter, Seth Lathrop, Tyler Dewitt, Mason McCloskey, and Lavondrick Vaughn.

Defense: The Dragons' defense hung in there despite a struggling offense. Opponents only averaged 22 points per game a season ago, and even that number is a bit misleading. In Redwater's six losses, opposing offenses scored 38 points on average, but in the Dragons' five wins, they put up only 14 points total. Russ and Lathrop will be expected to produce on defense as well, while defensive lineman Colton Bradford is a steadying force up front.

Outlook: Expectations are up for Redwater, which has now qualified for the playoffs for six consecutive seasons. Head coach Tommy Graf, in his fifth year at the helm, is banking on his collection of seasoned veterans sprinkled in with a healthy dose of talented newcomers to help take the Dragons' program to the next level.

 

3. Hughes Springs Mustangs

Hughes Springs' Zach Pilgrim (left), Dedrick Hill (center) and Hunter Brabham. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Chris Edwards
  • 2015 finish: 6-5 (3A Division II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • FB/LB Clark Black, Sr., 5-10, 185
  • OL/DL Hunter Brabham, Jr., 6-3, 220
  • QB Alex Bruce, Jr., 5-9, 165
  • WR/DB Dedrick Hill, Jr.
  • LB Zach Pilgrim, Jr., 5-10, 205
  • OL/DL Sean Stark, Sr.
  • OL/DL Colton Tigert, Sr., 6-3, 280
  • ATH Shamori Ivory, Sr., 6-0, 160

Offense: Hughes Springs got off to a hot start offensively in 2015, only to sputter down the stretch. The Mustangs won five of their first six games a season ago, and averaged a whopping 48.2 points per game in the process. However, the injury bug took a big bite out of the Mustangs in district, causing them to drop four of their last five. In the final five games, Hughes Springs was limited to just 11.2 points per game. Head coach Chris Edwards only has four players with starting experience returning to his offense, so several newcomers will need to step up.

Hughes Springs FB/LB Clark Black. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: It was a struggle for most of the year on the defensive side of the ball for Hughes Springs. Opposing offenses put up an average of 35 points per game a season ago, which put a heavy strain on the Mustangs' offense. Only four returning starters on defense could make finding improvement on defense a challenge in 2016, but Coach Edwards has high hopes for a few of his defenders, including junior linebacker Zach Pilgrim.

Outlook: Hughes Springs has been one of the area's most consistent programs of late. Since 2012, the Mustangs have compiled a record of 36-12, and have reached the playoffs every year since 2010. An upswing in enrollment caused the UIL to move Hughes Springs up to 3A Division I, which could make qualifying for district championships on a regular basis a bit more challenging.

 

4. New Boston Lions

  • Coach: Jamey Thomas
  • 2015 finish: 1-9
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 9 defensive

Players to watch

  • DL Deandre Dedmon, Sr., 6-3, 240
  • QB Philip Sissons, Sr., 6-2, 200
  • OL Trenton Davis, Sr., 6-4, 290
  • TE Tyler Graham, Sr., 6-1, 195
  • OL Tai Tautagaloa, Sr., 6-3, 249
  • DE Cole McCool, Sr., 6-3, 215
  • LB Jacob Bobbitt, Jr., 5-10, 170
  • WR Samuel Sanchez, Jr., 6-2, 165

Offense: It was a rough 2016 season for New Boston, which struggled to a 1-9 record, its worst finish since 2004. The struggles on offense were a big reason for the Lions' disappointing year. New Boston managed just 9.5 points per game on average, and was limited to seven or less points eight times. But with nine returning offensive starters, head coach Jamey Thomas is hopeful better days are ahead. The offense will rely on senior quarterback Philip Sissons, a dual-threat weapon, who was thrown into the fire a season ago. A big offensive line, featuring Trenton Davis and Tai Tautagaloa, should help New Boston's running game find better traction.

Defense: New Boston surrendered an average of more than 34 points per game in 2015, but seemed to come together down the stretch. Just like the offense, the Lions' defense returns nine players with starting experience, which should lead to major improvement this fall. Everything starts up front with senior lineman Deandre Dedmon, who made 85 tackles a season ago. Fellow senior lineman Cole McCool and junior linebacker Jacob Bobbitt give New Boston a strong defensive trio.

Outlook: No one saw New Boston's struggles of 2015 coming. In the five previous seasons, the Lions posted an overall record of 56-11, advancing at least three rounds deep in the playoffs four times. Needless to say, New Boston is anxious to put last year in its rear-view mirror. A total of 18 starters should help the Lions turn the corner in 2016.

 

5. Sabine Cardinals

Sabine QB River Bennett. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Mark Comfort
  • 2015 finish: 4-7 (3A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB River Bennett, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • RB/LB Adam Caudle, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • OL/DL Jon-Michael McKinney, Jr., 6-1, 270
  • OL/DL Taylor Williams, Soph., 6-5, 260
  • OL/DL Slate Wiseman, Sr., 6-1, 200
  • RB/LB Glenn George, Jr., 5-9, 175
  • OL/DL Cameron Furr, Jr., 6-2, 240
  • RB/DB Joseph Krueger-Benson, Jr., 5-8, 150

Offense: Sabine did just enough on the offensive side of the ball to qualify for the playoffs for a second consecutive year. The Cardinals averaged a shade less than 23 points per game, but the offense took a major hit when star running back Dain Duncan was injured halfway through the season. Head coach Mark Comfort is relying on several seasoned veterans on offense, including quarterback River Bennett, who is back after piloting an offense that averaged more than 300 rushing yards per game. The offensive line appears to be in good shape with the return of Taylor Williams, Slate Wiseman, and Cameron Furr.

Sabine RB/LB Adam Caudle. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Cardinals surrendered an average of more than 31 points per game to opposing offenses in 2015. In order for Sabine to make it to the postseason for a third straight year, improvement is needed on the defensive side of the ball. With just four returning starters, Sabine will have its work cut out, and will need several newcomers to thrive in key spots. Senior linebacker Adam Caudle will be counted on to provide leadership both on and off the field in 2016.

Outlook: Sabine's 12 wins in the last two years are the program's most since the 1976-77 teams combined for 14 victories. Coach Comfort, a former assistant at Class 6A Longview, has worked wonders in his short time with the Cardinals. With another run at the playoffs, Sabine can continue changing the culture of its program.

 

6. Jefferson Bulldogs

Jefferson's Damian Hines (left), Tanner Murphy (center) and Alijuan Rice. (Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
  • Coach: Antwain Jimmerson
  • 2015 finish: 2-8
  • Returning starters: N/A

Players to watch

  • QB Andre Boone, Sr., 6-0, 160
  • RB/LB Damian Hines, Sr., 5-10, 215
  • RB/LB Tanner Murphy, Sr., 6-1, 200
  • OL/DL Todd Polver, Sr., 6-3, 200
  • OL/Dl Alijuan Rice, Sr., 5-6, 228
  • WR/LB Cleivlend Williams, Sr., 6-1, 215
  • WR/DB T.Q. Jackson, Soph., 6-2, 175
  • WR/DB Maurice Rudd, Sr., 5-10, 190

Offense: It was a tough season all the way around for Jefferson in 2015, which won only two games, its fewest since 2004. The Bulldogs' offense was definitely a big part of the problem. Jefferson managed less than 16 points per game on average, and finished the season with three consecutive shutouts. Head coach Antwain Jimmerson is hopeful that with several impact performers returning to the field, Jefferson can begin turning things around. Jefferson will rely on physical running back Damian Hines to help put points up on the board.

Defense: It was a struggle defensively for Jefferson as well a season ago. The Bulldogs allowed opposing offenses to score almost 32 points per game on average. However, Jefferson has quite a few experienced players returning to the defensive side of the ball. Linebackers Tanner Murphy and Cleivlend Williams are good in both run support and in pass coverage, and could be the key to a significant uptick in defensive production in 2016.

Outlook: Jefferson is trying to get its program back on track after a few down seasons. The Bulldogs have not won more than seven games in a season since 2007, and has just one double-digit win campaign since 1994. It may take a while to get the program back to the level it was at during the mid-1980's and early '90's, but Coach Jimmerson believes it will only be a matter of time before Jefferson returns to competing for district championships on an annual basis.