Atlanta followed its 2003 state championship with only one playoff appearance in the following seven seasons, but the Rabbits hope a stellar backfield that led them to their second postseason berth since that crowning moment in ‘03 can get them further in 2012.

Coach Matt McClure welcomes back two Division I FBS-bound playmakers in his backfield: 6-foot, 190-pound Corion Webster, who’s committed to Oklahoma State, and 6-foot, 175-pound Everett Dickerson, one of a hand full of SMU commitments from East Texas. The duo combined for more than 2,500 rushing yards in 2011 as the Rabbits finished 5-6 with a first-round loss to a Gilmer team that wound up a 13-1 Class 3A Division II Region II finalist.

Atlanta must replace Missouri signee Rickey Hatley at defensive end and a veteran quarterback in Lee Raley, but sophomore Chase Musgrove could be the new trigger man for Atlanta’s offense.

Expect Atlanta to navigate a tough district schedule and return to the postseason, when they’ll have the luxury of not facing a “District of Doom” opponent in the first round. That wouldn’t come until the second round, when the Rabbits might encounter Gilmer, Henderson or Chapel Hill, any of which would be Division II representatives if Kilgore qualifies for the playoffs as the Division I seed. If it’s Gilmer, then the Aug. 30 season opener at Tyler’s TMF Rose Stadium could be a bellwether of what’s to come in November.

The 3A Countdown