2017 Football Preview: Big Schools in East Texas Aim to Make Big Splash in 11-6A
East Texas schools make up less than half of the field in District 11-6A, but in 2016 two of the league's four playoff representatives were from the area.
Could it be that all three local teams enter the playoffs this season?
John Tyler and Longview are postseason regulars, having each qualified every year since 2008. And that doesn't figure to change in 2017.
Tyler Lee could be the team to keep an eye on. The Red Raiders have experience just about everywhere on the field, and have brought in a head coach in Kurt Traylor who has winning in his DNA.
Lee will have to contend with both John Tyler and Longview, but also the rest of the district, which went 7-0 against the Red Raiders a season ago.
Without further adieu, here are our predictions for District 11-6A.
District 11-6A Preview
- WR Carlos Aguilar, Sr., Mesquite
- LB Tre Allison, Sr., John Tyler
- QB Chance Amie, Sr., Tyler Lee
- RB Jessie Anderson, Jr., Longview
- WR Jamarzeyea Arvie, Sr., North Mesquite
- LB Blake Barron, Sr., Rockwall
- TE Jaylin Brown, Sr., Longview
- WR/DB Tyrus Fort, Sr., Rockwall-Heath
- QB Jonathan Garza, Sr., Mesquite
- DL/LB DeKalen Goodson, Sr., John Tyler
- DB Jephaniah Lister, Jr., Longview
- ATH Tanner McCalister, Sr., Rockwall-Heath
- DL Nathan Niedrauer, Sr., Tyler Lee
- LB Alston Orji, Sr., Rockwall
- WR Ke'Andre Street, Jr., John Tyler
- DL/LB Byron Turner, Sr., North Mesquite
- RB Ladarius Wickware, Jr., Tyler Lee
- DB BeeJay Williamson, Sr., Mesquite Horn
- WR/DL Maureese Wren, Sr., Mesquite Horn
- Sept. 1 -- Tyler Lee at Marshall
- Sept. 15 -- John Tyler at Lufkin
- Sept. 22 -- Rockwall-Heath at Tyler Lee
- Oct. 6 -- Longview at Rockwall
- Oct. 27 -- Longview at John Tyler
1. John Tyler Lions
- Coach: Ricklan Holmes
- 2016 finish: 11-2 (6A Division II regional semifinalist)
- Returning starters: 9 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- DL/LB DeKalen Goodson, Sr., 6-3, 215 (70 tackles, 20 for loss, 11 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries, 2 PBUs; committed to Houston)
- LB Tre Allison, Sr., 6-2, 215 (118 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 3 INTs, 4 PBUs; committed to SMU)
- WR Ke'Andre Street, Jr., 6-4, 195 (31 catches, 555 yards, 6 TDs)
- OL Chance Billington, Jr., 6-3, 280
- RB Cameron Grant, Jr, 5-9, 175 (151 carries, 873 yards, 12 TDs; 10 catches, 118 yards, 2 TDs)
- WR Michael Givens-Washington, Sr., 5-8, 165 (52 catches, 785 yards, 8 TDs)
- QB Devlen Woods, Jr., 5-8, 165 (48 catches, 627 yards, 4 TDs)
- LB Kiante Stoker, Sr., 5-11, 207 (63 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
Offense: John Tyler had one of the area's most explosive offenses in 2016, as the Lions averaged more than 44 points per game.
With nine of the 11 starters returning, don't expect too much of a drop-off.
The Lions will, however, have to replace its two top offensive performers in quarterback Bryson Smith (4,930 total yards, 55 touchdowns) and receiver Damion Miller (41 catches, 922 yards, eight TD's).
Junior Devlen Woods is expected to take over at quarterback. He finished second on the team in receptions and third in receiving yardage as a sophomore.
The majority of the pass-catching responsibilities will now fall to senior Michael Givens-Washington and junior Ke'Andre Street, both of whom were major contributors a season ago.
Cameron Grant returns at running back after posting almost 1,000 all-purpose yards with 14 total touchdowns last year.
Defense: The Lions lost some key members of its secondary to graduation, most notably UTSA signee Javontavius Mosley and Kieran Freeman.
John Tyler does return, though, most of its defensive front.
Senior defensive end DeKalen Goodson, a Houston commit, leads the way. And he's backed up by senior linebacker and SMU pledge Tre Allison. Both players are three-years starters.
Tabias Marshall, Greg Guerrero, and Kiante Stoker are also important pieces up front for John Tyler.
2017 outlook: Only one team (Rockwall-Heath) returns more starters than John Tyler in District 11-6A, and that certainly bodes well for the team that finished as the league's No. 1 seed for the Division II playoffs last year.
The loss of Smith and Miller will undoubtedly be felt, but there are more than enough impact players surrounding the newcomers to once again make John Tyler a favorite for the district title.
Early-season tests against Plano West, one of the largest 6A schools in Texas, Ennis, and Lufkin should aptly prepare John Tyler for a district schedule that won't be easy.
Longview and Rockwall should be strong challengers again in 2017, and the programs of Rockwall-Heath, Tyler Lee, and Mesquite Horn are poised for major improvements.
2. Longview Lobos
- Coach: John King
- 2016 finish: 8-3 (6A Division II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- TE Jaylin Brown, Sr., 6-3, 205 (15 catches, 374 yards, 9 TDs)
- RB Jessie Anderson, Jr., 6-0, 225 (351 rushing yards, 4 TDs)
- DB Jephaniah Lister, Jr., 5-9, 155 (91 tackles, 6 for loss, 5 forced fumbles)
- OL Marcus Williams, Jr., 6-6, 250
- DL Ke'Andre Mauldin, Sr., 6-0, 205
- DL JC Blakemore, Sr., 6-0, 210 (52 tackles, 13 for loss, 3 sacks)
- DB Roshodrick Harmon, Sr., 6-0, 170
- WR Kamden Perry, Jr., 6-0, 165 (9 catches, 131 yards, 1 TD)
Offense: Graduation wasn't kind to the Longview offense, which must replace seven starters, many of which are at key positions.
The Lobos lost its starting quarterback, top two rushers, and the majority of their offensive line.
But longtime Longview coach John King is excited about the future, thanks to a trio of juniors -- running back Jessie Anderson, lineman Marcus Williams, and receiver Kamden Perry.
Anderson and Perry played sparingly as sophomores, which is a rarity at Longview under King. Williams is new to the varsity scene, but a big summer has attracted several Division I football programs his way.
The quarterback position will be a work in progress. As many as three players -- seniors Adarius Carter and Jordan Lawson, and sophomore Haynes King -- could see time under center this season.
Senior tight end Jaylin Brown had nine of his 14 receptions last year go for touchdowns.
Defense: Longview shouldn't have to worry too much about its defense, which is bringing back a majority of its starters.
The three-man defensive line is anchored by the duo of Ke'Andre Mauldin and JC Blakemore, who each could have monster senior seasons.
The Lobos' secondary, seemingly always a strength, will be led by junior Jephaniah Lister and senior Roshodrick Harmon.
As a team in 2016, Longview allowed a shade less than 27 points per game. Don't be surprised if that number drops considerably this fall.
2017 outlook: For the first time 2005, the Longview Lobos failed to win a playoff game last season, dropping a heartbreaking 34-33 decision on the road to Beaumont West Brook in bi-district.
In order to avoid a similar fate and host a first-round postseason game, Longview needs to finish as the top seed for the Division II playoffs, which likely means a win over John Tyler in their Oct. 27 clash in Tyler.
Longview has home games against Lufkin and Marshall and a road contest at Dallas South Oak Cliff to prepare for district. Then, two of the Lobos' first three 11-6A games are away from home -- Mesquite Horn and Rockwall.
Lobos fans shouldn't worry too much. King is a remarkable 72-5 in district games since taking over as head coach in 2004.
3. Rockwall Yellowjackets
- Coach: Rodney Webb
- 2016 finish: 6-6 (6A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
- LB Alston Orji, Sr., 6-2, 230 (58 tackles, 1 fumble recovery; committed to Vanderbilt)
- LB Blake Barron, Sr., 6-0, 230 (88 tackles; committed to Oklahoma State)
- DB Anfernee Orji, Jr., 6-1, 197 (96 tackles, 1 forced fumbles, 7 PBUs)
- LB Korrey Barron, Sr., 6-0, 220 (37 tackles, 7 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
- WR Cameron Crayton, Sr., 6-2, 175 (28 catches, 552 yards, 4 TDs)
- WR Jaxon Smith, Soph., 5-11, 165
- DB Triston Anderson, Sr., 6-1, 180 (40 tackles, 17 PBUs; committed to Arkansas State)
- QB Caleb Estes, Sr., 6-0, 195
2017 outlook: It was always going to tough for the Yellowjackets to follow up their success of 2015 when they journeyed to the state quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
Rockwall didn't get as far in the postseason last year, but an area-round berth counted as a successful encore.
With 14 of 22 starters returning, the 'Jackets are hopeful another long playoff run is in the cards come November and December.
The offense will need a little work as it lost its starting quarterback and all-state wide receiver Sam Crawford, a Tulsa signee.
Senior wideout Cameron Crayton looks to pick up Crawford's slack this season.
The Rockwall defense brings back nine starters, including three Division I commits -- linebackers Blake Barron and Alston Orji, and defensive back Triston Anderson.
4. Rockwall-Heath Hawks
- Coach: Mickey Moss
- 2016 finish: 5-5
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
- DB/RB Tanner McCalister, Sr., 6-0, 185 (83 carries, 650 yards, 8 TDs; 55 tackles, 6 for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 1 INT, 1 PBU; committed to Arkansas)
- DB/WR Tyrus Fort, Sr., 5-10, 160 (43 carries, 468 yards, 8 TDs; 54 tackles, 2 for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 2 INTs, 2 PBUs)
- LB Desmon Williams, Sr., 6-0, 235 (105 tackles, 3 forced fumbles)
- OL Hayden Fichtel, Sr., 6-2, 295
- OL Gabe Collins, Jr., 6-5, 325
- DB/WB Kendell Jimerson, Sr., 5-10, 175 (26 tackles, 1 INT)
- RB/WR Jonathan Crist, Jr., 5-7, 140
- OL Michael Denson, Sr., 6-5, 265
2017 outlook: Heath has the most starting experience of any team in District 11-6A, and head coach Mickey Moss is banking on that to help get his team back to the playoffs after missing out in 2016.
Senior Tanner McCalister, who has pledged to Arkansas, might be the district's best all-round player. He will be used in the running game on offense, and leads a talented group of defenders as well.
Tyrus Fort is another two-way standout, who possesses breakaway speed that can be problematic for opposing defenses.
Without question, the biggest strength Heath has coming into the season is its offensive line, highlighted by the trio of seniors Hayden Fichtel and Michael Denson, and junior Gabe Collins.
Desmon Williams is one of 11-6A's most physical linebackers.
5. Tyler Lee Red Raiders
- Coach: Kurt Traylor
- 2016 finish: 2-8
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 8 defnsive
Players to watch
- QB Chance Amie, Sr., 6-4, 191 (97 of 180, 1,556 yards, 10 TDs, 6 INTs; 183 carries, 1,260 yards, 17 TDs; committed to Houston)
- RB Ladarius Wickware, Jr., 6-0, 180 (176 carries, 1,404 yards, 14 TDs; 10 catches, 120 yards, 1 TD)
- DL Nathan Niedrauer, Sr., 6-1, 230 (53 tackles, 5 for loss)
- WR/DB Rhett Parker, Sr., 5-10, 175 (43 tackles, 5 for loss)
- RB/LB Jordan Printers, Jr., 5-10, 190
- LB Lanthony Simmons, Sr., 6-2, 200
- OL Beaux Limmer, Jr., 6-5, 250
- DL David Antunez, Sr., 6-1, 225
Offense: Tyler Lee managed just two wins last season, but offense certainly wasn't the problem. The Red Raiders averaged more than 34 points per game in 2016.
Fortunately for Lee, its top two weapons are among the five returning offensive starters.
Senior quarterback Chance Amie, who has committed to Houston, is 11-6A's best signal-caller. He surpassed 2,800 yards and accounted for 27 touchdowns in leading the Red Raiders a season ago.
Running back Ladarius Wickware returns as well after a breakout sophomore campaign that included more than 1,400 rushing yards.
Newcomers on the offensive line and at receiver will need to step up, however, if Lee wants to take the next step as a team in 2017.
Defense: The Red Raiders' defense was the main culprit in 2016's disappointment. Lee surrendered an average of almost 42 points per game, and the struggles were at the forefront during district play.
During a three-game stretch against Mesquite, Rockwall, and North Mesquite, Lee was outscored by a total of 10 points. The defense allowed those three schools to score a cumulative 162 points.
Eight starters return, include a pair of standouts on the defensive line -- seniors Nathan Niedrauer and David Antunez.
Lee will also need a big season from linebacker Lanthony Simmons.
2017 outlook: Since longtime Lee coach Mike Owens retired after the 2010 season, it's been tough sledding for the Red Raiders. Lee is just 18-43 the last six seasons, and been to the playoffs only once.
Kurt Traylor will be Lee's fourth head coach since 2011 following Clayton George's resignation after one year.
Traylor brings a winning pedigree to Lee, having spent the last decade-plus as an assistant at Class 4A state power Gilmer, where his older brother Jeff Traylor was the head coach from 2000-14.
The new Lee boss was present for three state championships, and he knows what it takes to build and sustain a winning program.
Keep an eye on the Red Raiders, who with a strong non-district performance, might surprise in 11-6A.
6. Mesquite Horn Jaguars
- Coach: Mike Overton
- 2016 finish: 6-5 (6A Division I bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/LB Maureese Wren, Sr., 6-3, 215 (11 catches, 129 yards, 3 TDs; committed to Arkansas)
- DB BeeJay Williamson, Sr., 6-1, 180 (48 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 2 INTs, 2 PBUs; committed to Louisiana Tech)
- DB/WR Brodrick Calhoun, Sr., 5-10, 165 (27 tackles; committed to Louisiana Tech)
- QB Jermaine Givens, Jr., 6-0, 187 (60 of 104, 770 yards, 10 TDs, 1 INT; 85 carries, 412 yards, 5 TDs)
- LB Michael Richmond, Sr., 5-9, 195 (66 tackles, 12 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 PBU, 1 INT)
- WR Davonye Jones, Sr., 5-9, 170
- DL Raylon Linvel, Sr., 6-0, 280 (26 tackles, 2 for loss)
- RB Esaias Taylor, Jr., 5-10, 190
2017 outlook: The Jaguars finished as the district's fourth-place team a year ago, but they return the fewest starters of any member of 11-6A.
Horn graduated dual-threat quarterback Chris Robison, who signed with Oklahoma back in February, and seven other starters on the offensive side of the ball.
Jermaine Givens, who saw time at QB when Robison missed games because of an injury last year, should help smooth over some of the transition.
Expect junior running back Esaias Taylor and senior wideout Dewayne Jones to have expanded roles on offense as well.
Like Rockwall, the Jaguars' defense is headlined by three Division I commits -- linebacker Maureese Wren, and defensive backs BeeJay Williamson and Brodrick Calhoun.
7. Mesquite Skeeters
- Coach: Jeff Fleener
- 2016 finish: 3-7
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Jonathan Garza, Sr., 5-8, 170 (79 of 137, 1,060 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs; 67 carries, 273 yards, 4 TDs)
- WR Carlos Aguilar, Sr., 5-9, 170 (30 catches, 356 yards, 6 TDs)
- OL Brendan Cherry, Sr., 6-2, 260
- DB Kadarryus Hartfield, Sr., 6-0, 190 (56 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs)
- OL Colby Maddox, Sr., 6-1, 280
- LB Jacob Pich, Sr., 5-9, 192 (37 tackles)
- LB De'veyon Smith, Sr., 5-11, 215 (46 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 fumble recovery)
- DB Caleb Boger, Jr. (1 INT)
2017 outlook: Mesquite hired Jeff Fleener as its new head coach back in February after he served in the same role at San Antonio Brandeis the previous two seasons.
Fleener's job is to reinvigorate a Skeeters program that hasn't made the playoffs since 2013 or had a winning record since 2012.
He'll have 10 total returning starters at his disposal, including the duo of quarterback Jonathan Garza and receiver Carlos Aguilar.
Mesquite averaged 28.2 points per game in 2016, which was the lowest figure in the eight-team district.
The Skeeters should be better in the middle and at the back end of their defense with the return of linebackers Jacob Pich and De'veyon Smith and defensive backs Kadarryus Hartfield and Caleb Boger.
8. North Mesquite Stallions
- Coach: Mike Robinson
- 2016 finish: 4-6
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- WR Jamarzeyea Arvie, Sr., 5-6, 160
- DL/LB Byron Turner, Sr., 6-0, 190
- DB Keyvien Johnson, Sr., 5-8, 160
- LB Anthony Bolton, Sr., 5-11, 200
- DB Samuel Inyang, Soph.
- RB Jawaun Clark, Jr., 5-8, 170
- LB/DL Kevion Curry, Jr., 6-0, 190
- OL Mark Sanchez, Jr.
2017 outlook: The Stallions missed out on the playoffs by one game a season ago, so the goal for North Mesquite in 2017 is clear: finish the job.
Senior wide receiver Jamarzeyea Arvie is one of the district's fastest players, and can spell trouble for most opposing defensive backs.
Defensive lineman Byron Turner, linebacker Anthony Bolton, and defensive back Keyvien Johnson are three pieces head coach Mike Robinson can build his defense around.
The Stallions need drastic improvement on that side of the ball after they allowed an average of more than 41 points per game in 2016.