The Crockett Bulldogs, fresh off a run to the state quarterfinals, return a solid nucleus from 2011 and should be in good shape for another district title.

But when Palestine Westwood moved down to Class 2A, the Panthers joined District 11-2A Division I, and many wonder how much the new addition will impact the league race.

The Panthers always had the speed to compete in 3A, but the lack of depth and size caught up to Westwood over the last couple of seasons.

Time will tell if Westwood's drop yields immediate success.

 

1. Crockett Bulldogs

Coach: Joe Kettler (first season)

2011 Record: 11-2 (2A Division I Region III finalist; lost 35-34 to Tatum)

Returning starters: 5 offensive (spread), 5 defensive (3-4)

Players to watch

  • WR Michael McKnight, Sr., 5-10, 170 (21 catches, 500 yards, 4 TDs; 2 INTs)
  • OL Tevin Collins, Sr., 6-1, 320
  • OL Thomas Hickman, Jr., 6-3, 320
  • WR Darrius Barber, Jr., 6-2, 175
  • ATH A.J. Phillips, Soph., 5-6, 160
  • LB Devin Chambers, Sr., 6-0, 190 (104 tackles, 1 INT)
  • ATH Carlton Shirley, Jr., 6-1, 180
  • DB Jaderian Simon, Jr., 5-8, 160
  • DL Jaylon Bizor, Sr., 5-8, 260
  • DB De'yasim Warfield, Jr., 5-8, 150
  • K Juan Barrientos, Sr., 5-9, 260
  • RB Raymon Owens, Sr., 5-8, 170
  • OL Eduardo Tapia, Sr., 5-8, 200
  • WR Marcus Williams, Jr., 5-8, 165
  • OL Will Brannen, Sr., 5-9, 210

Strengths: Despite losing blue-chip athlete Dominique Wheeler and head coach Paul Parsons in the offseason, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic heading into the 2012 season for Crockett. New coach Joe Kettler, an assistant under Parsons, inherits a strong nucleus of returnees to help smooth the transition. Linebacker Devin Chambers is a playmaker on the edge for a Crockett defense that dominated its district competition a season ago. On offense, the task of picking up the slack for Wheeler will belong to receiver Michael McKnight, whose speed makes him a matchup problem at the 2A level.

Weaknesses: Experience. The Bulldogs graduated 17 seniors from a team that came within two points of reaching the state semifinals. While talented, Crockett will be starting a few sophomores that have not yet discovered what it takes week-in and week-out on Friday nights. In all, there will be 12 new starters on the field for the Bulldogs.

2012 Outlook: The great thing about inexperience is that it fades with time. So by the time district rolls around, the younger players should enough reps under their belts to lead Crockett to another district championship. After their first-round bye, Crockett could face Grandview or Palestine Westwood before a potential rematch with Tatum, which ended the Bulldogs’ season a season ago with a 34-33 win in the state quarterfinals.

 

2. Franklin Lions

Coach: Mike Hedrick

2011 Record: 10-3 (2A Division II Region III semifinalist; lost 23-13 to Lexington)

Returning starters: 3 offensive (slot T), 7 defensive (3-3)

Players to watch

  • RB Darius Floyd, Sr., 6-0, 175 (2,023 rushing yards, 25 TDs)
  • FB Chris Morrow, Sr., 5-8, 180 (2,076 rushing yards, 38 TDs)TE Corey Clay, Sr., 5-11, 200
  • LB Luke Lowry, Sr., 6-0, 195
  • LB Hayden Luhn, Sr., 6-2, 190
  • DB Eric Hawkins, Sr., 5-9, 160
  • DL Kyle Felder, Sr., 6-2, 190
  • DL Zack Short, Jr., 6-0, 210
  • DL Wyatt Linson, Soph., 6-0, 200
  • DL Stan Hurst, Sr., 5-10, 225
  • LB Colton Bennett, Jr., 5-10, 185
  • DB Tyler Henson, Jr., 5-8, 160

2012 Outlook: Not many teams in the state of Texas can claim to have two 2,000-yard rushers returning to the field. But that’s exactly what Franklin has in Darius Floyd and Chris Morrow, who accounted for 4,099 yards and 63 touchdowns in 2011. However, they are two-thirds of Franklin’s offensive returnees. An entirely new offensive line will be key in how well the Lions follow up last year’s 10-3 season that ended in the regional semifinals. An experienced front line may end up cutting Franklin’s playoff run short with a potential second-round encounter with Newton down the road.

 

3. Palestine Westwood Panthers

Coach: Roger Mays (second season, 3-7)

2011 Record: 3-7

Returning starters: 4 offensive (wing T), 3 defensive (4-3)

Players to watch

  • RB Keke Hicks, Sr., 5-7, 145 (98 carries, 860 yards, 13 TDs; 10 catches, 117 yards, 2 TDs; 19 punts, 29.1 average, 45 long)
  • DE Dra Ross, Sr., 6-1, 205 (68 tackles, 3 sacks)
  • FB Nick Hicks, Sr., 5-11, 235 (65 carries, 314 yards)
  • RB Aaryon Robinson, Sr., 5-9, 195 (128 carries, 792 yards)
  • DT Ashton Reeves, Jr., 5-11, 175 (62 tackles, 1 sack)
  • OL LaRodney Brown, Sr., 5-3, 240
  • K Pedro Umanzor, Sr., 5-9, 135 (2-for-3 FGs, 19-for-20 PATs)
  • LB Clayton Luce, Sr., 5-8, 150
  • DB DaQuinton Anderson, Jr., 5-7, 160

Strengths: Without a doubt, the single biggest strength for the Westwood Panthers will be playing a class down in 2A after struggling the last couple of seasons in 3A. Westwood improved its win total by three games after its 0-10 campaign in 2010, but the drop down should fill up the win-column even more in head coach Roger Mays’ second full season on the job. Senior running backs Keke Hicks and Aaryon Robinson, who combined for 1,652 yards on the ground in 2011, are expected to increase productivity in the Panthers’ wing T attack.

Weaknesses: With only three starters back, the Westwood defense is need of repair. The Panthers allowed more than 34 points per game in 2011, so the new blood on the defensive side of the ball will need to step up their game in order for the Panthers to keep their turnaround on the upswing. Another deficiency is a lack of size on the offensive line, something’s that crippled Westwood of late.

2012 Outlook: The excitement level at Westwood is higher than it’s been in years with the Panthers competing in 2A, a notion many in the community felt was long overdue. And while only seven total starters are back in 2012, Westwood’s lack of depth and size isn’t as glaring as it was the last few years in 3A. A promising backfield and a fast and athletic, yet small, array of skill players could yield a return to the playoffs for Westwood, which hasn’t tasted the postseason since 2008.

 

4. Elkhart Elks

Coach: Sam Wells (first season)

2011 Record: 3-7

Returning starters: 10 offensive, 9 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Jeffrey Wilson, Jr., 6-0, 185
  • QB Cole Bridges, Sr., 5-8, 150
  • WR Jacob Cheatham, Sr., 6-0, 175
  • DL Rodrick Arceneaux, Sr., 5-11, 210
  • OL Jordan White, Sr., 6-3, 200
  • WR Kevin Kidd, Sr., 6-0, 165
  • OL Blake Zabick, Sr., 5-10, 185
  • TE Levi Smith, Sr., 5-10, 165
  • FB Luke Hollingsworth, Sr., 6-0, 185

Strengths: Experience. The Elkhart Elks, under first-year coach Sam Wells, have 19 returning starters and one of the top junior running backs in the area in Jeffrey Wilson. Wells said Wilson has a chance to be an elite running back by the time he ends his career. According to Wells, Wilson is comparable to Class of 2011 recruit Treston Coleman (UT-San Antonio), who Wells coached at Frankston. The rest of the offense will be led by senior quarterback Cole Bridges, who has earned valuable experience in his three years in the program.

Weaknesses: It was a late start for Wells, who didn’t accept the Elkhart job until school had already let out for the summer. So it may take some time before the new coach gets familiar with what his players are capable of doing. The Elks must also shake off a six-game losing streak to end the 2011 season, which followed a 3-1 start to the year.

2012 Outlook: Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine picked the Elks to finish last in the district, but with a potential game-changer in the backfield in Wilson and the amount of returning starters at Wells’ disposal, Elkhart stands a good chance of avoiding the league’s cellar. That would certainly be a step in the right direction.

 

5. Teague Lions

Coach: Daniel Johnson (first season; 7-4 overall)

2011 Record: 5-5Returning starters: 5 offensive (multiple), 5 defensive (multiple)

Players to watch

  • RB Willie Graham, 6-2, 200
  • LB Tra Bell, 6-3, 195
  • DB Darryll Brooks, 6-4, 185
  • LB Kelton Henderson, 5-10, 230
  • DB Jordan Maggard, 6-4, 190
  • WR Evan Goodwin, 5-10, 170
  • OL Gary Dyer, 5-10, 200
  • WR Aaron Mitchell, 5-10, 185

2012 Outlook: First-year head coach Daniel Johnston takes over a team that returns 10 starters from a 5-5 squad in 2011. Teague missed the playoffs by just one game a season ago, and was the only district team that played league champion Crockett within two touchdowns. Some are picking Teague to finish second in the district, but the Lions must ward off strong surges from Franklin and its two-headed monster in the backfield and Palestine Westwood, which is dropping down from 3A.

 

6. Trinity Tigers

Coach: Jarrod Smith (first season)

2011 Record: 3-7

Returning starters: 8 offensive (spread), 6 defensive (3-4)

Players to watch

  • RB Tarlus Davis, Sr., 5-5, 170 (213 carries, 1,222 yards, 8 TDs)
  • WR Aaron Gibson, Sr., 5-8, 175 (17 catches, 262 yards, 3 TDs)
  • QB Steve Alexander, Sr., 6-2, 175 (2 of 4, 50 yards; 1 INT)
  • LB Pat Ward, Jr., 6-1, 220
  • LB JaMarcus McCullogh
  • DB Terrance Potts, Jr., 6-2, 180
  • OL James Lowe, Sr., 6-0, 210
  • OL Josh Valenta, Jr., 6-0, 215
  • LB Blake Briscoe, Sr., 5-6, 175
  • DL Josue Lopez, Sr., 5-10, 220
  • LB Jesse Reyes, Sr., 6-1, 185
  • DB Michael Lewis, Soph., 6-0, 170
  • DB Tyreke Carroll, Soph., 5-8, 170

2012 Outlook: New coach Jarrod Smith and his spread offense should increase the production of quarterback Steve Alexander who only attempted four passes in 2011, and receiver Aaron Gibson who had three TDs receptions. But the focal point of the offense is still surely to be running back Tarfus Davis, a 5-5 slasher who ran for more than 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns. A change at the top may invigorate a club that managed just one district win a season ago.