TENAHA -- Returning 10 starters on each side of the ball from a Class A Division II state finalist doesn't happen often, but Tenaha can claim that to start the 2013 football season.

The Tigers enter this fall ranked No. 1 in 1A D-II by multiple publications following last year's 10-5 state runner-up squad, which followed Tenaha's 2011 state championship team.

Almost all the pieces are back: quarterback J.R. Hill, running back/linebacker Chavis Gregory, receiver/defensive bak Keontas Davis, lineman Denzel Williams, and plenty more.

"Everything's been clicking right," said Gregory, who had 1,581 rushing yards, 25 total touchdowns, 21 tackles for loss, and four sacks as a junior. "The offense and defense are looking good. Just keep on working."

The situation is a welcome one for coach Terry Ward after last year, when the Tigers started the season with many new faces all over the field on both sides of the ball.

"This time last year, we were kinda scratching our heads a little bit. We were trying to figure out what we were. We had no clue what we were," Ward said. "We knew we had Chavis and Keontas. We didn't know what was gonna happen at the quarterback spot, didn't know what was gonna happen at the other spots. This year, we know what we are. We still have some things we've gotta work on, but we are light years ahead of where we were last year."

Tenaha's J.R. Hill fires a pass during Friday morning's practice at Tenaha High School. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

With experience and accomplishment come expectations.

Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine and TheOldCoach.com's Friday Night Football magazine have picked Tenaha to beat Wellington in December's state championship game.

"We've got a target on our back," said Davis, who had 993 receiving yards, 13 touchdown grabs, and eight interceptions as a junior. "Everybody wants to knock us off our pedestal, but we've gotta go in one game at a time and know what we've gotta do, and then look on to the next week."

DeAaron Roland occupied the one spot on each side of the ball Tenaha must replace. The Mary Hardin-Baylor freshman started on the offensive line and at middle linebacker for the Tigers, who got a team-high 132 tackles from him a year ago.

It's a big loss, but we've just gotta step up the best we can," said Hill, who threw for 1,655 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions and ran for 643 yards as a junior.

But that's exactly what Ward expects from his team.

He believes the Tigers can handle the high expectations they -- and everyone else in the state -- have placed on Tenaha's 2013 campaign.

"We talk about it the same as we did two years ago. Last year I had a different approach. Let's survive the first six and let's get into district and hopefully get lucky, and that's what happened," Ward said. "This year, it's about getting ready to strap it on and let's get ready to play. If you're ranked No. 1 in the state, you've gotta prove to everybody you're worth that ranking. It's gonna fall back on the kids. They've gotta step up and perform, and I think they will."

Tenaha scrimmages Cumby and Lovelady before opening the season Aug. 30 at Joaquin.

Tenaha receiver Keontas Davis (left) fights off a jam during Friday morning's practice at Tenaha High School. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)