There's a lot to be excited about this season in District 16-5A.

Three of the seven schools have new head coaches, several players are the targets of major Division I colleges, and the playoff race will probably come down to the very last night of the regular season.

Texas High, Marshall, and Hallsville all experienced change at the top.

The Tigers replace longtime coach Barry Norton with Gerry Stanford, Marshall brought in former SMU assistant and DeSoto head coach Claude Mathis, and Hallsville hired Joe Drennon, who led Mineola to the 3A Division I state championship in 2016.

The league also features players committed to LSU, TCU, SMU, and North Texas, and several others who will have multiple options at the next level.

And as for the playoffs? Well, 16-5A has a lot to prove after last year's disappointing performance.

None of the four playoff representatives secured a win in the postseason, including defending district champ Texas High, who had its first unbeaten regular season since 2006.

Once again, Texas High and Marshall appear to be the front-runners. But don't sleep on Sulphur Springs, which returns the most starters of any team in the district.

Meanwhile, Pine Tree, Hallsville, Mount Pleasant, and Greenville will challenge for the playoffs as well.

Our District 16-5A picks are just a scroll away.

District 16-5A Preview

Marshall OL Chasen Hines. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)
PLAYMAKERS
  • DB JaKwan Allen, Sr., Greenville
  • QB Coltin Clack, Jr., Texas High
  • LB Michael Drennon, Sr., Hallsville
  • DL D'Idrec Dugan, Sr., Sulphur Springs
  • RB Dorian Glinton, Jr., Mount Pleasant
  • OL Chasen Hines, Sr., Marshall
  • QB Ryan Humphries, Sr., Sulphur Springs
  • WR Tevailance Hunt, Sr., Texas High
  • OL Mose Jeffery, Sr., Pine Tree
  • OL Kameron King, Sr., Marshall
  • DL JaQuon Lyons, Sr., Greenville
  • QB Josh Morris, Jr., Mount Pleasant
  • DL Leonard Parks, Sr., Texas High
  • TE/DL Jashon Pogue, Jr., Mount Pleasant
  • DL Marje Smith, Sr., Marshall
  • WR J.J. Sparkman, Soph., Pine Tree
  • RB Josh Taylor, Sr., Hallsville
  • OL Blake Trainor, Jr., Hallsville
  • DB Terrell Turman, Sr., Sulphur Springs
  • QB Keshon Williams, Jr., Pine Tree

 

TOP GAMES
  • Sept. 1 -- Tyler Lee at Marshall
  • Sept. 8 -- Texas High at Arkansas High
  • Sept. 8 -- Marshall at Longview
  • Sept. 29 -- Marshall at Texas High
  • Oct. 20 -- Hallsville at Pine Tree
Texas High WR Tevailance Hunt. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

1. Texas High Tigers

  • Coach: Gerry Stanford
  • 2016 finish: 10-1 (5A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR Tevailance Hunt, Sr., 6-2, 180 (36 catches, 700 yards, 10 TDs; committed to TCU)
  • DL Leonard Parks, Sr., 6-4, 235 (committed to SMU)
  • QB Coltin Clack, Jr., 6-2, 220
  • WR/DB Jaqualen Brown, Sr., 6-1, 170
  • LB Davon Williams, Sr., 5-11, 216
  • RB Chris Sutton, Jr., 5-8, 170
  • DB Darrel Webster, Sr., 5-10, 165
  • LB Chris Arnold, Sr., 5-11, 210
Texas High TE Riley Russell. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Texas High was hit pretty hard by graduation, losing seven starters on the offensive side of the ball, including two Division I signees.

Quarterback Cade Pearson (North Texas) and receiver Quan Hampton (Kansas) were each three-year starters, and vitally important to helping Texas High accomplish its first 10-0 regular season in 10 years.

On the bright side, Texas High does return its second-leading receiver from a season ago in TCU commit Tevailance Hunt.

New head coach Gerry Stanford is also excited about junior quarterback Coltin Clack, who has yet to start a game on the varsity level but already has a handful of Division I scholarship offers.

Junior running back Chris Sutton is someone to keep an eye on out of the backfield.

Texas High DL Leonard Parks. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Tigers were stingy on defense last year, and they could be even better in 2017. That's because all but three starters are back.

The group will be led up front by senior defensive end and SMU commit Leonard Parks, who Stanford says has been one of the most impressive players during the offseason.

Davon Williams and Chris Arnold are big and physical linebackers, while the secondary is good in shape with the return of Jaqualen Brown and Darrel Webster.

Texas High only allowed 14.5 points per game in 2016, and there's a good chance that number could drop even lower this fall.

2017 outlook: For the first time this Millennium, someone other than Barry Norton is leading the Texas High football program.

Stanford, who came in from Class 6A Flower Mound Marcus, replaces Norton, who won 156 games, including a state championship at Texas High from 1999-2016.

The new coach inherits a talented roster capable of picking up where it left off last season.

However, the 2016 season will always be looked upon as bittersweet. The Tigers were unbeaten heading into the 5A Division I playoffs, but suffered a shocking first-round loss to West Mesquite.

Competition in the neighboring 15-5A doesn't figure to be any less, so Texas High will have to take those lessons it learned the hard way, and apply them this time around.

Marshall's De'Kendrick Bender (left), Tahj Washington (center) and Champ Mathis. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

2. Marshall Mavericks

  • Coach: Claude Mathis
  • 2016 finish: 6-5 (5A Division II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL Chasen Hines, Sr., 6-3, 330 (committed to LSU)
  • OL Kameron King, Sr., 6-3, 270 (committed to North Texas)
  • DL Marje Smith, Sr., 6-6, 215 (23 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack; committed to Baylor)
  • OL Christian Hood, Jr., 6-4, 300
  • WR De'Kendrick Bender, Jr., 6-0, 165 (18 catches, 233 yards, 2 TDs)
  • DB Champ Mathis, Jr., 5-11, 180
  • WR/DB Corteze Hurd, Sr., 6-1, 175 (10 catches, 146 yards, 2 TDs; 72 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBUs, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
  • DB Tre Macon, Sr., 5-11, 180 (97 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries, 4 PBUs)
Marshall WR De'Kendrick Bender. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: You won't find a more talented group of offensive linemen at the 5A level anywhere in the state than the group in Marshall.

Three linemen -- seniors Chasen Hines and Kameron King, and junior Christian Hood -- all have Division I offers. Hines and King have committed to LSU and North Texas, respectively.

The receiving corps is in good shape, too, as junior De'Kendrick Bender and senior Tahj Washington both return.

The question marks lie at the two most important positions: quarterback and running back.

The Mavs will give both JJ Green and Odirrius Sellers a chance to run the show behind center, while Marshall is in desperate need of a replacement for graduated three-year starter at running back Cam Haller.

Haller, a Texas A&M baseball signee, put up 4,548 rushing yards and 68 touchdowns during his career.

Marshall DL Marje Smith. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Marshall brings back the majority of last season's defensive starters, and should be experienced at all three levels.

Senior defensive end Marje Smith, a Baylor pledge, can cause problems for opposing offensive tackles, Tre Macon is a linebacker-safety hybrid, while Corteze Hurd might be the Mavs' most athletically gifted player on either side of the ball.

Last season, opponents averaged a little more than 27 points per game, and with a solid nucleus coming back, that number might trend downward in 2017.

2017 outlook: There's a new sheriff in town and his name is Claude Mathis. When Clint Harper left Marshall to take the Duncanville ISD athletics director job in the spring, the Mavs were able to convince Mathis to head east.

Mathis was a coaching giant at DeSoto, He compiled an overall record of 74-18, led his team to consecutive state semifinal berths in 2012 and 2013, and oversaw about 40 of his players sign with FBS college programs during his seven-year tenure.

He then joined Chad Morris' staff at SMU where he served as running backs coach for the past two seasons.

With a proven winner leading the program, and a talented roster that currently consists of four Division I recruits, expectations are for Marshall to challenge Texas High for district supremacy.

Those two teams meet in the 16-5A opener on Sept. 29. The Mavs will have non-district games against Tyler Lee, Longview, Alvin Shadow Creek, and Corsicana to get ready.

Sulphur Springs QB Ryan Humphries. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

3. Sulphur Springs Wildcats

  • Coach: Greg Owens
  • 2016 finish: 4-7 (5A Division II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Ryan Humphries, Sr., 5-10, 172 (135 of 253, 1,846 yards, 17 TDs, 8 INTs; 80 carries, 174 yards, 5 TDs)
  • DL D'Idrec Dugan, Sr., 6-0, 225 (50 tackles, 21 for loss, 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 2 PBUs)
  • DB Terrell Turman, Sr., 6-1, 150 (35 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries, 2 PBUs)
  • WR Simeon Taylor, Sr., 6-2, 170 (52 catches, 805 yards, 7 TDs)
  • RB Colton Allen, Jr., 5-7, 150 (111 carries, 527 yards, 4 TDs)
  • OL Jesus Olivo, Sr., 6-2, 280
  • LB Jaxon Reneau, Sr., 5-11, 200 (54 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 INT)
  • RB Searn Rodgers, Sr., 5-11, 200 (124 carries, 710 yards, 3 TDs)
Sulphur Springs WR Simeon Taylor. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Despite only winning four games last season, the Sulphur Springs offense was a strength, as it averaged more than 26 points per game.

And with eight offensive starters returning, including its quarterback, top two leading rushers, and No. 1 receiver, expect Sulphur Springs to only get better.

Senior quarterback Ryan Humphries made big plays at times last season, and a lot will be expected of him again in 2017. His favorite target, senior receiver Simeon Taylor, give the Wildcats one of the district's top QB-WR combinations.

The running back duo of junior Colton Allen and senior Searn Rodgers is back after combining to rush for more than 1,200 yards in 11 games a year ago.

Jesus Olivo anchors a strong offensive line.

Sulphur Springs DL D'Idrec Dugan. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: If Sulphur Springs wants to take the next step and challenge for a district championship this season, the defensive side of the ball must drastically improve.

In 2016, the Wildcats allowed opponents more than 34 points per game.

But on a positive note, only three defensive starters need to be replaced.

It all starts up front with end D'Idrec Dugan, who turned in one of best seasons by any pass rusher in 16-5A last year. He'll be backed up by linebacker Jaxon Reneau and defensive Terrell Turman, both of whom have all-district written all over them.

2017 outlook: It wasn't a raging success, but Sulphur Springs gladly accepted the outcome of the 2016 season, especially after its disastrous 1-9 campaign the year before.

Sulphur Springs returned to the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons, but now the Wildcats will shoot for something much bigger: a district championship.

With the most experience in the district, head coach Greg Owens is hoping his team can compete with both Texas High and Marshall atop the league.

Sulphur Springs closes non-district with a clash against arch-rival Whitehouse, and two of the Wildcats’ first three district games come against the two league favorites, Texas High and Marshall.

Pine Tree's Dee Green (left), J.J. Sparkman (center) and Jay Easley. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

4. Pine Tree Pirates

  • Coach: Kerry Lane
  • 2016 finish: 2-8
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Keshon Williams, Jr., 6-4, 230 (36 of 112, 653 yards, 4 TDs, 5 INTs; 120 carries, 582 yards, 3 TDs)
  • WR J.J. Sparkman, Soph., 6-4, 195
  • OL Mose Jeffery, Sr., 6-4, 310
  • DL Gary Wiley, Sr., 6-3, 220 (64 tackles, 5 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 PBUs)
  • WR Trey Pruitt, Sr., 5-11, 150
  • RB Sylvandan Stewart, Jr., 5-9, 160
  • DL Kalvin Hutchings, Sr., 6-3, 242 (21 tackles, 1 sack, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 PBUs)
  • QB/LB Wade Seidel, Sr., 5-11, 175 (54 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles, 2 PBUs)
Pine Tree QB Keshon Williams. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Pine Tree was extremely young on the offensive side of the ball last season, but with a full year of seasoning, the going should be much easier for the Pirates in 2017.

Last year, Pine Tree averaged just 16.9 points per game, but there is reason for optimism.

Junior quarterback Keshon Williams, who battled injuries last year, returns and is one of the area's most intriguing prospects in the 2019 class. He'll be joined by a solid offensive line anchored by senior Mose Jeffery.

The running game and receiving corps might be a work in progress, but Pine Tree is excited to see what receivers Trey Pruitt and J.J. Sparkman, and running back Sylvandan Stewart can do.

Pine Tree DL Gary Wiley. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Opponents averaged more than 35 points per game on the Pirates' defense last season, so there is plenty of room for improvement.

Pine Tree should be very strong on the defensive line as it welcomes back the senior duo of Gary Wiley and Kalvin Hutchings.

Wade Seidel is a hard-nosed player at the linebacker position, and the defensive front will need to hold down the fort while some newcomers are breaking in, in the secondary.

2017 outlook: Pine Tree hasn't qualified for the playoffs since 2001, and has just one winning record during that time span. In fact, the Pirates have won four or more games in a season just five times since 2000.

But with a young and developing core of players at his disposal, second-year head coach Kerry Lane can see light at the end of the tunnel.

There will need to obvious improvements in certain areas, but this might the first time in well over a decade that Pine Tree has a realistic shot at making the playoffs.

A non-district schedule featuring games against Jacksonville, Pittsburg, Kilgore, and Henderson should give the Pirates an adequate test for life in 16-5A.

The make-or-break stretch for the Pirates will come in October when they face Mount Pleasant, Greenville, and Hallsville in consecutive weeks.

Hallsville LB Michael Drennon. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

5. Hallsville Bobcats

  • Coach: Joe Drennon
  • 2016 finish: 2-8
  • Returning starters: N/A

Players to watch

  • LB Michael Drennon, Sr., 6-2, 215
  • RB Josh Taylor, Sr., 5-10, 195
  • OL Blake Trainor, Jr., 6-6, 300
  • DL Branson Emerson, Sr., 5-11, 195
  • OL/DL Cecil Johnson, Sr., 6-0, 265
  • DL Tanner Morris, Sr., 6-0, 270
  • WR John Michael Scott, Sr., 5-11, 170
  • RB Jamal Davis, Sr.
Hallsville RB Josh Taylor. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Not a lot of things went right for Hallsville last season, and that includes the Bobcats' offense.

Hallsville managed a pedestrian 16.2 points per game in 2016, which ranked sixth in the seven-team district.

New head coach Joe Drennon is hoping that the duo of Jamal Davis and Josh Taylor at running back, and a big offensive line anchored by Blake Trainor and Cecil Johnson can help move things in a positive direction.

Hallsville DL Branson Emerson. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The defense had a tough time in 2016 as well, as opponents averaged more than 30 points per game.

Part of that was due to being overmatched, but another reason for the struggles was the lack of consistency on the offensive side of the ball.

Michael Drennon, the son of the head coach, gives the Hallsville defense a leader in the middle with state championship experience.

Defensive linemen Branson Emerson and Tanner Morris will be key figures as well for Hallsville's defense.

2017 outlook: After an 11-year run by head coach David Plunk, Hallsville decided to go in a different direction with the hire of Drennon, who led Mineola to the 3A Division I state championship last season and was 40-7 from 2014-16.

Drennon will try inject some new life into a Hallsville program that's been solid for more than a decade, but has yet to become a perennial district title contender.

Hallsville has a strong non-district slate featuring games against Whitehouse, Wylie East, Jacksonville, and Nacogdoches. The Bobcats will then have their work cut out once the difficult 16-5A schedule begins Sept. 29.

Mount Pleasant's KJ Cannon (left), Terrance Allen (center) and Buddy McGill. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

6. Mount Pleasant Tigers

  • Coach: Corey Homer
  • 2016 finish: 3-8 (5A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 3 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Dorian Glinton, Jr., 6-2, 185
  • TE/DL Jashon Pogue, Jr., 6-5, 240
  • QB Josh Morris, Jr., 5-11, 190
  • WR/DB Terrance Allen, Sr., 6-1, 180
  • WR/DL Buddy McGill, Sr., 6-4, 195
  • WR/LB KJ Cannon, Sr., 6-3, 195
  • QB Micah Grant, Sr., 5-10, 173
  • ATH Juan Ottino, Sr., 5-4, 145
Mount Pleasant RB Dorian Glinton. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Mount Pleasant will need to improve in a big way on the offensive side of the ball after 2016's team averaged less than 19 points per game.

But luckily for Tigers coach Corey Homer, there are some key contributors returning this season.

Junior running back Dorian Glinton could be the district's best running back, while Josh Morris returns after leading Mount Pleasant to the playoffs as a sophomore.

Tight end Jashon Pogue and receivers Buddy McGill, Terrance Allen, and KJ Cannon should provide plenty of options for Morris in the passing game.

Mount Pleasant TE/DL Jashon Pogue. (© Rob Graham, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Mount Pleasant had its fair share of problems on defense a season ago, as opposing offenses put up more than 35 points per game on average.

It all came to a head in the bi-district round of the playoffs when eventual 5A Division I state champion Highland Park hung 70 points on Mount Pleasant.

Only three defensive starters return, so the Tigers will definitely need several newcomers to step in and provide a lift.

2017 outlook: The Tigers have improved their win total in each of Coach Homer's three seasons on the job.

Following the school's first winless campaign since 1967 back in 2014, Mount Pleasant reached two wins in 2015 before notching three victories a season ago.

If the Tigers are to keep the improvement train rolling, they need major increases in production across the board.

Important district games against Hallsville, Pine Tree, Sulphur Springs, and Greenville sandwich the Tigers' contests versus 16-5A favorites Texas High and Marshall.

 

7. Greenville Lions

  • Coach: Darren Duke
  • 2016 finish: 1-9
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • DB JaKwan Allen, Sr., 6-2, 180
  • DL JaQuon Lyons, Sr., 6-3, 290
  • QB Caleb Jarvis, Jr., 6-0, 165
  • OL Logan DeGarso, Sr., 6-1, 305
  • OL Jose Perez, Sr., 6-1, 272
  • RB Christian Dunson, Sr., 5-8, 150
  • DL Nakia Wilson, Sr., 6-3, 195
  • WR Nick Mapps, Jr., 5-9, 155

2017 outlook: Greenville finished in last place in 16-5A last season, but head coach Darren Duke is hopeful that his 14 returning starters can help usher in some improvement.

The Lions averaged a dreadful 14 points per game in 2016, but with quarterback Caleb Jarvis, running back Christian Dunson, receiver Nick Mapps, and a big offensive line led by Logan DeGarson and Jose Perez coming back, better days could be ahead.

The defense wasn't all bad as it finished the year with a scoring average of 29.5 points per game.

Eight starters return on the defensive side of the ball, including standout defensive back JaKwan Allen and physical lineman JaQuon Lyons.