Last season, the District 7-4A Division I championship was decided between Paris and Liberty-Eylau, and we don't see that changing in 2017.

The Wildcats earned a hard-fought 16-8 win over L-E in the district opener last year on their way to a perfect run through 7-4A. And it was the only blemish on the Leopards' district resume.

Each team returns 12 starters to the field this fall.

The rest of the district, featuring Paris North Lamar, Princeton, Anna, and Quinlan Ford, is wide open.

Anna and Ford were the odd teams out a season ago, but both finished just a game out of playoff qualification.

Scroll down to read through our district predictions.

District 7-4A Division I Preview

Liberty-Eylau OL Kylar Cooks. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
PLAYMAKERS
  • QB/DB Linus Beierschmitt, Sr., Quinlan Ford
  • OL Kylar Cooks, Sr., Liberty-Eylau
  • QB/DB Keelan Crosby, Sr., Anna
  • ATH Isaiah Cross, Jr., Liberty-Eylau
  • ATH Alex Flores, Sr., Princeton
  • DB Jordan Furtch, Sr., Paris
  • LB Jeremiah Guenther, Sr., Paris North Lamar
  • DL Isaac Henson, Sr., Quinlan Ford
  • RB/DB Tyler Hill, Sr., Paris North Lamar
  • QB Decorian Phillips, Sr., Liberty-Eylau
  • RB/LB Mel Readus, Sr., Anna
  • QB Brendon Strickland, Soph., Princeton
  • RB Donovan Williams, Sr., Paris

 

TOP GAMES
  • Sept. 1 -- Gilmer at Liberty-Eylau
  • Sept. 8 -- Liberty-Eylau at Carthage
  • Oct. 13 -- Anna at Paris North Lamar
  • Oct. 13 -- Paris at Liberty-Eylau
Liberty-Eylau QB Decorian Phillips. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

1. Liberty-Eylau Leopards

  • Coach: Steve Wells
  • 2016 finish: 5-6 (4A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL Kylar Cooks, Sr., 6-5, 250 (committed to Texas State)
  • QB Decorian Phillips, Sr., 6-1, 180 (150 of 252, 1,913 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs; 81 carries, 570 yards, 8 TDs)
  • ATH Isaiah Cross, Jr., 6-1, 165 (50 catches, 606 yards, 3 TDs; 16 carries, 118 yards, 1 TD)
  • LB Cedric Dickerson, Jr., 5-10, 178
  • ATH DeAndre Hoof, Sr., 5-10, 185 (57 carries, 451 yards, 6 TDs; 6 catches, 87 yards)
  • DL Orion Williams, Sr., 6-4, 215
  • WR El-Amin Greer, Jr., 6-1, 170 (10 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD)
  • OL Trey Parker, Sr., 6-0, 221
Liberty-Eylau ATH Isaiah Cross. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Despite being young, especially at the skill positions, the Liberty-Eylau offense performed quite well in 2016. The Leopards ended the year averaging almost 34 points per game.

And with the nucleus of those players returning, expect L-E to put even more pressure on opposing defenses this season.

Quarterback Decorian Phillips was thrown into the fire as a junior, but he managed to put up almost 2,500 yards of offense in leading his team to a runner-up finish in the district.

Leading receiver Isaiah Cross, a junior, also returns, along with running back DeAndre Hoof, who had to fight for reps behind the now-graduated duo of Kameron Levingston and Kevin Florence.

The L-E offensive line should be a strong point as well with Texas State commit Kylar Cooks and Trey Parker leading the way.

Liberty-Eylau DL Orion Williams. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Leopards are hoping the defense can turn a corner in 2017 after an up-and-down year last season.

Opponents put up an average of more than 27 points per game, but L-E showed vast improvement as the season progressed.

Liberty-Eylau gave up almost 42 points per contest during its 1-4 non-district stretch, but the Leopards turned it up once district play began. L-E's five league foes scored a total 72 points.

Six defensive starters return, including senior lineman Orion Williams and junior linebacker Cedric Dickerson.

2017 outlook: Liberty-Eylau took to a big step back last season following consecutive trips to the regional finals, but that was expected after massive graduation losses.

A young team came of age down the stretch, recovering from a 1-5 beginning to the season to reach the playoffs.

Not surprisingly, much more is expected of L-E this year with a large number of impact players back on the scene.

A brutal non-district slate featuring games against Gilmer (4A Division II semifinalist), Carthage (4A Division I champion), Texas High (10-1, 5A), Atlanta, and Pleasant Grove (4A Division II regional semifinalist) will lead into the Leopards' 7-4A opener against defending district champ Paris.

That one could very well decide the league title in 2017.

 

2. Paris Wildcats

  • Coach: Steven Hohenberger
  • 2016 finish: 9-4 (4A Division I regional semifinalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Donovan Williams, Sr., 6-0, 183
  • DB Jordan Furtch, Sr., 5-10, 170
  • DL Vershaud Richardson, Jr., 6-4, 200
  • OL Elijah Ellis, Jr., 6-7, 300
  • LB Tre Perry, Sr., 5-7, 205
  • RB Do'rian Williams, Soph., 5-10, 165
  • LB Perry Franklin, Sr., 6-2, 170
  • OL Ashton Savage, Sr., 6-7, 315

2017 outlook: Paris not only went through the district unbeaten last season, it also went three rounds deep in the playoffs, the furthest of any 7-4A member.

And with 12 starters back, six on each side of the ball, expectations haven't changed all the much for the Wildcats.

The backfield duo of senior Donovan Williams and exciting sophomore Do'rian Williams will be problematic for opposing defenses, especially when you consider the wall they'll be running behind.

Senior Ashton Savage and junior Elijah Ellis are each 6-foot-7 and weight in excess of 300 pounds, which means penetrating the backfield might be close to impossible.

Paris figures to be on solid footing defensively as well, as it welcomes back lineman Vershaud Richardson and playmaking defensive back Jordan Furtch.

 

3. Princeton Panthers

  • Coach: Clint Surratt
  • 2016 finish: 5-6 (4A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • ATH Alex Flores, Sr., 6-0, 165 (137 carries, 660 yards, 7 TDs; 3 catches, 65 yards, 1 TD)
  • QB Brendon Strickland, Soph., 6-3, 210 (35 of 84, 378 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs)
  • ATH Jacob Purdon, Sr. (16 of 41, 281 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs; 76 carries, 287 yards, 2 TDs; 7 catches, 77 yards; 32 tackles)
  • LB Elmer Cruz, Sr., 5-10, 165 (80 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 sack, 1 INT, 3 PBUs, 1 fumble recovery)
  • DB Quinton Goodwin, Sr., 5-11, 155 (37 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBUs)
  • OL Jake Lacey, Sr., 6-0, 250
  • ATH Tristan Gee, Jr., 5-9, 156 (28 carries, 181 yards, 2 TDs; 3 catches, 51 yards)
  • DB C.J. Washington, Jr., 5-6, 145 (30 tackles, 7 PBUs)

2017 outlook: Princeton may have finished below .500 in district a year ago, but the Panthers did just enough to qualify for the playoffs as the league's No. 4 seed.

Like both of 7-4A's top two finishers from 2016, Princeton is bringing back 12 starters.

Seniors Alex Flores and Jacob Purdon are multi-purpose athletes head coach Clint Surratt can utilize in a variety of roles, while quarterback Brendon Strickland is a physical specimen who saw valuable time under center as a freshman last season.

Linebacker Elmer Cruz and defensive back Quinton Goodwin are back to spearhead a defense that allowed more than 28 points per game a season ago.

 

4. Paris North Lamar Panthers

  • Coach: Aaron Emeyabbi
  • 2016 finish: 5-6 (4A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/DB Tyler Hill, Sr., 5-11, 170 (101 carries, 546 yards, 7 TDs; 55 tackles, 1 for loss, 3 INTs, 5 PBUs)
  • LB Jeremiah Guenther, Sr., 5-11, 175 (42 tackles, 1 for loss)
  • ATH Joshua Dangerfield, Sr. (10 catches, 120 yards; 20 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 2 PBUs)
  • OL Cody Anthony, Jr.
  • LB Austin Exum, Sr., 5-11, 170 (66 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 1 PBU)
  • DL Hunter Moore, Jr., 5-11, 204
  • QB Kobey Emeyabbi, Soph., 5-11, 152
  • OL Gage Brown, Sr., 6-0, 260

2017 outlook: North Lamar and Princeton tied for third place in the district standings with 2-3 records, but it was North Lamar that entered the postseason as the No. 3 seed.

A total of 13 starters are back to help coach Aaron Emeyabbi take the Panthers to the next step this fall.

Senior Tyler Hill was a legitimate two-way star as a junior, and he'll likely be asked to carry the load on both sides of the ball again this season.

Gage Brown and Cody Anthony, both offensive linemen, will be important pieces to what North Lamar hopes is another postseason team.

 

5. Anna Coyotes

  • Coach: Jason Heath
  • 2016 finish: 6-4
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/DB Keelan Crosby, Sr., 6-1, 180 (34 of 60, 556 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs; 57 carries, 516 yards, 13 TDs; 24 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 INT)
  • RB/LB Mel Readus, Sr., 6-2, 215 (11 carries, 108 yards, 1 TD)
  • LB Antonio Moon, Sr., 6-2, 176 (61 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 1 INT, 2 PBUs)
  • DL Josiah Ivery, Sr., 5-9, 205 (32 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
  • OL Jacob Perez, Sr.
  • WR/DB Emmonte Davis, Jr., 6-2, 160 (21 tackles)
  • RB/DB Aaron Lee, Sr., 5-9, 170 (15 carries, 89 yards, 1 TD; 45 tackles, 2 for loss)
  • OL Jeran Lewis, Sr., 6-2, 265

2017 outlook: Anna won the second-most regular-season games of any team in the district, just one behind league champ Paris, but losses at the wrong times foiled the Coyotes' plans for the playoffs.

Head coach Jason Heath will have the majority of last year's starters back, including quarterback Keelan Crosby, who'll need a big senior year if Anna is to break through in 2017.

The defense, which surrendered a modest 21.9 points per game a season ago, could be a real strength as seven players with starting experience are returning.

Antonio Moon and Mel Readus are a solid 1-2 punch at linebacker, whole Josiah Ivery proved he could wreak havoc in opposing backfields last year.

 

6. Quinlan Ford Panthers

  • Coach: Todd Wallace
  • 2016 finish: 4-6
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/DB Linus Beierschmitt, Sr., 5-11, 175 (47 of 92, 760 yards, 4 TDs, 7 INTs; 103 carries, 587 yards, 6 TDs; 57 tackles, 11 for loss, 2 INTs, 1 PBU, 1 fumble recovery)
  • DL Isaac Henson, Sr., 6-2, 235 (21 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 forced fumble)
  • RB/LB Darion Rodriguez, Sr., 5-9, 165 (40 carries, 305 yards, 5 TDs; 44 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries, 1 INT, 1 blocked punt)
  • WR/DB Dustin Fulbright, Sr., 5-10, 170 (12 catches, 265 yards, 2 TDs; 20 tackles 3 PBUs)
  • DL Matthew Bryant, Sr., 6-2, 235 (37 tackles, 7 for loss)
  • RB/DB Edgar Aguillon, Sr., 5-9, 225 (35 carries, 140 yards; 22 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 recovery)
  • LB Dylan Jackman, Sr., 5-11, 165 (34 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 PBU)
  • DB Louie Guynes, Sr., 5-11, 170

2017 outlook: Quinlan Ford's win total of four games in 2016 might not jump off the screen, but considering the Panthers were on the heels of a dreadful 1-9 campaign, it was a step in the right direction.

Ford even managed to knock off Anna for its first district win since 2013.

And with a league-high 16 returning starters, the Panthers feel like the time is now to shoot for the playoffs.

Quarterback Linus Beierschmitt, running back Darion Rodriguez, and receiver Dustin Fulbright make Ford multi-dimensional on offense, while Isaac Henson and Matthew Bryant give the Panthers size along the defensive front.