The race for the District 12-5A championship goes through Longview.

Despite returning only two offensive starters, the Lobos start the season ranked ninth in the Associated Press Class 5A poll and could be poised for a special season thanks to a stingy defense that returns the majority of its starters.

Mesquite appears to be Longview's top competitor after catching fire in the playoffs last season, and don't count out Mesquite Horn, Rockwall-Heath, and Tyler Lee, which could be the district's darkhorse.

One overriding theme is veteran defenses. Longview, Mesquite, Horn, Heath, and Lee return the majority of their defensive starters, so the 12-5A race could come down to who can grind out wins the best. If that's the case, bet on the Lobos.

1. Longview Lobos

Coach: John King (ninth season, 91-19)

2011 Record: 11-2 (5A Division II Region II semifinalist; lost 17-6 to Spring Dekaney)

Returning starters: 2 offensive (pro I), 8 defensive (4-2-5)

Players to watch

  • LB DeMarkus Lathan, Sr., 5-9, 190 (150 tackles, 9 for loss, 2 kick blocks)
  • QB Bivins Caraway, Sr., 6-0, 200 (125-for-233, 2,424 yards, 22 TDs, 5 INTs; 190 rushing yards, 6 TDs; committed to UL Monroe)
  • TE Colin Jeter, Sr., 6-6, 215 (8 catches, 4 TDs)
  • DL Cornelius Williams, Sr., 5-10, 290 (54 tackles, 10 for loss, 1 sack)
  • DL Jalen Porter, Sr., 6-0, 210
  • SS Corey Bartley, Sr., 5-7, 155
  • SS Stephan Maxey, Jr., 5-11, 185 (88 tackles, 2 FF, 6 PBU)
  • RB Tory White, Sr., 5-9, 175 (770 rushing yards, 7 TDs)
  • OL Zaycoven Henderson, Jr., 6-3, 270
  • WR Justinn Spady, Sr., 5-9, 155
  • CB Nakia Brown, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • LB Torean Sheppard, Sr., 5-10, 190
  • CB Davatric Cooks, Sr., 6-0, 185
  • WR Dorian Leonard, Jr., 6-5, 185
  • FB Antonius Sanders, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • WR Jaylan Lawson, Sr., 5-9, 160
  • OL Vernon Hutchinson, Jr., 5-9, 275
  • RB Ja’Mycal Hasty, Soph., 5-9, 185
  • WR Chris Pellum, Jr.

Strengths: Backfield, defense. Veteran coach John King, who has won a district championship every season he’s led the Lobos, has an experienced backfield to help a lot of new faces on the rest of the offense. Quarterback Bivins Caraway and tailback Tory White will be Longview’s dynamic duo in the backfield. Don’t be surprised to see sophomore Ja’Mycal Hasty get some looks at running back as well. The defense returns eight starters and is good from front to back, but especially in the back. Starting with the defending consensus Class 5A Defensive Player of the Year, DeMarkus Lathan, the Lobos will be fierce on the back end of their 4-2-5 scheme, which will also feature playmaking defensive backs Corey Bartley and Stephan Maxey. But don’t overlook the front four; tackle Cornelius Williams and end Jalen Porter, whose sack resulted in the game-winning safety against DeSoto last season, give Longview plenty of firepower at the line of scrimmage.

Weaknesses: Offensive experience. Beyond Caraway, White, and tight end Colin Jeter, Longview’s offense is all new. The Lobos averaged a strong 34.2 points per game in 2011, but they’ll need a lot of new faces to fill voids along the offensive line and at the receiver positions, where Arkansas signee Eric Hawkins and D.T. Jackson are gone after being Caraway’s top two targets. The receiving corps has shown promise during preseason practices and a scrimmage against John Tyler. Justinn Spady has emerged as a potential go-to receiver, while big junior Dorian Leonard could be a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams. Zaycoven Henderson could be the best of Longview’s new offensive line, a unit that is always good, regardless of roster turnover, thanks in part to King’s knowledge of the position after his playing career as a lineman at Northwestern State.

2012 Outlook: If Longview’s new offensive pieces fit in fast, look out. The Lobos could be primed for a huge season. Longview is No. 9 in the Associated Press preseason 5A poll and is the favorite in the new District 12-5A. Mesquite will be tough, especially playing a Sept. 28 home game against the Lobos. So will Mesquite Horn, new-to-5A Rockwall-Heath, and even Tyler Lee. But don’t doubt the Lobos, who have done nothing but win consistently during King’s tenure. Caraway showed last year that Longview isn’t afraid to sling the ball around, and a defense that yielded a respectable 20.6 points per game in 2011 will be better in 2012. The main issue with projecting a lengthy playoff run is the brutal region in which Longview competes. The Division II Region II bracket may include five-time defending 4A Division I champion Lake Travis, which jumps to Texas’ largest classification for the 2012 season, as well as Lufkin and Spring DeKaney, the defending champ that knocked Longview out in the third round. Whatever the case may be, Longview should be able to play with anybody on its schedule, and the Lobos could be in for a special season.

 

2. Mesquite Skeeters

Coach: Robbie Robinson (fifth season, 14-29)

2011 Record: 7-6 (5A Division Region II semifinalist; lost 24-6 to The Woodlands)

Returning starters: 9 offensive (spread), 9 defensive (4-2-5)

Players to watch

  • RB Junior Session, Sr., 5-10, 200 (225 carries, 1,000 yards, 20 TDs)
  • WR Rashard Higgins, Sr., 6-2, 170 (39 catches, 688 yards, 7 TDs)
  • QB Alex Cooper, Sr., 6-0, 155 (181 of 290, 2,505 yards, 21 TDs, 7 INTs)
  • WR Dameon Gamblin, Sr., 5-10, 157 (33 catches, 349 yards, 2 TDs)
  • LB Jamarcus Smith, Sr., 5-11, 198 (95 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 sacks)
  • DB Charles Grant, Jr., 5-11, 180 (109 tackles, 4 INTs, 6 PBUs)
  • LB Jalen Montgomery, Jr., 5-10, 192 (96 tackles, 7 for loss)
  • WR Jordan Bracy, Sr., 5-8, 166 (11 catches, 163 yards, 1 TD)
  • WR Dezmon Jackson, Sr., 6-1, 174 (11 catches, 187 yards, 3 TDs)
  • DB Anthony Canady, Sr., 5-8, 172 (58 tackles, 5 INTs)
  • DB Traa Strong, Sr., 5-9, 151 (69 tackles, 3 for loss)
  • DB Chris Thompson, Sr., 5-8, 167 (51 tackles, 2 FR, 6 PBUs)
  • OLB Marlin Simmons, Sr., 5-9, 180 (50 tackles, 3 FF)
  • DE Joseph Holmes, Sr., 6-3, 200 (43 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks)
  • OLB Javon Jones, Sr., 6-2, 200 (49 tackles, 9 for loss, 2 sacks)
  • OL Daniel Mafileo, Sr., 5-7, 265

2012 Outlook: With 18 returning starters, Mesquite is the most experienced team in the new District 12-5A. The Skeeters’ were a .500 team entering the 2011 playoffs, but wound up winning two games and reaching the 5A Division I Region II semifinals. That only helped them gain more experience for the 2012 campaign, which will see a Mesquite team that has proven playmakers in the backfield (Alex Cooper and Junior Session) and the edges (Rashard Higgins, Dameon Gamblin, etc.), as well as a lot of returning talent at linebacker (Jamarcus Smith and Jalen Montgomery) and defensive back (Anthony Canady, Traa Strong, etc.). Mesquite will need to improve in the trenches if it hopes to knock off Longview, but the Skeeters could be favored against every other team in 12-5A. ETSN.fm expects Mesquite to be 12-5A’s top Division I seed.

3. Mesquite Horn

Coach: Rodney Webb (fifth season, 23-24; 73-44 overall)

2011 Record: 4-7 (5A Division II Region II bi-district finalist; lost 48-47 to Copperas Cove)

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

Players to watch

  • OL Erick Wren, Sr., 6-3, 305
  • RB Treyvon Marsh, Sr., 5-9, 165 (126 carries, 735 yards, 7 TDs)
  • WR Brian O'Bannon, Sr., 5-9, 160 (30 catches, 267 yards, 1 TD)
  • QB Destri White, Jr., 6-1, 185 (133 of 215, 1,564 yards, 13 TDs, 4 INTs)
  • LB D.J. Green, Sr., 6-2, 215 (85 tackles, 8 for loss)
  • LB Hunter Harwell, Sr., 6-2, 205 (44 tackles)
  • DE Colton King, Sr., 6-3, 245
  • OLB Kalan Elia, Sr., 6-1, 205
  • DE Conner Dyer, Soph., 6-5, 250
  • OL Jacob Meyer, Sr., 6-3, 210
  • ATH Justyn Oliphant, Jr., 5-9, 170
  • OL Aaron Boettcher, Sr., 5-10, 260
  • RB Jay'lyn Lynch, Sr., 5-9, 220
  • OL Taylor Flowers, Sr., 5-11, 215
  • CB Nehemiah Wagner, Jr., 6-0, 165
  • DL Andrew Morris, Jr., 6-2, 235
  • FS Jordan Brasuell, Sr., 5-10, 160
  • CB Kamron Irving, Sr., 5-11, 150
  • DL Luis Smith, Sr., 6-0, 255

2012 Outlook: Like Mesquite, Mesquite Horn has a lot of experience back with seven returning starters on each side of the ball. Destri White should have a big year after leading the Jaguars to the playoffs as a sophomore. He and Brian O’Bannon give Horn a strong pass-catch duo. Then there’s tailback Treyvon Marsh, who’s primed for a big senior year after scoring seven touchdowns in 2011. Horn will need its seven returning defensive starters to help that unit improve ont he 27.6 points per game it allowed last season. But perhaps most importantly, Horn needs to finish better during close games. In games decided by eight points or fewer, Horn went 2-6, including its one-point, first-round playoff loss to Copperas Cove. With an extra year of experience for 14 starters, the Jaguars will have a better shot at finishing stronger in 2012. Horn is likely in line for a playoff spot and won’t be easy to knock out when it gets to the postseason.

4. Rockwall-Heath Hawks

Coach: Mickey Moss (fifth season, 36-12; 136-69 overall)

2011 Record: 11-2 (4A Division I Region II semifinalist; lost 28-25 to Sherman)

Returning starters: 5 offensive (multiple, pistol), 6 defensive (four-man front)

Players to watch

  • DE Jay Arnold, Sr., 6-4, 250 (committed to Texas A&M)
  • DT Jordan Points, Sr., 6-4, 260 (committed to Texas A&M)
  • C Chase Regian, Sr., 6-3, 275 (committed to ULM)
  • LB Raaquan Davis, Sr., 6-2, 210 (122 tackles; committed to Baylor)
  • RB Rico Henderson, Soph., 5-10, 185 (143 carries, 650 yards, 13 TDs)
  • CB Justin Peters, Jr., 5-9, 170 (3 INTs)
  • WR Shyon Motlagh, Sr., 6-1, 180 (25 catches, 423 yards, 3 TDs)
  • RB Jeremy Armstrong, Sr., 5-6, 155 (517 rushing yards)
  • OT Garrett Westphal, Sr., 6-2, 215
  • FS Parker Wood, Sr., 6-2, 205
  • CB Kevin Wherry, Sr., 5-10, 170
  • DT Evan Higbee, Sr., 5-11, 250

2012 Outlook: Making the jump to Class 5A won’t be easy, but a strong defense should lead Rockwall-Heath through the transition. Six starters return, including two Texas A&M-bound defensive linemen and linebacker Raaquan Davis, the Hawks’ leading returning tackler and a Baylor commit. Heath limited opponents to 15.9 points per game in 2011, and with such a strong front seven, that could be within reach this season, despite the jump to 5A. Offensively, the Hawks must find a quarterback. Rico Henderson and Jeremy Armstrong give Heath a strong ball-carrying duo, and Shyon Motlagh should help the new QB. But Heath will be hard-pressed to win eight games decided by 12 points or less, a feat the Hawks accomplished in 2011, especially when jumping to 5A. The Hawks will be in the mix for a playoff spot and should compete with everyone in the district thanks to that defensive front, but they may not be ready to a district champion until they’re more familiar with 5A football.

5. Tyler Lee Red Raiders

Coach: Darrell Piske (first season; 53-44 overall)

2011 Record: 1-9

Returning starters: 6 offensive (pro I), 6 defensive (3-4)

Players to watch

  • OT Zacchaeus Page, Sr., 6-4, 305
  • QB Jordan Richardson, Sr., 6-0, 175
  • RB LaQuintas Wallace, Sr., 5-10, 190
  • FB Marcus White, Sr., 5-6, 185
  • DE/LB Del’kei Derrett, Sr., 6-1, 240
  • CB Davier Harris, Sr., 5-10, 150
  • OLB Deontay Walker, Sr., 5-11, 205
  • LB Britton Ezell, Sr., 6-0, 215
  • OT Lane Haeger, Sr., 6-2, 270
  • K Lumi Kaba, Sr., 6-2, 180
  • TE Justin Eweni, Sr., 6-2, 230
  • WR Marquiston Williams, 5-11, 155
  • WR Bryce Wilkerson, 5-7, 145
  • OL William Hultz, 6-2, 250
  • WR Diondre Allen, Jr., 5-9, 165
  • RB Kyjuan Johnson, Soph., 5-9, 180
  • CB Bryce Stewart, 6-1, 170
  • LB C.J. Thompson, 6-2, 230
  • DL Keith Anderson, 6-1, 220
  • FS Rezzin Pullum, 5-11, 170
  • DL Antron Henry, 6-0, 250
  • NG Triston Taylor, Jr., 6-1, 255

Strengths: Running game, size. LaQuintas Wallace finally seems to be healthy, and teaming with Marcus White should give Red Raider first-year coach Darrell Piske a potent 1-2 punch in the ground game. There’s also a big line led by Zacchaeus Page blocking for that duo, which will take pressure off a new starting quarterback in Jordan Richardson, who’s moving from receiver and recovering from a broken leg suffered during the spring. Defensively, Antron Henry and Triston Taylor give Lee a sizeable defensive line duo in the Red Raiders’ three-man front.

 

Weaknesses: QB experience, defense. Richardson will be an athletic addition to the Lee backfield, but must learn the ins and out of playing quarterback since he’ll now be the man throwing the ball instead of catching it. Lee has plenty of promising players on defense, such as the aforementioned D-linemen and a group of linebackers including Del’kei Derrett, Deontay Walker, and Britton Ezell. But those players are tasked with making big strides after Lee’s defense allowed 42.7 points per game in 2011, a year that saw the Red Raiders allow 45 or more points three times in five district games.

2012 Outlook: Tyler Lee could be the real darkhorse in the new District 12-5A. There’s enough valuable experience back on both sides of the ball to make a difference, and the Red Raiders have promising players who have a lot to prove, such as Wallace. The 5-10, 190-pound senior has had high expectations placed upon him his entire career since rushing for 300 yards as a freshman playing varsity. Now healthy, according to Piske, Wallace could become the game-breaking difference-maker Lee fans have hoped for. In an offense basing from the I formation, Wallace and White could have big years, especially playing behind a hefty line that must keep pressure on Richardson to a minimum. Perhaps the biggest question is whether Lee’s defense can rise to the challenge. If it can, the Red Raiders could crash the 12-5A playoff party and snag a postseason berth from Rockwall-Heath or Mesquite Horn.

6. North Mesquite Stallions

Coach: Michael Robinson (sixth season, 22-29; 69-51 overall)

2011 Record: 5-5

Returning starters: 3 offensive (spread), 2 defensive (4-3)

Players to watch

  • OLB Elijah Banks, Sr., 6-3, 205 (40 tackles)
  • LB Justen Tatum, Jr., 6-0, 195
  • S Thomas Oberg, Sr., 6-2, 180 (1 INT)
  • OL Dezmand Candelarie, Sr., 6-3, 277
  • OL Xavier Hardy, Sr., 6-0, 270
  • OL De'Zmon Dilworth, Sr., 5-11 250
  • WR Trae Hart, Jr., 5-10, 155 (9 catches, 102 yards, 2 TDs)
  • RB Corey Hunt, Jr., 5-10, 195 (31 carries, 224 yards, 3 TDs)
  • RB Ta'Varius Luke, Jr., 5-7, 150
  • OL Mike Nichols, Jr., 6-2, 265
  • DT Aldren Kamara, Jr., 6-0, 300
  • LB Jalen Scott, Soph., 6-1, 225

2012 Outlook: A solid offensive line and a good linebacking corps appear to be the strong suits of a North Mesquite team that has the fewest returning starters back in the new District 12-5A. North Mesquite was competitive, for the most part, in last year’s district, despite winning only one district game. The Stallions played close games with DeSoto and Mesquite Horn, keeping two high-powered offenses in check. That will be tough to do against strong offenses this year with only two defensive starters back. If the Stallions are to break rank and steal a playoff spot, they’ll need a big year out of their junior class, which could have players in a lot of important roles in 2012. Right now, ETSN.fm doesn’t expect North Mesquite to be the darkhorse team that Tyler Lee could be.

7. Rockwall Yellowjackets

Coach: Scott Smith (eighth season, 35-38; 101-73-4 overall)

2011 Record: 3-7

Returning starters: 7 offensive (multiple), 4 defensive (4-2-5)

Players to watch

  • WR/RB Zach Berryman, Sr., 5-7, 164 (43 carries, 238 yards, 4 TDs; 29 catches, 347 yards, 2 TDs)
  • QB Dylan Campman, Sr., 5-11, 185 (30 catches, 422 yards, 1 TD)
  • RB Curtis Turner, Sr., 5-4, 152 (12 carries, 58 yards)
  • LB Jared Farrow, Sr., 5-9, 210 (72 tackles, 2 FF)
  • LB Chris Minor, Sr., 5-10, 246 (54 carries, 257 yards, 3 TDs)
  • LB Chris Hinckley, Jr., 6-1, 208 (57 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF)
  • DL Matt Akins, Sr., 6-4, 260 (13 tackles, 2 sacks)
  • DB Patrick Ntchobo, Sr., 5-9, 160 (14 tackles, 1 INT)
  • OL Jacob Aguirre, Sr, 5-10, 210
  • OL Brian Lorts, Sr., 6-0, 255
  • DL Cameron Defebaugh, Sr., 6-2, 275 (9 tackles)
  • DL Jackson Bolin, Sr., 5-9, 236

2012 Outlook: Rockwall makes the jump to Class 5A with a healthy dose of returning offensive starters, but without a player who has played a lot of snaps at quarterback. Add that to a defense that returns only four starters, and the Yellowjackets probably won’t contend for a District 12-5A playoff spot. The bright spot appears to be Rockwall’s linebackers, who could be among the best units in the district. But a year after averaging a pedestrian 21.5 points per game, the Yellowjackets must usher in a new backfield against veteran defenses at Longview, Mesquite, Mesquite Horn, Rockwall-Heath, and Tyler Lee. That’s not a recipe for rocking the boat as the underdog.