Fewer teams at the 3A level have been as consistent as Waskom the last half-decade. Since 2013, the Wildcats have amassed a 58-14 record, won two state championships, and added appearances in the state semifinals and quarterfinals.

This season, Waskom has 15 starters returning to a team that went four rounds deep in the playoffs in 2017.

But the Wildcats have all new league opponents in District 11-3A Division II, aside from longtime rival Elysian Fields.

Playoff regulars Daingerfield and Paul Pewitt are also part of the league, in addition to New Diana, which won 10 games and journeyed all the way to the regional finals a year ago.

All signs point to a Waskom district championship, but it won't be easy.

District 11-3A Division II Preview

Daingerfield WR/DB Tyrese Grant. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • RB Lajathan Allen, Jr., Paul Pewitt
  • OL/DL Jade Ashalintubbi, Sr., Elysian Fields
  • DB/RB Jacob Choyce, Sr., New Diana
  • QB Kole Dooley, Jr., DeKalb
  • RB/LB Zane Freeman, Jr., New Diana
  • WR/DB Tyrese Grant, Jr., Daingerfield
  • RB/DB T.K. Hamilton, Sr., Waskom
  • RB Jose Lopez, Jr., Ore City
  • WR Aaron Nigreville, Jr., Ore City
  • DB Timon Proby, Jr., DeKalb
  • WR/DT Chad Reeves, Jr., Daingerfield
  • RB/DE Jaocb Reeves, Sr., Waskom
  • QB/DB Dylan Scott, Jr., Qiueen City
  • RB/DB Chris Smith, Jr., Elysian Fields
  • RB/DB Isaiah Stiger, Sr., Queen City
  • DB DJ Turner, Jr., Paul Pewitt

 

TOP GAMES

  • Daingerfield at Gunter, Aug. 31
  • West Rusk at Waskom, Sept. 7
  • Daingerfield at Waskom, Oct. 26
  • New Diana at Elysian Fields, Nov. 2
Waskom RB/DB T.K. Hamilton. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

1. Waskom Wildcats

  • Coach: Whitney Keeling
  • 2017 finish: 9-5 (3A Division II quarterfinalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 9 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/DB T.K. Hamilton, Sr., 6-0, 172
  • RB/DE Jacob Reeves, Sr., 6-0, 224
  • RB/LB Chris Stafford, Sr., 5-8, 175
  • OL/DE Ike Irving, Sr., 6-1, 194
  • QB/DB Raymond Ramirez, Sr., 5-10, 186
  • LB Lamontre Stephens, Sr., 6-3, 184
  • RB/LB Tristan McDonald, Sr., 6-0, 215
  • DL Chris Pacheo, Sr., 5-10, 170
Waskom RB/DE Jacob Reeves. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Waskom has to replace five starters on the offensive side of the ball, but it returns one of the best running backs in all of East Texas. Senior T.K. Hamilton, who has a handful of Division I scholarship offers, is coming off a 1,800-yard season in which he also accounted for 29 touchdowns. Hamilton has elite speed, while backfield mate Jacob Reeves, who rushed for almost 900 yards last year, gives the Wildcats a physical presence in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Seniors Chris Stafford and Tristan McDonald could also see carries in Waskom's powerful rushing attack. There are a few holes on the offensive line that need to be filled.

Waskom OL/DE Ike Irving. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Wildcats' defense should be in good shape with the return of all but two starters from 2017. Waskom has ample experience at all three levels. Reeves, Ike Irving, and Chris Pacheo patrol the defensive line, while Lamontre Stephens and McDonald are both playmakers at the linebacker spot. Hamilton, in addition to being an all-state caliber running back, is an elite defender out of the secondary. Waskom allowed almost 24 points per game a season ago, but with most of the defenders back in 2018, expect that number to come down.

2018 outlook: Waskom was 6-4 at the end of the regular season last year, but ended up peaking at the right time and advanced all the way to the state quarterfinals, where it was eliminated by eventual state champion Newton. With 15 total starters returning, anything less than a return trip to the regional finals would be considered a disappointment for a Waskom program that's 58-14 the last five years. The district schedule in 2018 isn't quite as difficult as in past years. Arp and West Rusk no longer share the same league as Waskom. It appears the Wildcats' biggest challenge for the 11-3A Division II championship will be Daingerfield.

Daingerfield's (from left) Chad Reeves, Jakauri Woods, Sidney Royal, and Tyrese Grant. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

2. Daingerfield Tigers

  • Coach: Davin Nelson
  • 2017 finish: 7-5 (3A Division II area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR/DB Tyrese Grant, Jr., 6-0, 170
  • WR/DT Chad Reeves, Jr., 6-2, 200
  • ATH Jakauri Woods, Sr., 6-1, 175
  • OL/DL JaQualine Evans, Sr., 6-1, 330
  • RB/LB Sidney Royal, Sr.
  • OL/DL Zach Gilmore, Sr., 6-1, 260
  • WR/LB Zay Parker, Jr.
Daingerfield QB/ATH Jakauri Woods. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Daingerfield brings back six starters to an offense that averaged more than 36 points per game in 2017. Among the impact players back in the fold are QB/ATH Jakauri Woods, who can put his prints on a game in many different areas. Tyrese Grant has the capability to stretch the field vertically in the passing game, and is probably the district's best wide receiver. Daingerfield also has size up front with linemen JaQualine Evans and Zach Gilmore. The big question will be at running back, and new head coach Davin Nelson is hopeful senior Sidney Royal can ease into the starter's role and flourish as an every-down back. There will be a few playmakers that need to step up, but all in all, this Daingerfield offense has the makings of something special.

Daingerfield WR/DT Chad Reeves. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The Tigers' defense was strong last season, limiting opponents to a scoring average of 20 points per game. Defensive tackle Chad Reeves had a breakout sophomore campaign in 2017, registering a team-leading 13 sacks. Grant will likely see significant action on the defensive side of the ball at either cornerback or safety, and Zay Parker returns at linebacker after he posted an impressive 124 tackles in 12 games a season ago.

2018 outlook: It's been a slow climb back to respectability for Daingerfield, which suffered through a 1-9 season in 2014. The Tigers have improved their win total in each of the last three seasons, and the odds of them continuing that trend look pretty good. Waskom enters the year as favorites to win the district, but a tough non-district schedule Daingerfield has assembled should get the Tigers ready. Daingerfield opens the year with defending state finalist Gunter in a rematch of last season's area-round matchup, and follows that up with a clash with Tatum. We should know an awful lot about Daingerfield's chances of challenging Waskom for the district title after Week 2.

 

3. Paul Pewitt Brahmas

  • Coach: Triston Abron
  • 2017 finish: 5-6 (3A Division II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Lajathan Allen, Jr., 5-6, 170
  • WR/DB DJ Turner, Jr., 6-1, 165
  • OL Jerrett McCollum, Sr., 6-2, 215
  • DL Demarcus Hill, Soph.
  • OL David Williams, Soph., 6-2, 295
  • LB Colby Frost, Jr., 6-2, 185
  • OL Duke Fitts, Jr., 5-10, 235

Offense: Graduation took its toll on the Paul Pewitt offense, as most of its skill players from 2017 have departed. First-year head coach Triston Abron will look to a pair of juniors to lead the way on the offensive side of the ball in running back Lajathan Allen and receiver DJ Turner. Finding a new quarterback and depth at receiver will be the offense's biggest challenge in the early going. Fortunately for the Brahmas, the offensive line should be a huge asset in 2018. Jerrett McCollum, David Williams, and Duke Fitts give Paul Pewitt both size and athleticism along the front.

Defense: The Brahmas will be much more experienced on the defensive side, which brings back all but four starters from last year's unit. Paul Pewitt allowed 31 points per game in 2017, so significant improvement is needed. Demarcus Hill, who showed flashes of dominance as a freshman, should anchor the defensive line, while junior linebacker Colby Frost figures to be Paul Pewitt's leader on defense. Turner, who starred in the secondary as a sophomore, is also expected to see plenty of playing time at defensive back in 2018.

2018 outlook: Paul Pewitt is currently riding an impressive 10-year stretch of playoff appearances, and the odds are once again in the Brahmas' favor to get back to the postseason. The biggest keys will be how quickly the players can adjust to a new coaching staff, and how healthy the Brahmas are once district play begins. Paul Pewitt has a manageable non-district schedule featuring New Boston, Hooks, and Redwater before opening league play on the road at preseason district favorite Waskom. If the Brahmas can withstand the first four weeks, the rest of the schedule becomes much easier, and they shouldn't have any problems getting back to the playoffs.

Elysian Fields' (from left) Chris Smith, Tyrese Hardeman, and Kelvin Stevenson. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

4. Elysian Fields Yellowjackets

  • Coach: Scott Ford
  • 2017 finish: 7-4 (3A Division II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 2 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL/DL Jade Ashalintubbi, Sr., 6-6, 315
  • RB/DB Chris Smith, Jr., 5-9, 170
  • DE/OL Cameron Caudle, Sr., 5-10, 205
  • FB/LB Carson Caudle, Sr., 5-8, 170
  • OL/DL Jacob McCreary, Sr., 6-2, 230
  • WR/DB Kelvin Stevenson, Sr., 5-9, 175
  • LB/TE Michael Ramirez, Sr., 6-2, 200
  • WR/DB Tyrese Hardeman, Jr., 6-3, 170
Elysian Fields OL/DL Jade Ashalintubbi. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Offense: Only two offensive starters return to Elysian Fields, which averaged more than 36 points per game in 2017. There are a couple of playmakers head coach Scott Ford can hang his hat on, and they are junior running back Chris Smith and senior offensive tackle Jade Ashalintubbi. Smith accounted for more than 1,300 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore, and Ashalintubbi has several Division I scholarship offers to his name and is a mismatch for most 3A defensive linemen. Finding nine other standouts on offense will be the challenge. Expect both Kelvin Stevenson and Tyrese Hardeman to emerge as threats at receiver.

Elysian Fields DE/OL Cameron Caudle. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Defense: The defense is not quite as inexperienced with six starters returning. The strength of the unit should be up front with linemen Cameron Caudle, Jacob McCreary, and linebackers Cameron Caudle and Michael Ramirez leading the way. Opponents averaged almost 25 points per game on Elysian Fields in 2017, so Coach Ford is hopeful the solid nucleus of defenders coming back can help spearhead an improved product on the field.

2018 outlook: Graduation took away 14 starters from last year's bi-district team, so finding new playmakers and developing depth will be crucial to Elysian Fields' chances of returning to the playoffs. Waskom, Daingerfield, and Paul Pewitt will be challenging, so the Yellowjackets must ensure they don't have any missteps against the bottom half of the district. A strong non-district slate consisting of White Oak, Harmony, and Winona should provide Elysian Fields with a proper litmus test.

 

5. New Diana Eagles

  • Coach: Travis Chrisman
  • 2017 finish: 10-4 (3A Division II quarterfinalist)
  • Returning starters: 2 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • DB/RB Jacob Choyce, Sr., 6-1, 175
  • RB/LB Zane Freeman, Jr., 5-11, 175
  • OL/DL Isaiah Martinez, Jr., 5-9, 220
  • LB Will Leslie, Jr., 5-11, 170
  • LB/FB Carson Willeford, Soph., 5-10, 175
  • DB/WR Allan Brown, Sr., 6-0, 143
  • WR/QB Brayden Rosales, Sr., 6-0, 145
  • OL/DL Keelan Clark, Jr.

Offense: New Diana lost its 4,000-yard passer and both 1,000-yard receivers to graduation, not to mention several offensive linemen, so the young Eagles replacements will have to learn on the fly. New head coach Travis Chrisman does bring back a couple of backs that performed well during stretches last season in senior Jacob Choyce and junior Zane Freeman. Isaiah Martinez and Keelan Clark both saw playing time as sophomore on the offensive line, but now both will be expected to be leaders of an otherwise inexperienced group. New Diana used its uptempo, spread attack to average almost 44 points and 485 yards per game a season ago. Duplicating those numbers could be unrealistic with so much youth on offense.

Defense: There is at least a little more experience on the defensive side of the ball for New Diana, which brings back five starters from 2017. However, the defense must be better than it was a season ago if the Eagles wish to compensate for a less productive offense moving forward. Last season, opponents averaged almost 35 points per game on the New Diana defense. Linebackers Will Leslie and Carson Willeford, who each played quite a bit as underclassmen last year, will be counted upon to lead the way.

2018 outlook: No one is sure quite what to expect from New Diana this season. Sure, the Eagles won 10 games and reached the state quarterfinals a season ago. But graduation took away 15 starters, and former head coach Robbie Coplin is no longer with the program. Will the foundation Coplin established continue, or will New Diana revert back to its old ways? The Eagles are still just three years removed from an 0-10 season. The turnover on both offense and defense, along with a brutal new district means the new coaching staff has its work cut out.

 

6. DeKalb Bears

  • Coach: Buddy Griffin
  • 2017 finish: 6-4
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Kole Dooley, Jr.
  • DB Timon Proby, Jr., 6-0, 175
  • LB/RB Alex Clark, Sr., 5-7, 150
  • DB Jason Jackson, Sr., 5-10, 160
  • OL/DL Christopher McDonald, Jr., 6-3, 265

2018 outlook: DeKalb graduated one of the most productive backs in the state in JaQuan Jackson, who ran for 2,867 yards an 48 touchdowns in just 10 games last season. Replacing him won't be easy, but the Bears will need to if they wish to challenge for a playoff spot. More will likely be asked of junior quarterback Kole Dooley this season, and Alex Clark could end up seeing the bulk of the carries at running back. The secondary is the strength of the DeKalb defense as Timon Proby and Jason Jackson provide quite the one-two punch.

 

7. Ore City Rebels

  • Coach: Tracy Blankenship
  • 2017 finish: 3-7
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • WR Aaron Nigreville, Jr., 5-7, 135
  • RB Jose Lopez, Jr., 5-7, 150
  • TE Keyshawn Kyle, Sr., 6-2, 185
  • LB Billy Long, Soph., 5-10, 170
  • OL Fernando Gutierrez, Jr., 5-9, 190
  • LB Ty Freeman, Jr., 6-1, 180
  • WR Jeremiah Gilliam, Soph., 6-2, 170
  • DB Elijah Jackson, Sr., 5-8, 160

Offense: With more than half of its offensive starters from 2017 coming back, Ore City feels good about its chances of maintaining its explosive nature. Receivers Aaron Nigreville torched opposing secondaries a season ago, finishing with almost 900 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore. Fellow classmate Jose Lopez is primed for a 1,000-yard rushing campaign after going for more than 800 in 2017. The quarterback position will need to sort itself out early in the season, and a few new offensive linemen will have to settle in for the Rebels to feel comfortable with its offense heading into district play.

Defense: Ore City's defense was an issue last season as it allowed opponents an average of more than 38 points per game. Like the offense, the Rebels' defense brings back a half-dozen starters, including linebackers Billy Long and Ty Freeman, who both shined as underclassmen last year. If Ore City can limit the big plays to a minimum and get off the field on third down, the Rebels are certainly capable of making some noise once district play begins.

2018 outlook: Last year, Ore City was in position to nail down a playoff spot heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. But consecutive blowout losses to New Diana and Daingerfield sealed the Rebels' fate. On the bright side, Ore City's other two district losses to Paul Pewitt and DeKalb came by a total of five points, so the talent gap might not be as wide as it appears on the surface. Ore City brings back a ton of firepower to the offense, which averaged almost 30 points per game a season ago. The biggest key will be how much the defense improves.

 

8. Queen City Bulldogs

  • Coach: Mike Baysinger
  • 2017 finish: 3-7
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/DB Isaiah Stiger, Sr., 6-0, 170
  • QB/DB Dylan Scott, Jr., 6-2, 150
  • OL/DL Kody Nichols, Sr.
  • RB/LB Terunte Neal, Soph., 5-10, 147
  • RB/DB Kemya Hicks, Jr., 5-9, 160
  • WR/DB Hunter Farrington, Sr., 6-5, 150
  • RB/LB Colton Davis, Sr., 6-1, 190
  • OL Christian Fitzgerald, Jr., 6-3, 190

Offense: The good news for head coach Mike Baysinger is that Queen City returns nine offensive starters. The bad news: there is a lot of improvement that needs to be shown if the Bulldogs are to seriously challenge in district. Last season, Queen City was held to an average of 20.1 points per game. And during their six-game losing streak to end the 2017 season, the Bulldogs put up a meager 13.5 per game. Queen City has several options at running back, including seniors Isaiah Stiger and Colton Davis, junior Kemya Hicks, and sophomore Terunte Neal. Linemen Kody Nichols and Christian Fitzgerald should provide stability up front.

Defense: The defense will be breaking in six new starters, which could be a good thing. In 2017, opponents put up an average of 43 points per game on Queen City. Coach Baysinger will need many of his offensive playmakers to go both ways and provide a lift on the defensive side of the ball. Nichols is probably the Bulldogs' best returning defender, and he'll anchor the defensive line.

2018 outlook: Queen City returns a total of 14 starters, which should give the Bulldogs some confidence regarding a turnaround this season. However, Queen City has a ton of ground to make up on the other teams in the district. The Bulldogs dropped all six league contests last season by an average of 43 points per game. Queen City loses Hooks as a district opponent, but gains Waskom and Elysian Fields, so the road to recovery is a bit more rocky now.