After its 40-16 defeat of Gunter in the state championship, Newton had a tough time finding non-district opponents for 2018.

Unfortunately for the rest of the teams in District 12-3A Division II, they are forced to face the Eagles. That likely spells at least one district loss for every team other than the Eagles this season.

Newton will be back in full force, returning nine starters on offense and eight on defense. The Eagles have five players already with FBS scholarship offers. Simply put, everyone else will be fighting for second place.

That doesn't mean the rest of the district is completely devoid of talent. Corrigan-Camden and Hemphill both bring back enough to likely make the playoffs again. Even New Waverly, Kountze and Anderson-Shiro have promising prospects despite lackluster finishes in 2017.

There's a few players to watch, but if you're looking for drama and close races at the top, it's probably best to head elsewhere.

District 12-3A Division II Preview

Newton RB Darwin Barlow. (© ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • RB Darwin Barlow, Sr., 5-11, 200, Newton
  • WR/DB Tamauzia Brown, Sr., 6-2, 177, Newton
  • ATH Josh Foster, Sr., 6-2, 180, Newton
  • DL James Sylvester, Jr., 6-5, 240, Newton
  • LB Jadrian McGraw, Sr., 6-0, 205, Newton
  • OL Caiden Walker, Sr., 6-4, 285, Newton
  • DL David Lazcano, Jr., 5-11, 147, Corrigan-Camden
  • RB Terrell Cook, Sr., 6-0, Corrigan-Camden
  • QB/LB Trey Proctor, Sr., 5-11, 180, Hemphill
  • OL Logan Vickers, Sr., Hemphill
  • RB/DB Darion Rogers, Jr., 6-0, 170, Hemphill
  • QB/DB Dylan Smith, New Waverly
  • RB/DB K.J. Merchant, New Waverly
  • RB/DB Keyshawn Adams, Sr., 5-7, 165, Kountze
  • TE/LB Cayson Beal, Sr., 6-2, 218, Kountze
  • LB/RB Kreese Milligan, Jr., 6-0, 175, Anderson-Shiro
  • RB/DB Zacarrius Haynes, Jr., 6-0, 162, Anderson-Shiro

TOP GAMES

  • Silsbee at Newton, Sept. 7
  • Newton at West Orange Stark, Sept. 14
  • Gilmer at Newton, Sept. 28
  • Corrigan-Camden at Hemphill, Nov. 9
Newton LB Jadrian McGraw (Mark Martin)

1. Newton Eagles

  • Coach: W.T. Johnston
  • 2017 finish: 15-0 (3A Division II state champions)
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Darwin Barlow, Sr., 5-11, 200
  • WR/DB Tamauzia Brown, Sr., 6-2, 177
  • ATH Josh Foster, Sr., 6-2, 180
  • DL James Sylvester, Jr., 6-5, 240
  • LB Jadrian McGraw, Sr., 6-0, 205
  • OL Caiden Walker, Sr., 6-4, 285
  • RB Kevin Watson, Jr., 5-10, 178
  • OL Kristian Paulette, Sr., 5-11, 205
  • WR/DB Zach Gulley, Jr., 5-11, 160

Offense: What's not to be excited about if you're an Eagles fan? Newton returns nearly every key piece on offense from its state championship season, with the exception of receiver Noah Williams. It should handle that loss just fine, as Tamauzia Brown, Darwin Barlow and Josh Foster all return.

Brown is a two-way star who posted 1,442 total yards and 18 touchdowns this past season. One of the most highly recruited players in East Texas, he boasts offers from the likes of Alabama, Oregon, TCU and many more. Because defenses will likely focus so intently on slowing him down, it should open up things for the rest of the offense.

Newton DB/WR Tamauzia Brown.

If teams hone in too much on Brown, they might give Barlow room to do damage. Barlow led East Texas with 38 rushing touchdowns in 2017, and finished in the top five in yardage with 2,246. Like Brown, he holds several FBS offers including Arkansas, Oklahoma State and TCU.

Then, there's Foster. The quarterback, he is the player Newton can least afford to lose, coach W.T. Johnston said. He scored 45 total touchdowns in 2017 and is committed to play at TCU next fall.

That's not even accounting for linemen Caiden Walker, a Louisiana Tech commit, and Kristian Paulette. Running back Kevin Watson brings experience after recording 609 rushing yards on 86 carries (an average of 7.1 yards per carry) this past season. There is also optimism about Zach Gulley being a secondary weapon after Brown at receiver.

Opposing defenses will certainly have their hands full against this group.

Defense: Newton's biggest loss comes on defense, where it must replace linebacker Corbin Foster. Foster was the lifeblood of the defense during the Eagles' championship run, leading the team in tackles with 232. Jadrian McGraw, who played on the defensive line in 2017, will move to linebacker to take his place. He led the Eagles in sacks with nine and is described as an intelligent player who should make the transition smoothly.

Newton 2020 DE James Sylvester (© ETSN.fm).

Brown will lead the secondary after recording an area-leading 12 interceptions a season ago. He'll be joined by Gulley and Foster to round out a solid group.

James Sylvester has the most star potential after Brown. The defensive lineman already has offers from Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma before his junior season. He was second on the team in sacks in 2018 with eight. After playing all last season at or below 200 pounds, he has added about 40 pounds of muscle in the offseason and should be even more of a force.

Newton allowed only 9.6 points per contest in 2017, and the defense should remain just as stifling this season.

2018 outlook: If you win the state championship and return the majority of your starters, expectations will be high.

It's no surprise that many pundits have labeled Newton as likely to repeat in 2018. How the Eagles respond to the added pressure will be the main thing to watch. The development of players such as Sylvester, Watson and Gulley will also be interesting.

Barring injuries, Newton should get through its district without much challenge. Its most difficult games are in non-district, where it will face Gilmer, Silsbee and West Orange Stark. Look for the Eagles to be the favorite not only in their district, but also in 3A Division-II to start the season.

2. Corrigan-Camden Bulldogs

  • Coach: Seven Armstrong
  • 2017 finish: 5-5 (3A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 6 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Dohn Freeman, Jr., 6-2
  • OL Alan Casper
  • TE/DB LaTrail Bailey, Sr., 6-0, 188
  • RB Terrell Cook, Sr., 6-0
  • FB/DL Ashton Jones, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • QB/DL Zack Ivie, Sr., 5-9, 150
  • DL David Lazcano, Jr., 5-11, 147
  • LB Josh Durham

Offense: Down Freeman will lead the charge after a successful sophomore campaign at quarterback. He'll have a solid target in LaTrail Bailey and several backs behind him capable of making plays. Terrell Cook, Ashton Jones and Zack Ivie should all be used interchangeably throughout the season. The Bulldogs will look to make an improvement after averaging only 18.7 points per game in 2017.

Defense: Most of the Bulldogs play two ways. Bailey will lead the secondary and defensive end David Lazcano and linebacker Josh Durham bring experience. Eight starters return from a season ago, so expect some internal progression.

2018 outlook: The Bulldogs seem in the best position of any other team to finish second. After a bi-distrct finish in 2017, expect about the same this year.

3. Hemphill Hornets

  • Coach: Gary Vanya
  • 2017 finish: 6-5 (3A D-II bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/LB Trey Proctor, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • OL Logan Vickers, Sr.
  • OL Malik Wilkerson, Jr.
  • RB/DB Darion Rogers, Jr., 6-0, 170
  • DL Ty Graffeo, Sr., 6-2, 186
  • LB/P Joseph Stewart, Sr., 6-0, 175

Offense: The Hornets lose a lot on offense, mostly at the skill positions. Vickers and Wilkerson will lead the way not only on the line, but also for the offense as a whole. Trey Proctor will play quarterback and Darion Rogers will look to lead the way in the backfield. If a couple of skills players emerge, Hemphill's offense should end up looking solid.

Defense: Proctor and Rogers will also play on defense. The former a linebacker and the latter a defensive back, they'll likely be called upon to be leaders for the unit. Defensive lineman Ty Graffeo and linebacker Joseph Stewart have the size to be contributors, and if they emerge, it could be a different story for Hemphill.

2018 outlook: The Hornets will be fighting with Corrigan-Camden for the second spot in the district. The edge goes to Corrigan-Camden in the preseason simply because of experience. However, if things go right for Hemphill, it could find itself finishing higher. Either way, expect the Hornets to be a playoff team.

4. New Waverly Bulldogs

  • Coach: Dean Schaub
  • 2017 finish: 4-5
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB/DB Dylan Smith
  • TE/LB Ja'Quez Williams
  • OL/DL Marcus Mills
  • OL/DL Jacob Durisseau
  • OL/DL Jacob Abraham
  • RB/DB K.J. Merchant

2018 outlook: Dylan Smith will lead the way after passing for 722 yards and eight touchdowns this past season. He also had 48 tackles and six interceptions on defense. Ja'Quez Williams will likely be the main target as he posted 352 yards receiving and six touchdowns a season ago. K.J. Merchant will look to continue to shine after a freshman season in which he recorded four interceptions. The Bulldogs could very well be the last team in the playoffs from this district.

5. Kountze Lions

  • Coach: Duane Joubert
  • 2017 finish: 1-7
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB/DB Keyshawn Adams, Sr., 5-7, 165
  • TE/LB Cayson Beal, Sr., 6-2, 218
  • OL/DL Montreal Jones, Sr., 5-10, 270
  • RB/DB Drelyn Akbar, Jr., 140
  • OL/DL Austin Everett, Jr., 6-0, 240

2018 outlook: Kountze returns plenty from this past season, but only went 1-7. Running back Keyshawn Adams returns and will look to build on a season in which he rushed for 551 yards and six touchdowns. Linebacker Cayson Beal will lead the defense after finishing with 101 tackles and two interceptions in 2017. The Lions might have enough experience to sneak in the playoffs, but it is still up in the air.

6. Anderson-Shiro Owls

  • Coach: Brad Hodges
  • 2017 finish: 0-9
  • Returning starters: 10 offensive, 10 defensive

Players to watch

  • LB/RB Kreese Milligan, Jr., 6-0, 175
  • RB/DB Zacarrius Haynes, Jr., 6-0, 162
  • OL/DL Andrew Seaback, Sr., 6-5, 320
  • DB Tre Hightower, Sr.
  • OL/DL Zane Moriarty, So.

2018 outlook: Anderson-Shiro returns all but two starters from its 2017 season. Unfortunately, it failed to win a game that year and will have a long road ahead of it this season. Zacarrius Haynes rushed for almost 1,000 yards in his sophomore season and will again be asked to lead the offense. Kreese Milligan finished with 119 tackles and four sacks this past season and should be the defensive leader.