When the Alto Yellowjackets dropped from Class 2A to 1A in 2006, they responded with back-to-back state titles in one of the most dominant runs in state history.

Alto may have some company this season with new 10-A Division I district mate San Augustine, which like Alto was a 2A playoff team before dropping in classification.

It may be unfair to expect the same immediate level of success from San Augustine, but a precedent has already been set. Add 17 returning starters to the equation, and the assumption does not seem all that far-fetched.

Watching these two slug it out during district will be fun, but it may only be the beginning for both.

 

1.San Augustine Wolves

Coach: Donald Hubbard (second season, 8-3; 81-77 overall)

2011 Record: 8-3 (2A Division II Region III area finalist)

Returning starters: 8 offensive (multiple), 9 defensive (4-3).

Players to watch

  • ATH T'Aundra Taylor, Sr., 5-10, 178 (40 carries, 513 yards, 8 TDs; 22 catches, 347 yards, 4 TDs)
  • QB Bobby Tanner, Sr., 5-11, 165 (75 of 136, 1,351 yards, 13 TDs, 8 INTs; 30 carries, 194 yards, 5 TDs; 5 INTs)
  • WR Al Horton, Sr., 5-9, 130
  • RB Tony Hubbard, Sr., 5-10, 180 (70 carries, 535 yards, 8 TDs)
  • WR Jarvis Smith, Jr., 6-2, 175 (8 catches, 135 yards, 1 TD; 2 INTs)
  • LB Mikey Harrison, Sr., 6-0, 210
  • LB Rodrick Davis, Sr., 5-11, 190
  • WR David Sigler, Sr., 5-10, 160
  • FB JaCourtney Thomas, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • OL Jake Davis, Sr., 6-3, 285
  • OL JaQuandron Thomas, Sr., 5-11, 195
  • TE Alex Renfro, Sr., 6-2, 170
  • OL Jarvis Payne, Jr., 6-2, 275
  • RB Garvis Giles, Sr., 5-9, 175
  • LB Xa Brown, Sr., 5-10, 165
  • LB Jeremy Jenkins, Soph., 5-8, 180

Strengths: Any time a successful program drops a classification during realignment, expectations begin to skyrocket. That can be said for the San Augustine Wolves, who bring back 17 starters from an 8-3 Class 2A playoff team. Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine has picked San Augustine No. 3 in its preseason poll for Class 1A Division I. T’Aundra Taylor could be well on his way to an all-state season after posting 513 rushing yards, 347 receiving and 12 total touchdowns in 2011. Bobby Tanner is the triggerman and is poised to improve on his 1,351 yards and 13 TDs from a season ago. San Augustine is also big on the offensive line, which includes Jake Davis (6-0, 285) and Jarvis Payne (6-2, 275).

Weaknesses: Even though the Wolves are dropping, there could be some issues with playing in 1A. San Augustine is not as familiar with many of its district opponents, having spent most of the last several years facing 2A schools. Also, fewer enrollment numbers equals fewer football players, so depth could wind up being a determining factor for a team of which a lot is expected.

2012 Outlook: Bottom line: there is no reason to think San Augustine cannot challenge for a state championship. In Alto’s first two years in 1A, the Yellowjackets took home state titles, so it’s not unreasonable to suggest the same can be done in San Augustine.

 

2.Alto Yellowjackets

Coach: Keith Gardner (eighth season, 69-17; 90-29 overall)

2011 Record: 8-4 (1A Division I Region III area finalist; lost 36-21 to Lovelady)

Returning starters: 6 offensive (spread), 6 defensive (4-3).

Players to watch

  • QB Jacolby Whitaker, Jr., 5-11, 185 (84 of 156, 1,128 yards, 12 TDs, 9 INTs; 193 carries, 1,383 yards, 18 TDs)
  • LB Michael Taylor, Sr., 6-1, 220 (114 tackles, 24 for loss, 7 sacks)
  • LB Logan Smith, Jr., 5-10, 160 (93 tackles, 17 for loss, 3 sacks)
  • DE Ja'Vonte Mumphrey, Soph., 6-2, 190 (62 tackles, 18 for loss, 4 sacks)
  • RB Anfernee Black, Jr., 6-1, 180 (15 catches, 340 yards, 5 TDs)
  • OL Tanner Jones, Sr., 6-1, 260 (58 knockdowns)
  • OL Kaleb Chapman, Sr., 6-2, 265 (53 knockdowns)
  • WR Joe Cruz, Sr., 5-9, 160 (13 catches, 213 yards, 4 TDs)
  • K Nick Leon, Jr., 5-9, 150 (3-for-3 FGs, 50-for-58 PATs)
  • OL Chase Bristow, Jr., 5-9, 185

Strengths: After a few sub-par years according to Alto standards, the Yellowjackets appear primed for long run through the playoffs. The skill positions are strong, led by quarterback Jacolby Whitaker and running back Anfernee Black. Whitaker can change a game with both is arm and his legs. In 2011, Whitaker passed for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns while running for 1,383 yards and 18 TDs. Black moves to running back after a breakout season at receiver where he averaged 22.7 yards per catch with five touchdowns. His pass-catching ability only adds to what he’s expected to give Alto in the ground game. Alto is also big along the front with Tanner Jones and Kaleb Chapman, who combined for more than 100 knockdowns in 2011, returning to the starting lineup. The ‘Jackets defense could be among the area’s best with the return of linebackers Michael Taylor and Logan Smith and super-sophomore Ja’Vonte Mumphrey at defensive end.

Weaknesses: The former 2A power has struggled with enrollment numbers over the past half-decade, putting a dent in what was historically always a very deep roster. With fewer varsity players suited up on Friday nights, coach Keith Gardner and the rest of his staff must keep on a close on their two-way players. While talented, the chore for Alto will be to ensure their players remain on the field.

2012 Outlook: An early measuring stick for Alto will be its Sept. 14 matchup with defending Class 1A Division II state champion Tenaha. A victory over the Tigers could end up propelling Alto all the way into its big showdown in Week 9 with San Augustine, a game which will likely decide the district championship. With Whitaker and Black leading the way on offense, this could be a very special team for Gardner.

 

3.Shelbyville Dragons

Coach: Jim Bradford (fifth season, 20-21)

2011 Record: 4-6

Returning starters: 8 offensive (multiple), 9 defensive (3-4).

Players to watch

  • RB Dillon Brown, Sr., 6-0, 185 (201 carries, 1,016 yards, 10 TDs; 85 tackles)
  • QB James Bradford, Sr., 5-9, 165 (108 of 211, 1,423 yards, 16 TDs, 13 INTs; 140 carries, 620 yards, 4 TDs; 25 catches, 310 yards; 39 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 def. TD)
  • WR Blane Deal, Sr., 6-3, 185 (44 catches, 574 yards, 5 TDs; 28 tackles, 4 INTs)
  • WR Travis Henkle, Soph., 6-3, 185 (37 catches, 600 yards, 7 TDs)
  • OG Colton Brown, Jr., 5-10, 185
  • WR Trevor Henkle, Soph., 6-3, 180
  • C Chris Vaughn, Sr., 5-10, 220
  • WR Cole Mooney, Jr., 5-7, 145
  • WR Cheyenne Clark, Sr., 5-10, 165
  • WR C.J. Watson, Soph., 5-10, 170
  • OG Wyatt Windham, Jr., 5-8, 190
  • RB Landon Wilburn, Jr., 5-7, 170
  • WR Dee Osby, Soph., 5-10, 165
  • DL Logan Barbee, Sr., 5-10, 185
  • LB Sawyer Wilburn, Sr., 5-9, 165
  • DB James Cartwright, Sr., 5-7, 165
  • DT Chris Valencia, Sr., 5-10, 230

Strengths: The Dragons may have the productive returning nucleus of skill players in the district. And it all starts with quarterback James Bradford, who last season was able to impact the passing, rushing and receiving game. His two favorite targets are also back in Blane Deal and Travis Henkle, who teamed for 1,174 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011 at receiver. Two-way standout Dillon Brown is another offensive weapon coming back. Brown rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns on offense, and registered 85 tackles on the other side of the ball last year.

Weaknesses: Size up front could be a concern for the Dragons, whose three top offensive linemen average just 198 pounds. Finding enough big and able bodies to block and provide protection for a potentially explosive offense will take top priority early in the season. Another possible stumbling block rests with a small group of linebackers.

2012 Outlook: With Alto and San Augustine clearly ahead of the pack, the final playoff spot should come down to Shelbyville, West Sabine and Grapeland. If Shelbyville can continue putting up points, and the defense continues to get better, the Dragons will have put themselves in a pretty good position to return to the playoffs.

 

4.West Sabine Tigers

Coach: T.D. Stark (sixth season, 27-26; 73-57 overall)

2011 Record: 4-7 (1A Division I Region III bi-district finalist; lost 24-20 to Moody)

Returning starters: 8 offensive (split-T), 8 defensive (3-4).

Players to watch

  • QB Desmond Lacey, Sr., 6-0, 185 (80 of 150, 1,472 yards, 17 TDs, 6 INTs; 136 carries, 1,125 yards, 11 TDs; 4 INTs)
  • RB Nick Williams, Jr., 5-7, 165 (600 rushing yards)
  • LB Hunter Cabral, Jr., 5-9, 180
  • LB Deane McIntyre, Sr., 5-9, 185
  • DE Jordan Galloway, Sr., 5-11, 225 (83 tackles)
  • WR Reshod Williams, Soph., 5-8, 155 (7 catches, 185 yards, 4 TDs)
  • OL Dawson Mills, Jr., 5-6, 160
  • C Dakota Dew, Jr., 5-8, 240
  • OL Jeremy Williams, Jr., 6-1, 280
  • OL Dustin Bragg, Jr., 5-8, 250
  • WR Aaron Woods, Sr., 6-0 179
  • DL Austin Stephens, Jr., 6-2, 245
  • DT Gary Sturrock, Jr., 5-8, 165

Strengths: West Sabine may have the best overall player in the district in quarterback Desmond Lacey, who totaled nearly 2,600 yards and 28 touchdowns as a junior in 2011. Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine selected Lacey as the district’s preseason offensive MVP. Also among the Tigers’ 16 returning starters is running back Nick Williams, who posted more than 600 yards a season ago. Head coach T.D. Stark is also expecting big things from receiver Reshod Williams, who caught four touchdown passes as a freshman.

Weaknesses: The Tigers will employ several two-way players, so keeping fresh bodies will be a key concern for Stark and his coaching staff. West Sabine won just four games a year ago, so changing the culture of the program is still a work in progress.

2012 Outlook: Several prognosticators are picking West Sabine as the third playoff team from this district, but the gap between the Tigers and other challengers like Grapeland and Shelbyville is not that wide. All three teams have a ton of experienced talent returning, so the chase for the playoff may come down to intangibles.

 

5.Grapeland Sandies

Coach: Jerry Richards (third season, 7-14)

2011 Record: 4-7 (1A Division I Region III bi-district finalist; lost 25-24 to Big Sandy)

Returning starters: 7 offensive (spread), 8 defensive (4-2-5).

Players to watch

  • QB/WR Patrick Walker, Jr., 6-1, 165 (111 carries, 775 yards, 11 TDs; 22 catches, 335 yards, 8 TDs)
  • RB Demetri Walker, Jr., 5-11, 160
  • WR Jivarro Thompson, Jr., 6-0, 155
  • DE Kevin Campbell, Jr., 6-3, 175
  • LB Hunter Collins, Jr., 5-10, 160
  • WR Daniel Vasquez, Sr., 5-10, 160
  • WR Quaderius Whitt, SR., 5-11, 160
  • TE Clay Goolsby, Jr., 5-10, 165
  • OL Jay Music, Jr., 6-1, 175
  • OLGarrett Crane, Sr., 6-3, 175
  • OL Mandre Williams, Jr., 5-10, 170
  • OL Jordan Dancer, Sr., 5-11, 225

Strengths: The Grapeland program has fallen into mediocrity of late, accounting for just seven wins in the last two seasons. But that could all change in 2012 with the return of 15 starters, including play-making specialist Patrick Walker. The junior athlete is penciled in to start at quarterback for the Sandies after posting 1,110 total yards and 19 touchdowns at both running back and receiver. Demetri Walker, who splits time at both running back and defensive back, also enjoyed a big sophomore season a year ago by leading his team in tackles. Grapeland should field one of the fastest 1A teams in the area, which should cause its fair share of matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.

Weaknesses: Despite being blessed with an abundance of speed, Grapeland’s lack of size could end up derailing a squad with postseason aspirations. One thing to watch for is how the Sandies finish close games against bigger and more physical teams. The age-old question of size vs. speed will be something to follow all season long.

2012 Outlook: The consensus top two district title contenders are Alto and San Augustine, leaving Grapeland in a fight for the league’s final playoff spot. The Week 10 showdown with West Sabine very well could have major postseason implications with the winner moving on and the loser gearing up for basketball season.

 

6.Cushing Bearkats

Coach: Danny Robey (second season, 2-8)

2011 Record: 2-8

Returning starters: 8 offensive (multiple), 9 defensive (4-3).

Players to watch

  • QB Brooks Robey, Sr., 5-10, 165 (70 of 156, 548 yards, 8 TDs; 90 carries, 530 yards, 3 TDs; 28 punts, 27.8 average, 49 long)
  • S Cameron Burk, Soph., 5-8, 130 (42 tackles, 6 INTs; 14-for-18 PATs)
  • LB Jacob Smelley, Soph., 5-9, 150 (46 tackles)
  • OLB Ramon Vasquez, Sr., 5-10, 175 (7 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD)
  • WR Braden Robey, Sr., 5-7, 145
  • OL Colby Spencer, Sr., 5-10, 220
  • OL Jessie Williamson, Jr., 5-8, 215
  • OL Austin Cruz, Soph., 5-9, 195
  • WR Michael Robey, Soph., 5-9, 145
  • RB Patrick Johnson, Sr., 5-9, 150
  • LB Collin McGinnis, Soph., 5-10, 160
  • DL David Bain, Sr., 6-1, 210

Strengths: Cushing only won two games a season ago in head coach Danny Robey’s first year on the job, but it was two more than the Bearkats had won in the previous two years combined. If Cushing is to continue to build off last year, quarterback Brooks Robey will have a lot to say about it. As a junior, the QB compiled over 1,000 total yards and accounted for 11 touchdowns. Keeping it all in the family may not just be a team motto in 2012. On the receiving end of Brooks Robey’s passes will be the sibling duo of Braden and Michael Robey. Defensively, safety Cameron Burk comes back after a monster freshman season where he made 42 tackles and led the team with six interceptions.

Weaknesses: The Bearkats have 17 starters returning, but the roster is still very young with five sophomores expected to play major roles. Youth usually shows up at critical junctures in games, which may ultimately end up costing Cushing wins in tight games. Inconsistency is usually a characteristic of inexperience, but it’s a weakness that should get better in time.

2012 Outlook: It may be asking too much for Cushing to contend for a playoff spot, but there are enough signs around the program to point to some light at the end of the tunnel. The final half of the season will be key for the Bearkats, when a couple of wins to close out the season could vault Cushing to bigger and better things next year.