This district race has come down to Malakoff and Teague in recent seasons.

Even as the Tigers forged a team that ultimately went to the Class 3A Division I state semifinals, Teague was right there with them in Week 10 before faltering in the fourth quarter. Now it's Teague again with the numbers.

Is Teague ready to get back to the top of the district standings after a one-year hiatus? Maybe. West looks like it's in position to surprise.

But maybe Malakoff's carryover athletes are enough to get the job done. Star quarterback Judd Miller is returning after all.

This is an eight-team district, meaning a couple of qualified teams are going to be left out in the cold after Week 11.

While we're high on the aforementioned three teams, maybe Elkhart, Eustace and Palestine Westwood have chances to get out alive. We'll explore those squads as well as their more Central Texas-based, middle-tiered opposition.

Our District 9-3A Division I picks are just a scroll away.

Malakoff QB Judd Miller. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

District 9-3A Division I Preview

PLAYMAKERS

  • LB Zee Bailey, Sr., Malakoff
  • OL/DL Joe Benton, Sr., Elkhart
  • TE/LB Brayden Bradley, Sr., Groesbeck
  • RB/DB J.D. Clewis, Sr., Palestine Westwood
  • QB Nathan Gerik, Sr., West
  • ATH Antonio Heard, Sr., Teague
  • WR/DB Tyrese Heard, Sr., Teague
  • ATH Clifton Johnson, Sr., Eustace
  • WR/DB Michael Jones, Sr., Groesbeck
  • QB/LB Judd Miller, Sr., Malakoff
  • OL/DL Jordan Mims, Sr., Elkhart
  • ATH Johnathon Simmons, Sr., Elkhart
  • DB Cory Strawn, Sr., Eustace
  • WR/DB Hunter Watson, Sr., Whitney
  • RB Breashawn Williams, Sr., Malakoff
  • OL/DL Marcus Williams, Sr., Teague
  • QB Devin Wilson, Soph., Whitney

TOP GAMES

  • West at Teague, Sept. 29
  • Groesbeck at Malakoff, Oct. 6
  • West at Malakoff, Oct. 13
  • Elkhart at Whitney, Oct. 27
  • Palestine Westwood at Eustace, Oct. 27
  • Malakoff at Teague, Nov. 3
  • Groesbeck at Elkhart, Nov. 3

1. Teague Lions

  • Coach: Donnie Osborn
  • 2016 finish: 10-3 (3A D-I regional semifinalist)
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
  • ATH Antonio Heard, Sr., 5-7, 155 (1,394 rushing yards, 945 passing yards, 30 total TDs)
  • WR/DB Tyrese Heard, Sr., 6-1, 185 (391 yards, 9 TDs; 76 tackles, 3 INTs, 10 PBUs)
  • OL/DL Marcus Williams, Sr., 6-1, 245
  • OL/DL Jacob Maggard, Sr., 6-1, 240
  • OL/DL Travis Lemons, Sr., 6-1, 260
  • RB/LB Dayveon Dixon, Jr., 5-7 150

2017 Outlook: Teague essentially returns its entire offense from 2016, which entails an offensive line that pushed for more than 3,700 rushing yards in 13 games. The line has decent size for the 3A Division I level with tackle Jacob Maggard headlining as a third-year starter.

Antonio Heard threw for nearly 1,000 yards last season, but head coach Donnie Osborn is thinking he might have someone better to utilize under center. Junior signal-caller Zack Satterwhite is going to get the chance to start and Heard is expected to move to receiver full-time. Heard ran for 1,300 yards last season, so the transition will probably be easy.

Tyrese Heard is a second experienced receiver Satterwhite will get to work alongside.

The Lions are going to have to break in six new starters from a defensive unit that averaged 15 points against per district game a season ago. However, Teague's defense has not allowed more than 21 points per district game since the 2014 season and wasn't much worse beforehand.

Osborn's group usually has its way with teams in league play. Even as Malakoff worked its way to the state semifinals last season, the Lions played the Tigers to a four-point game in Malakoff.

This is the district's third-most experienced team with 14 returning starters back, it's first among the district squads that made the postseason last year and it's traditionally the best program among the group.

Malakoff QB/LB Judd Miller (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

2. Malakoff Tigers

  • Coach: James Driskell
  • 2016 finish: 14-1 (3A D-I state semifinalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB/LB Judd Miller, Sr., 6-0, 210 (3,527 yards, 48 TDs)
  • LB Zee Bailey, Sr., 5-9, 195
  • OL/DL Coby Wilbanks, Sr., 6-0, 320
Malakoff OL/DL Coby Wilbanks (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Losing universal athletes Q.T. Barker and Tyler Russell to collegiate careers hurts, but Malakoff should have a well-rounded offense once again.

Judd Miller is fighting for scholarship opportunities after throwing for more than 3,500 yards and 48 touchdowns in the Tigers' trip to the state semifinals last season.

But this is a program that could afford to have some pleasant surprises come out of its depth. Six inexperienced players will inherit starting roles for a school that has new expectations after coming so close to a state championship game berth.

Malakoff outscored the second-best offensive unit in the district, Teague, by 100 points through all seven league contests last season. It's going to take multiple breakout performances by newcomers to even come close to touching that statistic.

Malakoff LB Zee Bailey (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Once again, the Tigers are going to miss Barker and Russell. The two players combined for 18 interceptions their senior seasons.

No positional group has full continuity. Only four players are back from last season's dominant group.

However, Malakoff will enjoy the services of linebacker Zee Bailey for a final year. Bailey racked up 148 tackles and forced three fumbles a season ago.

2017 outlook: We've dwelled on the lack of Malakoff's experience -- it's the second-least experienced team in the district only in front of Palestine Westwood -- but the Tigers' core of returners is outstanding.

Miller is a likely candidate for Offensive MVP honors as well as all-state honors his senior season.

Defensively, Bailey will make the Tigers tough up the middle.

If Malakoff finds athleticism among its 13 returning letter winners and the former junior varsity squad, it will contend for the district championship and could make it to the latter rounds of the postseason.

 

3. West Trojans

  • Coach: David Woodard
  • 2016 finish: 5-6 (3A D-I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB Nathan Gerik, Sr., 5-11, 175 (1,194 passing yards, 619 rushing yards, 19 total TDs)
  • TE/DL Trevor Scott, Sr., 6-3, 210 (63 tackles, 7 TFL, 5 sacks)
  • LB Jacob Bates, Sr., 6-1, 225 (83 tackles, 10 TFL)

2017 outlook: West was the top team of the district's middle tier last season and could be far more than that this year with 11 starters back from a playoff team. The Trojans were never out of a district game with exception to a 42-0 loss at home against Malakoff.

Nathan Gerick is back to guide the offense at quarterback for a second consecutive season. West had the district's third highest-scoring offense and was only two points behind Teague, averaging almost 35 points per game.

The Trojans' front seven also looks promising with end Trevor Scott and linebacker Jacob Bates returning from productive years. West's defense surrendered about 23.5 points per game to the opposing district teams.

Whether or not West can find supporting athletes for Gerik, Bates and Scott will define its season with 11 newcomers about to earn starting positions.

 

4. Groesbeck Goats

  • Coach: Scott Hale
  • 2016 finish: 5-6 (3A D-I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
  • TE/LB Brayden Bradley, Sr., 6-1, 200 (151 tackles)
  • DB Michael Jones, Sr., 5-11, 160 (96 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 INTs)
  • LB Landen Frazier, Sr., 6-0, 180 (117 tackles, 10 TFL)

2017 outlook: A majority of Groesbeck's returning starters are on offense, but its most productive players are more essential on the defensive side. That being said, the Goats could afford to cut into the 26.7 points they gave up per district opponent.

The offense only averaged 26.7 points against district opponents for a net point differential of zero. Seven starters back on offense has to count for something.

With a majority of starters returning in total, expect Groesbeck to make a serious push for the postseason.

A tough non-district game against Bullard from Class 4A in Week 2 should help the cause.

 

5. Whitney Wildcats

  • Coach: Kenneth Gilchrist
  • 2016 finish: 3-7
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
  • QB Devin Wilson, Soph., 5-10, 160 (2,193 passing yards, 1,005 rushing yards, 24 total TDs)
  • WR/DB Hunter Wilson, Sr., 5-10, 170 (743 yards, 5 TDs)
  • WR/LB Sam Shorts, Sr., 5-6, 165 (123 tackles)

2017 outlook: Quarterback Devin Wilson should get better and better. His 10-game freshman season ended with more than 3,000 total yards amassed.

Whitney's offense was very average among the district's teams, but the Wildcats' defensive unit was second-worst in total points surrendered and first among teams that won at least one league game. Seven defensive starters are back and experience should help drop the number.

Still, this is a program that gave up more than 43 points a game against the district. Defense might be a liability for a second consecutive season.

Fifteen starters return in total, and Wilson is a clear-cut star. Expect Whitney to be more competitive this season.

Elkhart ATH Johnathan Simmons (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

6. Elkhart Elks

  • Coach: Sam Wells
  • 2016 finish: 5-5
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
  • ATH Johnathon Simmons, Sr., 6-0, 175
  • OL/DL Joe Benton, Sr., 6-2, 245
  • OL/DL Jordan Mims, Sr., 6-0, 240
  • LB/DB Trent Huff, Sr., 5-9, 150
Elkhart OL/DL Joe Benton (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Elkhart is pretty experienced along the offensive line with Joe Benton and Jordan Mims grading out above 90 percent as juniors. If you've got an offensive line, you've got a shot.

Johnathon Simmons returns for a final tour of duty. He could be the team's most valuable player as a universal athlete.

Quarterback Hunter Bush also is back in the fold to give the Elks an experienced backfield behind an experienced offensive line.

Elkhart's offense averaged about 21 points per district game, which placed it among the bottom three teams. Eustace and Palestine Westwood were both within 14 total points of the Elks.

That number will have to improve for Elkhart to remain competitive. Last year's season boiled down to the Groesbeck game and the Elks were held to six points.

Elkhart DL Jordan Mims (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Head coach Sam Wells oversaw a middle-of-the-road defense last season. Despite a lack of offensive production, the unit kept Elkhart competitive against the middle tier of the district while surrendering about 32 points per district game.

The squad will miss star linebacker Alex Thlang, but five players are returning and Wells won't have to undergo a full rebuilding job in fall camp.

Trent Huff and Johnathon Simmons are big assets in the backfield. It will be tough for teams to get over the top.

2017 outlook: The old saying is that you want a team to be good in the middle and then worry about the perimeter.

Between the experience of the offensive line, the offensive backfield and a couple of established players within the front seven and at the safety spots, Elkhart has a pretty good middle. A couple of positive surprises, and this squad can be a playoff team.

The Elks have a good district schedule minus facing West and Teague in consecutive weeks the second and third weeks of district play. Even then, Teague has to visit Elkhart this season.

Sandwiched around those games are contests against Eustace and Palestine Westwood, which makes a 2-2 district record likely heading into the backstretch.

The Elks probably will have to clinch ahead of Week 11. Malakoff will host Elkhart the final night of the regular season.

Eustace ATH Clifton Johnson (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

7. Eustace Bulldogs

  • Coach: Heath Ragle
  • 2016 finish: 4-6
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
  • ATH Clifton Johnson, Sr., 5-9, 165 (1,181 total yards, 12 TDs; 4 INTs)
  • WR/DB Cory Strawn, Sr., 5-10, 160 (6 INTs)
  • QB Alejandro Sanchez, Jr., 5-9, 160 (407 passing yards, 696 rushing yards, 14 total TDs)
Eustace QB Alejandro Sanchez (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Eustace is another team that could afford improvement from the 20.4 points it averaged against its seven district mates. Seven returning starters make improvement a safe bet.

Alejandro Sanchez, a junior, will guide the unit from under center for a second season and gets to work with star athlete Clifton Johnson.

The Bulldogs have a decently sized and decently experienced offensive line to protect their main skill players.

Eustace WR/DB Cody Strawn. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: You know the secondary is going to be good with Johnson and Cory Strawn combining to average an interception per contest as underclassmen.

The Bulldogs owned another middle-of-the-road defense and surrendered about 34 points in their district contests. Eight starters are back, so it's likely the number will drop.

Can the offense meet the defense in the middle?

2017 outlook: Eustace is getting better and better under Heath Ragle and ties for the most experience in the district.

Another breakthrough player to compliment the aforementioned guys will keep the Bulldogs competitive in district to the end.

The program probably needs to steal one of its first three district games to get the job done. Those contests come against Groesbeck, Teague and Malakoff in order.

 

8. Palestine Westwood Panthers

  • Coach: Kevin Hayes
  • 2016 finish: 1-9
  • Returning starters: 3 offensive, 3 defensive
Player to watch
  • RB/DB J.D. Clewis, Sr., 5-11, 205

Offense: Westwood returns a really good running back in J.D. Clewis and has a reputation for solid offensive line play.

The Panthers had the least productive scoring offense among district teams, but it was a very thin margin between the unit and the league's other bottom groups.

Unfortunately, only three starters return. Elkhart and Eustace have more experience.

Defense: The Panthers gave up a district-worst 45 points per game in district play last season.

Only three players are back on the defensive side. The junior varsity team and 16 letter winners have to be dramatically better than the former unit for Westwood to have a chance.

2017 outlook: Westwood is far and away the district's least experienced team and was the weakest squad a season ago.

It's going to take some magic to get out of this district alive, and the squad will have to get the job done early. Teague, West and Malakoff appear in the bottom half of the schedule.