Before February, some may have thought East Texas' "District of Doom" could not have been made any better. They would've been wrong.

While the new District 10-4A Division I lost both Bullard and Center, it gained one of the best Region II teams from 4A the last couple of years.

The Van Vandals, 38-10 since 2014, join two-time defending state champion Carthage, two-time defending state quarterfinalist Henderson, and perennial power Kilgore.

If they were in other districts, Palestine and Chapel Hill might very well be locks for the playoffs. But the with addition of Van, things got even tougher for the two of them.

We don't expect anyone other than Carthage, Kilgore, and Henderson to challenge for the district's top spots. It gets more interesting after that.

District 10-4A Division I Preview

Henderson DE/HB Keivie Rose. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • DL Deundre Blanton, Jr., Kilgore
  • LB/WR Nesba Brown, Sr., Kilgore
  • QB Gunner Capps, Sr., Carthage
  • OL Ty'kieast Crawford, Jr., Carthage
  • RB/LB Jeremiah Davis, Jr., Palestine
  • TE TJ Dever, Sr., Palestine
  • WR Kelvontay Dixon, Jr., Carthage
  • WR Bray Doring, Sr., Van
  • QB/DB Tyler Gray, Sr., Palestine
  • DE Jayden Jacobs, Jr., Van
  • RB/LB Khristion Little, Sr., Chapel Hill
  • QB/WR Caleb Medford, Jr., Henderson
  • LB Brady Odom, Jr., Henderson
  • DE/HB Keivie Rose, Sr., Henderson
  • WR/LB Darrius Warren, Sr., Chapel Hill
  • WR/DB Deiontrae Wheat, Sr., Kilgore
  • WR/S Robbie Williams, Sr., Chapel Hill
  • LB AJ Zarate, Sr., Van

 

TOP GAMES

  • Carthage at Marshall, Sept. 14
  • Pleasant Grove at Carthage, Oct. 5
  • Van at Palestine, Oct. 19
  • Henderson at Kilgore, Oct. 19
  • Kilgore at Carthage, Nov. 9
Carthage OL Kevion Booty. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

1. Carthage Bulldogs

  • Coach: Scott Surratt
  • 2017 finish: 16-0 (4A Division I champion)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Gunner Capps, Sr., 6-1, 195
  • WR Kelvontay Dixon, Jr., 6-0, 170
  • OL Ty'kieast Crawford, Jr., 6-6, 310
  • CB Ja'Corey Ware, Sr., 6-0, 170
  • DE Quinton Owens, Jr., 6-3, 200
  • DT Desmund Hicks, Jr., 6-2, 200
  • OL Kevion Booty, Sr., 6-2, 270
  • RB Tucker Smith, Sr., 5-11, 180
Carthage QB Gunner Capps. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Offense: There a lot of superstars for Carthage to replace on the offensive end. To start with, making up for the loss of running back and University of Texas signee Keaontay Ingram will be a monumental task. Ingram etched his name into Carthage lore, finishing his three-year varsity career with 5,208 rushing yards and a school-record 76 rushing touchdowns. The yardage is second-most in Carthage history. Carthage also lost its top three receivers -- Dewaylon Ingram, Dee Bowens, and Mekhi Colbert, who combined for almost 3,400 receiving yards and 44 touchdowns in 2017. Quarterback Gunner Capps, however, does return after passing for almost 3,900 yards and 49 touchdowns as a junior. Keaontay Ingram's younger brother, junior Kelvontay Dixon, could be primed for a breakout season after missing most of his sophomore year because of injury. Big linemen Ty'kieast Crawford (Baylor commit) and Kevion Booty anchor the Bulldogs up front.

Carthage CB/WR Ja'Corey Ware. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The strength of Carthage's defense last season was its linebacking corps, comprised of Ahmad Brown, Mykel Gates, and Jose DeJulian, who each racked up at least 140 tackles in 2017. Those three players all graduated, and so did Colbert, who had a knack for creating turnovers at the biggest moments the last couple of seasons. This year, the strength figures to lie with the men up front. Defensive linemen Quinton Owens and DJ Hicks both had breakout sophomore campaigns a year ago, while Felipe Ponce is another player to keep an eye on along the D-line. Cornerback Ja'Corey Ware returns after racking up a team-high eight interceptions last season.

2018 outlook: Rebuilding years don't exist at Carthage, which is an incredible 134-27 in the 11 seasons under head coach Scott Surratt. Six state championships since 2008, and an overall playoff record of 47-5 speaks to the remarkable consistency of excellence in Carthage. So picking any team other than the Bulldogs to win the district championship just doesn't make logical sense. Carthage's 26-game winning streak might not stay intact, however, through non-district. The Bulldogs' first five games are against Jacksonville (2017, 5A bi-district finalist), Liberty-Eylau (4A Division I regional semifinalist), Marshall (5A bi-district finalist), Gilmer (4A Division II regional semifinalist), and Pleasant Grove (4A Division II state champion). If Carthage skates through that non-district schedule unbeaten, a third consecutive state title might not seem out of reach.

Kilgore DT Deundre Blanton. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

2. Kilgore Bulldogs

  • Coach: Mike Wood
  • 2017 finish: 9-4 (4A Division I regional semifinalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • DT Deundre Blanton, Jr., 6-2, 265
  • WR/DB Deiontrae Wheat, Sr., 6-1, 160
  • LB/WR Nesba Brown, Sr., 5-8, 175
  • QB Jaiden Zackery, Sr., 5-9, 170
  • S/WR Damien Parker, Sr., 5-10, 175
  • WR/CB Nick Hooper, Jr.
  • OL Cody Walls, Sr.
  • WR/DB Davondrick Crowe, Jr., 5-11, 160
Kilgore WR.DB Deiontrae Wheat. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Kilgore is built around its running game and the play-action pass. And that is a serious question mark heading into the 2018 season. The Bulldogs graduated their top three rushers from a season ago, one of whom was their starting quarterback Patrick "Buddy" Jackson. Receiver and Oklahoma State signee Jonathan Shepherd is gone as well, leaving several voids at the skill positions. Jaiden Zackery, who started on defense and played sparingly on offense in 2017, will likely assume the quarterback position. Not that the Bulldogs will throw much, but there are a few options at receiver, including senior Deiontrae Wheat and juniors Davondrick Crowe and Nick Hooper. The offensive line will be physical as usual, led by senior Cody Walls, but finding reliable running backs will be the key to Kilgore's success on offense.

Kilgore LB/WR Nesba Brown. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Bulldogs will be led most games by their defense, which returns seven starters from last year. The most physically imposing of them is junior defensive tackle Deundre Blanton, who racked up four sacks as a sophomore and has the potential to dominate games up front. He'll be backed up by speedy Nesba Brown at linebacker and safety Damien Parker, who together combined for more than 275 tackles a season ago. Kilgore allowed almost 28 points per game last year, which is unusually high for a Bulldogs defense. With most of its impact defenders coming back, expect that number to go down this fall.

2018 outlook: Last season was a mixed bag of sorts. It is true that Kilgore finished a respectable second in a district also home to two-time defending state champion Carthage. It is also true that Kilgore reached the third round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2013 team went all the way to the state finals. However, Kilgore's elimination was at the hands of a Henderson team it defeated during the regular season. Kilgore will once again tangle with fierce rivals Carthage and Henderson for district supremacy, but it remains to be seen whether Kilgore has enough firepower to make a deep playoff run in 2018. We'll find out quite a bit not only during district, but before that even gets going. Kilgore's non-district schedule is comprised of four 5A programs and a 4A team (Pittsburg) that reached the playoffs a year ago.

Henderson WR Kourtland Jackson. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

3. Henderson Lions

  • Coach: Phil Castles
  • 2017 finish: 11-3 (4A Division I quarterfinalist)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • DE/HB Keivie Rose, Sr., 6-3, 264
  • QB/WR Caleb Medford, Jr., 6-3, 185
  • LB Brady Odom, Jr., 5-11, 210
  • DB/RB Keshoyn Alexander, Sr., 5-9, 180
  • WR Kourtland Jackson, Sr., 5-7, 150
  • DB/RB Adrian Pryor, Jr., 5-10, 175
  • DL Jayquan Barnett, Sr., 5-10, 205
  • OL Trace Tidwell, Jr., 6-2, 269
Henderson QB?WR Caleb Medford. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Henderson heads into the new season in search of a new quarterback and running back after the graduation of signal-caller and New Mexico signee Trae Hall and Lynn Freeney. But the Lions aren't fazed too much with the return of a couple of 2017's top playmakers. Caleb Medford, who flirted with a 1,000-yard season as a sophomore receiver, could make the move to quarterback this year. And that means Kourtland Jackson becomes the team's most experienced pass-catcher. Henderson still needs to find a running back or two, and junior Adrian Pryor could fill that void by the time district rolls around. The offensive line will be young, but Henderson is expecting big things from junior Trace Tidwell,

Henderson DE/HB Keivie Rose. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Lions will no doubt miss the likes of defensive lineman Garrett Lybrand and linebacker Tyrek Blanton, who both graduated after stellar careers. Henderson, however, does bring back some talent on the defensive side of the ball. Keivie Rose, who has struggled with injuries the previous two seasons, has unlimited potential as a pass-rusher, while linebacker Brady Odom exploded onto the scene as a sophomore with almost 150 tackles and eight sacks.

2018 outlook: Henderson has reached the state quarterfinals in three of head coach Phil Castles' five seasons at the helm, so it's no surprise the Lions will once again be a contender not only for the district but regionally as well. Henderson has a couple of offensive playmakers to replace, but it's been down that road before, and recently. Before the 2017 season, the Lions were faced with the challenge of losing La'Kendrick Van Zandt and Trestan Ebner to TCU and Baylor, respectively. And all Henderson did was get back right back to the fourth round of the playoffs. Once again, Carthage and Kilgore will be Henderson's stiffest challenge in both district and in Region III. Henderson is 4-6 against both teams since 2014, but has beaten at least one of them once in each of the last four seasons.

Van's Jayden Jacobs (left) and AJ Zarate. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

4. Van Vandals

  • Coach: Jared Moffatt
  • 2017 finish: 10-2 (4A Division I area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB AJ Zarate, Sr., 6-0, 205
  • DE Jayden Jacobs, Jr., 6-2, 195
  • WR Bray Doring, Sr., 5-11, 165
  • DB JJ Kellum, Jr., 6-0, 185
  • FS Ridge Preston, Sr., 5-11, 150
  • QB Jayton Moffatt, Jr., 5-10, 170
  • WR Ethan Robinson, Sr., 5-10, 145
  • OL/DL Jackson Willis, Sr.
Van WR Bray Doring. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Simply put, Garrett Moseley has been the Van offense for the past three seasons. The Vandals' quarterback put up an historic career, finishing with almost 10,400 total yards and 131 touchdowns. Everyone is waiting to see how Van will operate without Moseley behind center. Van will open the competition for his replacement up with senior Liam Nielson and junior Jayton Moffatt, who also happens to be head coach Jared Moffatt's son. Whoever wins the job will have a couple of reliable options at receiver in seniors Bray Doring and Ethan Robinson. The offensive line was hit hard by graduation as tackle Kris Dike departed for TCU, but the Vandals are hoping players like Jackson Willis can help pick up the slack.

Van LB AJ Zarate. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Defense: Van is excited to bring back seven of its defensive starters from last year. The Vandals were young on the defensive side of the ball in 2017, and still managed to hold opponents to a respectable 26.5 points per game. Van has solid players at all three levels, starting up front with defensive end Jayden Jacobs, who picked up a half-dozen sacks as a sophomore. AJ Zarate is a linebacker that transferred in from Taylor during the offseason, and he has the potential to be one of the best at his position in all of East Texas. JJ Kellum is a standout in the secondary after turning heads as a 10th-grader last year.

2018 outlook: The Vandals have been East Texas' best 4A Division I team from Region II the last several years. Van is 38-10 since 2014 with three seasons of at least 10 wins. Up until this year, Van has been free of the daunting East Texas trio of Carthage, Henderson, and Kilgore either in district or the postseason. With realignment moving Van to the east, the Vandals will have the opportunity to see if their program can compete with the area's best 4A teams on a weekly basis. Van will get ready for its new district challenges with games against Alvarado, Gilmer, Lindale, Pittsburg, and Brownsboro the first five weeks.

Palestine's (from left) Tyler Gray, TJ Dever, and Jeremiah Davis. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

5. Palestine Wildcats

  • Coach: Robby Clark
  • 2017 finish: 4-6
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/LB Jeremiah Davis, Jr., 5-9, 190
  • TE TJ Dever, Sr., 6-2, 240
  • QB/DB Tyler Gray, Sr., 5-7, 158
  • LB/RB Joshua Williams, Sr., 6-1, 190
  • LB/RB Quintin Cook, Jr., 5-11, 185
  • OT/DE Jonathan Fox, Sr., 6-0, 226
  • LB/RB Keshawn Nonette, Jr.
  • WR/DB Robert Gipson, Sr., 5-8, 168
Palestine QB/DB Tyler Gray. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Palestine might have won only four games last season, but the offense was not the problem. The Wildcats averaged 31.5 points per game in 2017, There were three games in which Palestine put up at least 40 points. Quarterback Tyler Gray, who orchestrated the offense, is back for his senior season after posting almost 2,300 total yards and accounting for 19 touchdowns as a junior. Also returning is running back Jeremiah Davis, who burst onto the scene as a sophomore with more than 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. When the Wildcats go to the air, tight end TJ Dever will be a prime target after averaging almost 19 yards per catch with four touchdowns last season. Robert Gipson has the speed to stretch the field at receiver. The offensive line will need some new players to step up, but the Wildcats are excited to see what senior Jonathan Fox can do.

Palestine LB/RB Joshua Williams. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Wildcats struggled at times on the defensive end, allowing opponents more than 36 points per game. In district, it was worse. The six league foes put up an average of nearly 40 points. With only four returning starters, Palestine will definitely have some work to do. The Wildcats should be deep at linebacker with Joshua Williams and Quintin Cook leading the way. Expect Davis and Keshawn Nonette to have a major impact at the second level pf Palestine's defense as well. The secondary will be a work in progress.

2018 outlook: Palestine has been in the same district as Carthage, Henderson, and Kilgore the last four years but have yet to break through. The Wildcats are 5-17 in district games since 2014, but in each of the previous two seasons, they were kept out of the playoffs by just one game. Robby Clark is entering his fourth year as head coach, and it feels like this could be the year Palestine makes its move and clinches its first playoff berth since 2013. The Wildcats lost to Carthage, Kilgore, and Henderson by a combined 58 points last season. Palestine faced Van in non-district, and suffered a 49-28 loss, so there is ground to be gained if the Wildcats are to end their playoff drought.

Chapel Hill's Shawn Scoggins (left) and Jaxon Heckel. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

6. Chapel Hill Bulldogs

  • Coach: Jason Hooker
  • 2017 finish: 3-7
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 2 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR/S Robbie Williams, Sr., 6-3, 190
  • RB/LB Khristion Little, Sr., 5-11, 227
  • WR/LB Darrius Warren, Sr., 5-11, 185
  • QB Jaxon Heckel, Sr., 5-9, 170
  • DL Leonardo Anguiano, Sr., 5-11, 198
  • LB/HB Keaton Hillard, Sr., 6-0, 178
  • WR/S David Harris, Sr., 5-11, 170
  • OL/DL Shawn Scoggins, Sr., 5-10, 196
Chapel Hill WR/S Robbie Williams. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Chapel Hill had its moments on offense a season ago, but many of those were created by quarterback Khalan Griffin, who totaled more than 2,500 yards and accounted for 30 touchdowns in a breakout sophomore campaign. Griffin has transferred to Bullard Brook Hill, leaving a big void on the Bulldogs' offense. Senior Jaxon Heckel is expected to pick up the baton, and he'll have one of the top receivers in all of East Texas at his disposal. Senior Robbie Williams, who holds a handful of Division I scholarship offers, led the team in touchdown receptions with eight and had a team-best yards-per-catch average of 15 in 2017. Khristion Little is a physical runner, but he'll need to be spelled from time to time because of his workload on defense. The offensive line is undersized, and will need to work technique in order to win one-on-one battles on a consistent basis.

Chapel Hill RB/LB Khristion Little. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Bulldogs allowed almost 35 points per game in 2017, and with just two returning starters on that side of the ball, it could be another long year for the Chapel Hill defense. Chapel Hill will need all of its newcomers to perform and perform well right off the bat if significant improvement is to be made. Senior defensive lineman Leonardo Anguiano and linebacker Little will be counted upon for leadership.

2018 outlook: The first year under head coach Jason Hooker wasn't quite what the Bulldogs wanted. Chapel Hill stumbled to its third-straight losing season, and for the first time since 1999, failed to win a district game. It won't get any easier for Chapel Hill, which lost Bullard -- the only district team it's beaten the last two years -- and gained Van as a district opponent. However, that didn't the stop the Bulldogs from assembling a brutal non-district schedule, which features games against Whitehouse, Argyle, and Pleasant Grove.