District 16-3A isn't the only East Texas district with more playoff-caliber teams than it has playoff spots

The new District 13-3A appears to have at least four postseason-ready programs, but only three spots to go around. Atlanta, Paris, Pittsburg, and Liberty-Eylau will give fans a heated district race for those three berths, and they could finish in any order imaginable.

There seems to be a dropoff from those four and the bottom two, Pleasant Grove and North Lamar, although PG has 17 returning starters and should be better than its two-win campaign a year ago.

The 13-3A race is one league that ETSN.fm is having a hard time handicapping in the preseason, which means it should be one of the most entertaining districts in the region come October and November.

1. Atlanta Rabbits

Coach: Matt McClure (second season, 5-6)

2011 Record: 5-6 (3A Division II Region II bi-district finalist; lost 48-14 to Gilmer)

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

Players to watch

  • RB Corion Webster, Sr., 6-0, 190 (222 carries, 1,865 yards, 24 TDs; committed to Oklahoma State)
  • RB/S Everett Dickerson, Sr., 6-0, 175 (73 carries, 786 yards, 9 TDs; committed to SMU)
  • LB Kenneth Houff, Jr., 6-2, 200 (63 tackles)
  • WR Nick Stiger, Sr., 5-10, 170 (33 catches, 482 yards, 2 TDs)
  • DB Chris Ibarra, Sr., 6-0, 200
  • OT Jared Lincoln, Sr., 6-1, 270
  • OG Brandon Parkman, Jr., 6-2, 275
  • C Joey Lenard, Sr., 5-11, 240
  • TE Kadarian Robinson, Sr., 6-3, 240
  • QB Chase Musgrove, Soph., 5-11, 180

2012 Outlook: Atlanta boasts what is probably Class 3A’s best backfield tandem in Corion Webster and Everett Dickerson, both of whom will play Division I FBS football next fall. The Rabbits will need their new quarterback, likely Chase Musgrove, to help balance the offense so defenses don’t simply stack the box to stop Webster and Dickerson. Nick Stiger should help the new QB acclimate, as well as the eight other returning offensive starters. Defense is a different story as Atlanta must replace seven starters, including Missouri signee Rickey Hatley, who starred at defensive end. Atlanta yielded a respectable 21.0 points per game during the 2011 regular season, so the new crew will have something to live up to. Atlanta’s two district losses last season -- Liberty-Eylau and Paris -- each came by one point, so the Rabbits were already close to be district champions a year ago. With almost their entire offense back and one of the state’s best 1-2 backfield punches, don’t be surprised if Atlanta delivers that district title to Cass County in 2012. The Rabbits will be a tough out come playoff time and since they’re now in 13-3A, won’t have to play a “District of Doom” foe in the first round. That’d be in the second round.

2. Paris Wildcats

Coach: Barry Bowman (second season, 9-2; 69-20 overall)

2011 Record: 9-2 (3A Division I Region II bi-district finalist; lost 55-19 to Henderson)

Returning starters: 4 offensive (spread), 6 defensive (stack)

Players to watch

  • LB Jamal Black, Sr., 5-11, 225 (128 tackles, 12 for loss, 1 sack, 3 FF, 2 FR)
  • DE Sed Ellis, Sr., 6-3, 205 (49 tackles, 14 for loss, 1 sack, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 def. TD; committed to North Texas)
  • RB Quay Scott, Sr., 5-10, 205 (118 carries, 607 yards, 5 TDs)
  • WR/DB Keandre Robinson, Sr., 5-8, 175 (21 catches, 353 yards, 2 TDs; 3 INTs)
  • DE Corwin Cary, Sr., 6-0, 215 (27 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 FR)
  • LB Bricky Reed, Jr., 5-10, 215
  • QB Dakota Smith, Sr., 5-9, 175
  • DL Antonio Burton, Jr., 6-1, 265
  • LB Jordan Williams, Soph., 5-11, 180
  • WR Kenny Mason, Jr., 5-6, 155
  • OL Brice Winter, Jr., 5-8, 220
  • DB Dante Bills, Sr., 5-10, 180

2012 Outlook: The second season in coach Barry Bowman’s tenure seems to be a promising one, even with only four returning offensive starters. The core of a defense that held opponents to 19.7 points per game during the 2011 regular season is back, including linebackers Jamal Black and Bricky Reed and defensive ends Sed Ellis and Corwin Cary. Ellis, Cary, and Antonio Burton should give Paris one of the best defensive lines in District 13-3A, and that will come in handy against strong running games such as Atlanta and Liberty-Eylau. Bowman must find a new quarterback after the graduation of Corban Taylor, who did a superb job running the spread offense. Regardless of who replaces the seven offensive starters gone from last year, the Wildcats will be athletic and should contend for their second consecutive district championship.

3. Pittsburg Pirates

Coach: Robert Manley (sixth season, 38-20)

2011 Record: 5-5

Returning starters: 6 offensive (spread), 4 defensive (split)

Players to watch

  • RT Brian Taylor, Sr., 6-3, 270 (Graded 90 percent, 35 pancakes; committed SMU)
  • LT Shawn Albright, Sr., 6-4, 240
  • WR Ty Hammonds, Sr., 6-4, 195 (22 catches, 243 yards, 2 TDs; 36 punts, 37.0 average, 64 long)
  • RB/LB Derek Allen, Sr., 5-10, 180 (46 carries, 367 yards, 4 TDs; 51 tackles, 7 for loss, 1 INT, 1FF)
  • RB/LB Colton Searcy, Sr., 6-1, 185 (48 carries, 198 yards, 3 TDs; 65 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 FR)
  • OLB Carl Leonard, Sr., 5-9, 165 (75 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 1 FR)
  • OLB Dee Moton, Sr., 6-1, 195
  • DE K.J. Williams, Sr., 5-10, 205
  • QB Garrett Truitt, Jr., 6-5, 185
  • OL Daniel Quinones, Sr., 5-10, 250
  • OL Ty Smith, Jr., 6-0, 220
  • OL Caleb Massey, Sr., 6-0, 220
  • OL Chico Martinez, Sr., 5-8, 195
  • DE Calvin Bates, Sr., 6-3, 215
  • DB Markeith Thompson, Jr., 5-10, 180
  • DB Jonathan Boyd, Jr., 5-9, 170
  • LB Sir Charles Perkins, Soph., 5-9, 170
  • OL Daniel Gilmore, Jr., 5-10, 225
  • K Daniel Silva, Jr., 5-7, 150 (4-for-5 FGs, 13-for-20 PATs)

Strengths: Offensive line, linebackers. Pittsburg could have one of East Texas’ best offensive lines, regardless of classification. The tackle tandem of Brian Taylor (right) and Shawn Albright (left), who coach Robert Manley said has received heavy interest from North Texas, will be among the best in Class 3A. They should help a new quarterback -- lanky junior Garrett Truitt -- acclimate himself to the starting role, and usher in a new bunch of ball carriers, of which Derek Allen could be primary after his limited action a year ago. Defensively, Manley will have plenty to choose from at linebacker, where the Pirates have small but fast playmakers in Carl Leonard, Dee Moton, Colton Searcy, and Sir Charles Perkins. Calvin Bates is a big-time player to keep an eye on as a sleeper.

Weaknesses: Skill positions. The skill spots aren’t as much a weakness as they are inexperienced. Truitt won’t have the luxury of an established go-to back to hand off the ball, nor will he have a glut of veteran receivers. Ty Hammonds appears to be Pittsburg’s best option in the passing game, and he showed glimpses of what his large frame is capable of during the 2011 season.

2012 Outlook: Pittsburg may be the hardest team to read in the new District 13-3A. The Pirates were an enigmatic squad in 2011, pushing Carthage to the brink before losing in overtime, but dropping a game to Spring Hill, which won only two games. More consistency in 2012 would be a better chance of getting back to the playoffs, something the Pirates would love to see after being trapped in the “District of Doom” the last two seasons. Pittsburg may not have as much on paper as Paris, Liberty-Eylau, or Atlanta, the Pirates may be every bit as much of a 13-3A title threat. Pittsburg plays four of its final six games at home, six of the final eight if the Pirates can find another home game to replace the matchup against Dallas Prime Prep Academy that was scheduled for Sept. 28. In other words, don’t sleep on Pittsburg. The Pirates might crash the 13-3A party if they get a few breaks here and there.

4. Liberty-Eylau Leopards

Coach: Brian Brown (second season, 6-5)

2011 Record: 6-5 (3A Division II Region II bi-district finalist; lost 28-7 to Carthage)

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

Players to watch

  • ATH Davion Hall, Jr., 6-3, 187 (24 catches, 448 yards, 6 TDs; 64 tackles, 2 INTs)
  • OL Chris Paul, Sr., 6-3, 268
  • RB DeShun Brewer, Sr., 5-7, 165 (660 rushing yards)
  • RB Matthew Sellers, Sr., 5-9, 185 (540 rushing yards)
  • QB Rashaan Donelson, Jr., 5-11, 180 (550 passing yards, 6 TDs; 300 rushing yards)
  • QB Javon Rigsby, Jr., 6-0, 175
  • DE William Wayne, Sr., 5-11, 223
  • LB Deunte Griffie, Sr., 5-11, 209
  • TE Joseph Atchison, Jr., 6-4, 191

2012 Outlook: Like Atlanta, Liberty-Eylau has a healthy number of offensive starters back, but not near as much defensively. That’s especially bad news on the defensive side considering the Leopards allowed 20.5 points per game during the 2011 regular season. But one of the two returning defensive starters is Davion Hall, who will be an even bigger factor on both sides of the ball this season. Hall will be one of the state’s top recruits in the 2014 class and is primed to have an exceptional season. Classmates Rashaan Donelson and Javon Rigsby could help Liberty-Eylau improve on the 21.8 points per game it averaged last season. Liberty-Eylau is one of a hand full of teams that should compete for the District 13-3A title, an achievement made more difficult to attain with the addition of Pittsburg to the league slate. The Leopards could be a playoff team, but their postseason fate could fall anywhere from the district’s 1-seed to outside of the top three in what ETSN.fm expects to be an extremely close district race.

5. Pleasant Grove Hawks

Coach: Kevin Davis (eighth season, 41-40)

2011 Record: 2-8

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

Players to watch

  • OL Nick Cockerell, Sr., 6-3, 285
  • RB Quentin Miller, Sr., 5-9, 180 (50 carries, 200 yards, 3 TDs)
  • OL Jacob Hamilton, Sr., 6-4, 250 (Graded 89 percent)
  • FS Kayin Cooks, Jr., 5-11, 180 (2 INTs)
  • DL Tyler Wellborn, Sr., 5-10, 200
  • LB Riley O’Dell, Sr., 5-10, 175 (82 tackles)
  • WR Cason Cordray, Sr., 5-6, 160 (15 catches, 200 yards)
  • RB Makale Hawkins, Jr., 5-8, 180
  • RB Kishon Daniels, Jr., 5-8, 160
  • TE Jacob Brown, Sr., 6-1, 200
  • OL Zach Thomas, Sr., 6-1, 220
  • OL Marshall Ward, Sr., 6-2, 220
  • OL Adam Owens, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • OL Collin Craytor, Sr., 5-10, 190
  • LB Louden Naumec, Sr., 5-10, 210
  • DB Josh Whitt, Sr., 5-9, 150
  • DL Addison Toler, Jr., 6-2, 260
  • K Alan Oubre, Sr., 5-8, 150 (4-for-6 FGs, 9-for-11 PATs)

2012 Outlook: Pleasant Grove has by far the most experienced starters in the new Distirct 13-3A. The problem is that those players could win only two games in 2011. A year of experience will obviously help, so the Hawks, which have risen to relevance and respectability under eighth-year coach Kevin Davis, shouldn’t be down long. Nick Cockerell and Jacob Hamilton will give Quentin Miller a good shot at a big year in the ground game. Eight defensive starters are back to help replace Nick Reed (SMU), who anchored the defensive line the last three seasons. Pleasant Grove will need significant strides to make the playoffs, so don’t count on the Hawks getting back to the postseason. But don’t be surprised if they ambush one of the four teams expected to finish at the top of the district.

6. North Lamar Panthers

Coach: Tommy Felty (16th season, 79-81)

2011 Record: 5-5

Returning starters: 6 offensive (I formation), 4 defensive (50 front)

Players to watch

  • RB/WR Ian Dukleth, Sr., 5-9, 170 (285 rushing yards, 6 catches, 120 yards; 6 total TDs)
  • RB Chance Kelly, Sr., 5-9, 175 (134 carries, 820 yards, 14 TDs)
  • LB Cody Edwards, Sr., 5-11, 195 (73 tackles, 2 sacks)
  • CB Dreyton McCarthy, Sr., 6-2, 175
  • NG T.J. Williams, Sr., 5-11, 220
  • C Tanner Wagg, Sr., 6-0, 250
  • OG Mason Dickson, Sr., 5-11, 240
  • WR/DB Reed Scudder, Sr., 6-2, 165 (4 catches, 181 yards; 3 INTs, 1 def. TD)
  • OT Jackie Berry, Jr., 6-3, 300
  • RB Keatron Reed, Soph., 5-9, 165
  • QB Austin Anthony, Sr., 6-6, 195 (7 of 20, 140 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs; 15 punts, 30.0 average, 50 long)
  • WR Grant Kilcrease, Sr., 5-9, 160
  • OG Eric Dickey, Sr., 5-9, 230
  • OG Jake Wear, Sr., 5-10, 250
  • K Mario Smith (2-for-3 FGs, 20-for-22 PATs)

2012 Outlook: North Lamar must replace leading rusher Ryan McCray, who ran for as many as 265 yards in a game (vs. Pine Tree) last season. But Chance Kelly and Ian Dukleth should compensate for the loss, and the Panthers will have a chance to match or improve on the 30.1 points per game they averaged in 2011. On the other hand, North Lamar yielded almost five touchdowns per game and have only four defensive starters back to work on that, although Cody Edwards will likely have a big year at linebacker. North Lamar is not one of the four teams that appears to be a District 13-3A championship contender. The Panthers will be competitive, as they always are under longtime coach Tommy Felty, but don’t bet on them reaching the postseason for the ninth time in his 16-year tenure.