This was a good district last year and there's no reason to believe it won't be just as good in 2017.

At least 12 starters are back for each District 8-3A Division II squad, and this league produced three teams that went to the area round or better last season.

Harmony and Edgewood dominated this district, but Winona caught lightning late and advanced all the way to the regional championship round. Only eventual state champion Gunter was able to bring the Wildcats down when it really counted.

Since all three district teams bring back a majority of starters, it's a safe bet they will all be contending for the league championship this year.

Is Winona's postseason success enough to put it over the top this go-around?

Harmony looked very, very good a season ago. Might it be a state championship kind of year?

How about Edgewood? Is it the top-ranked team and might there be a fourth team in the mix to win the district title?

The District 8-3A Division II picks are here.

District 8-3A Division II Preview

Edgewood QB Trey Erwin. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • RB/LB D.J Click, Sr., Harmony
  • OL/DL Tyler Culley, Jr., Lone Oak
  • ATH Konrad Eichelman, Sr., Harmony
  • QB/DB Trey Erwin, Sr., Edgewood
  • WR/LB Zach Francis, Sr., Winona
  • OL/DL Connor Henson, Sr., Harmony
  • RB/DB Quindarius Johnson, Soph., Winona
  • ATH KJ Kincade, Jr., Winona
  • RB/DB Javard McGill, Jr., Como-Pickton
  • RB/LB Tom Mitchell, Jr., Alba-Golden
  • LB Jayden Morgan, Jr., Edgewood
  • QB/LB Spencer Seahorn, Sr., Harmony
  • QB/DB Zane Smith, Jr., Alba-Golden
  • K Pablo Tarango, Sr., Winona
  • OL Noah Taylor, Sr., Harmony
  • QB Matt Williams, Soph., Lone Oak

TOP GAMES

  • Lone Oak at Alba-Golden, Oct. 13
  • Edgewood at Harmony, Oct. 13
  • Lone Oak at Winona, Oct. 27
  • Harmony at Winona, Nov. 3
  • Winona at Edgewood, Nov. 10
  • Alba-Golden at Como-Pickton, Nov. 10
Harmony OL Conner Henson. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

1. Harmony Eagles

  • Coach: Tim Russell
  • 2016 finish: 9-3 (3A D-II area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
  • OL/DL Connor Henson, Sr., 6-4, 265
  • ATH Konrad Eichelman, Sr., 6-2, 180 (123 tackles, 3 INTs, 7 forced fumbles, 12 PBUs)
  • QB/LB Spencer Seahorn, Sr., 6-0, 220 (1,342 yards, 10 TDs)
  • RB/LB D.J. Click, Sr., 5-11, 200 (123 tackles, 2 TFL)
  • OL Noah Taylor, Sr., Harmony, 6-3, 250
  • RB Nick Hoelscher, Sr., 5-11, 170 (993 rushing yards, 10 TDs, 14 catches, 333 receiving yards)
  • OL/DL Brody Chatham, Soph., 6-2, 270
Harmony QB Spencer Seahorn. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Look out.

With exception to key running back Mike Edmonson and lineman Waymon Lay, the Eagles bring back the major components of an offense that really clicked a year ago. Nick Hoelscher ran for about 1,000 yards behind Edmonson and big quarterback Spencer Seahorn has some deceptive moves when he's asked to run the rock.

Harmony has a major strength in its experienced offensive line. Conner Henson is a Louisiana-Monroe commit, but the line also will benefit with sophomore Brody Chatham returning. Noah Taylor, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, adds yet another obstacle for opposing defensive lines.

Considering the offensive line, Seahorn might have an even better year throwing the ball within the balanced offense. He hit the 1,300-yard mark last season.

Konrad Eichelman is the team's best athlete and will be especially important at safety, but he's a capable receiver, will start both ways and will be able to mentor the new receivers. The receiver spots are where Harmony got banged up by graduation.

Bottom line, Harmony is well rounded with at least one established player at each offensive position group. Arguably Region II's best offensive line isn't going to hurt matters.

The Eagles averaged a staggering 60.2 points per district game en route to a shared title with Edgewood in 2016.

Harmony ATH Konrad Eichelman. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Experienced.

Harmony brings back nine starters from a unit that surrendered 27.6 points per district game. That number could afford to improve, and experience should make it do so.

Eichelman, once again, is the team's best athlete and had a field day at safety as a junior. He was responsible for 10 turnovers on his own and broke up a further 12 passes.

But the absolute strength the Eagles possess is their front seven. It is entirely intact and features the district's best collective group of linebackers.

Offensive linemen, like Henson, can double along the defensive line if necessary and should help keep the primary group well rested.

2017 outlook: This could be a huge year for Harmony, but the same could be said last season. The Eagles only got to the area round and got undressed by Henrietta once there.

Winona, furthermore, is feeling great after an average district performance and a shocking run to the Region II championship game. Winona brings back 13 starters from that team.

Edgewood broke through last season and brings back 16 starters to Harmony's 16. Lone Oak isn't far off either in terms of experience and a successful past season.

Harmony has an outstanding non-district finale against White Oak to get ready for the district run. Waskom shouldn't be a slouch, either.

Winona ATH KJ Kincade. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

2. Winona Wildcats

  • Coach: Keylon Kincade
  • 2016 finish: 8-6 (3A D-I regional finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/DB Quindarius Johnson, Soph., 5-6, 150 (1,022 yards, 19 total TDs; 56 tackles, 5 INTs, 3 forced fumbles)
  •  ATH KJ Kincade, Jr., 5-10, 175 (740 rushing yards, 574 passing yards, 112 receiving yards, 17 total TDs; 38 tackles)
  • WR/LB Zach Francis, Sr., 6-0, 185 (122 tackles, 20 TFL)
  • K Pablo Tarango, Sr., 5-8, 180 (12 of 13 FGs, 92 of 95 extra points)
  • TE/DL La'darion Jefferson, Sr., 6-2, 200
  • WR/DB Dakota Pullum, Sr., 6-2, 175
Winona RB/DB Quindarius Johnson. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Winona will miss Dee Wheeler, who had a big senior season despite some early injuries, but the athletic duo of Quindarius Johnson and KJ Kincade should be enough to overcome Wheeler's graduation.

Johnson recorded 1,022 yards and got stronger as Winona's improbable playoff run advanced toward the regional championship game. Kincade played a role in all phases of the offense a season ago and put up 740 yards in the rushing department.

Kincade could be the Wildcats' long-term solution at quarterback. Contrarily, he could be an impact player at receiver if head coach Keylon Kincade can find anther signal-caller among his 16 returning lettermen.

Winona has six offensive starters back in total. They helped generate 30.2 points per district game, and that number improved in the postseason.

Winona LB Zach Francis. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Winona's defense allowed 35.6 points against in district games, but it held all of its playoff opponents to less points before meeting its end in the regional championship game to eventual state champion Gunter. Something has to give.

Seven starters back on defense suggest the Wildcats will return to district play with a competitive unit. That's big because the top three finishers ahead of Winona a season ago turned in solid offensive numbers and bring back no less than seven experienced players on that side of the ball.

Johnson and KJ Kincade will play secondary spots, and Johnson was responsible for eight takeaways in 14 games played. Opposing teams should have some trouble getting over the top of the unit.

Zach Francis is back to anchor the front seven off a 122-tackle junior season.

But surrendering five touchdowns per game isn't going to cut it if Winona wants to contend for the district championship.

2017 outlook: Winona, as expected, finally broke through with head coach Keylon Kincade a season ago. With a regional championship appearance under Kincade's belt, there's nowhere acceptable to go but up.

Harmony is slightly more experienced and more well-rounded entering fall camp, but Winona has the raw athletes to compete today and probably will enjoy a few pleasant surprises from its new starters.

District 8-3A Division II is much better at the middle tier than the adjacent District 7-3A Division II, so a high district finish probably will be enough to get through the bi-district round this season.

Gunter and Henrietta most likely will be waiting in later rounds.

Facing Alto and Elysian Fields in back-to-back weeks to begin the season might give the Wildcats a taste of later-round postseason competition. Both of those teams are expected to be pretty good in their own classifications.

Add to that list Harmony and a handful of solid district teams, a good Winona squad should get the experience it needs to contend for the regional round for a second consecutive year.

Edgewood's Jayden Morgan (left) and Trey Erwin. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

3. Edgewood Bulldogs

  • Coach: Kevin Bachtel
  • 2016 finish: 9-3 (3A D-II area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB/DB Trey Erwin, Sr., 6-2, 185
  • LB Jayden Morgan, Jr., 6-2, 175
  • WR/DB Turner Bannister, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • OL/DL Avery Whitcomb, Sr., 6-1, 205
Edgewood WR/DB Turner Bannister. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: A lot of credit has to go to Edgewood's offense for a breakthrough first year for head coach Kevin Bachtel. Quarterback Trey Erwin and a good passing attack slashed up the district for a share of the league title.

Erwin is back as is receiver Turner Bannister. They're two of eight returning starters from the Bulldogs' area-round offense.

Losing big running back Tye Elie to graduation is a tough blow, however. His 6-foot-1, 205-pound frame will be missed.

Bachtel will have to find a new running back to compliment the passing game.

Edgewood DL Avery Whitcomb. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Edgewood has eight returning starters back from a group that was the district's best in terms of points allowed per game. District opponents averaged about 22 points against the unit as the Bulldogs worked their way to a 4-1 league mark.

Big linebacker Jayden Morgan and defensive end Avery Whitcomb headline the squad's continuing strength within the front seven.

Edgewood has a lot of athleticism returning to rebuild its secondary.

2017 outlook: Sixteen starters back puts Edgewood in great preseason position to contend for the district championship.

The top producers don't match Harmony or Winona's top players' production, but this team is one of two squads that might surprise the projected frontrunners if it can find a few more productive players among the five it has to replace.

 

4. Lone Oak Buffaloes

  • Coach: Luke Goode
  • 2016 finish: 6-5 (3A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB Quaid Williams, Soph., 6-2, 175 (1,850 passing yards, 750 rushing yards, 32 total TDs)
  • OL/DL Tyler Culley, Jr., 6-0, 185 (85 tackles, 12 sacks)
  • WR/DB Dayton Gallagher, Sr., 6-0, 165 (600 yards)

 

2017 outlook: Lone Oak is yet another team with great numbers back from a playoff team a season ago.

Quaid Williams put up very impressive numbers for any quarterback and did so as a freshman. He's back to guide the Buffaloes again in his second season as a starter.

Lone Oak averaged a 33-27 victory against all district opponents last season, but Harmony and Edgewood didn't have much of a problem with the squad in double-digit wins. Both those teams have more returning starters whereas Winona, which lost to the Buffaloes, now has deep playoff experience.

The Buffaloes have a weak collective non-district schedule, but a Sept. 22 stretch game against Whitewright might come in handy with huge early district games against Alba-Golden and Edgewood right off the bat.

Alba-Golden, Edgewood and Como-Pickton on Nov. 3 are the wins Lone Oak needs to ensure itself a playoff berth.

 

5. Alba-Golden Panthers

  • Coach: Derek Smith
  • 2016 finish: 3-7
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB/LB Tom Mitchell, Jr., 5-10, 170 (250 yards; 103 tackles, 7 TFL)
  • QB/DB Zane Smith, Jr., 6-1, 165
  • DB Freddy Arenas, Sr., 5-7, 140

Offense: Alba-Golden struggled mightily on offense a season ago with just 19 combined points scored against all four of the district's playoff bound teams. A 40-27 win against winless Como-Pickton in Week 11 kept the Panthers out of the cellar.

Six starters are back on the offensive side. One of them is junior quarterback Zane Smith, who has good size for the position and should be well-prepared for his second season. Head coach Derek Smith is his father.

Alba-Golden must improve on offense in particular to get within reach of a playoff spot.

Defense: The Panthers have had some extremely productive front seven players in recent seasons. They have mostly been flushed out by graduation.

An exception is linebacker Tom Mitchell with 103 tackles and seven tackles for loss amid a 3-7 season.

Alba-Golden allowed 36.4 points against per district outing and will have to break in five new players ahead of the first game.

2017 outlook: With 12 returning starters back in total, it's hard to believe Alba-Golden is the district's least experienced team. But that's the way it is.

Panthers fans are going to need some surprises this season to see their team to seriously push for the playoffs.

The non-district schedule is all about confidence building ahead of crossing Lone Oak on the first night of district play. Winona, Harmony and Edgewood follow in order.

6. Como-Pickton Eagles

  • Coach: Charles Swann
  • 2016 finish: 0-10
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • RB Colton Clark, Sr., 5-10, 185
  • LB Matthew Pegues, Sr., 6-1, 170

Offense: Como-Pickton is banking on experience to make the offense more formidable this season.

Running back Colton Clark is a definite strength for the Eagles, but the squad was only good for 18.6 points per game against the district. Six other players are returning.

The Como-Pickton offense needs to be better for the complimenting defensive unit, which was the district's worst in 2016.

Defense: The Eagles gave up an average of 45 points to district opponents.

Seven starters are returning, but it's going to take more than experience to become a district defense in the top half.

2017 outlook: Fair non-district games against Detroit and Hawkins will be a good gauge of Como-Pickton's potential ahead of running through the District 8-3A Division II schedule.

The Eagles are forced to face Winona, Harmony and Edgewood off the bat to begin district play and probably won't have much margin for error afterward.