District 14-4A may be one of the most difficult districts to predict in the ETSN.fm coverage area.

Sulphur Springs must replace the majority of its offense, and Texas High has four starters back total. Then there's Hallsville and Mount Pleasant, which have 12 and 17 returning starters, respectively. Plus a Marshall program that you figure won't be down long, and Pine Tree squad that struggled mightily on defense in 2011, but had its best offensive season in several years.

All of that makes for a highly competitive district race. Sulphur Springs' Ivery brothers and Texas High's tendency to reload, rather than rebuild, give the Wildcats and Tigers the early nod. But Hallsville could be a serious threat for the district championship, and Mount Pleasant's junior class, which features star receiver K.D. Cannon, should have the Tigers somewhere in the playoff mix.

1. Sulphur Springs Wildcats

Coach: Greg Owens (seventh season, 52-23; 113-65 overall)

2011 Record: 8-4 (4A Division II Region II area finalist; lost 47-33 to Corsicana)

Returning starters: 4 offensive (1-back shotgun), 6 defensive (4-3)

Players to watch

  • DT Anton Walton, Sr., 6-3, 240 (19 QB pressures)
  • WR Willy Ivery, Jr., 5-9, 180 (46 catches, 917 yards, 15 TDs)
  • RB Buddy Ivery, Sr., 5-8, 180 (58 carries, 505 yards, 4 TDs)
  • DB Larry Pryor, Soph., 6-0, 185 (47 tackles, 3 INTs)
  • QB/DB Derick Ingram, Jr., 5-11, 170 (69 tackles)
  • OL Jenner Jackson, Sr., 6-3, 250 (100 pancakes)
  • K Tony Bravo, Sr., 6-0, 150 (10-for-18 FGs, 47-for-48 PATs)
  • WR Cole Hill, Sr., 5-8, 165
  • WR Jordan Jackson, Sr., 6-0, 165
  • DE Forrest Jeter, Sr., 6-2, 180
  • DB Kalyle Wright, Sr., 6-1, 170
  • DT Jeffery Washington, Jr., 5-8, 230

2012 Outlook: Anton Walton and Jeffery Washington will anchor a defense that returns more than half its starters and could be the best unit in the new District 14-4A, but you know Sulphur Springs will find a way to score points, even with only four returning offensive starters. Whoever plays quarterback will have two serious weapons at his disposal in the Ivery brothers, junior Willy and senior Buddy. Willy Ivery could be one of East Texas’ top recruits in the class of 2014. The Wildcats will aim for revenge against Texas High, which beat them 48-38 in 2011 and won’t have hardly any returning starters back. Texas High’s lack of experience combined with a lot of uncertainty in the rest of the district leave Sulphur Springs as the preseason favorite for the 14-4A title.

2.Texas High Tigers

Coach: Barry Norton (14th season, 115-39-1)

2011 Record: 7-4 (4A Division I Region II bi-district finalist; lost 46-14 to John Tyler)

Returning starters: 1 offensive (multiple I), 3 defensive (4-3)

Players to watch

  • DT Jonathan Hunt, Sr., 6-0, 285
  • LB Anthony Rhone, Jr., 6-0, 205 (99 tackles)
  • TE Harold Stoker, Sr., 6-3, 210 (9 catches, 125 yards, 1 TD)
  • DE Joseph Meredith, Sr., 5-10, 190
  • DB Marquan Daniels, Jr., 5-9, 170
  • WR Dale Williamson, Soph., 5-10, 150

2012 Outlook: Texas High is a microcosm of District 14-4A as a whole: a lot of unknowns. Texas High has only one returning offensive starter, but the defense has a hand full of players who give the Tigers a good start

at a stout unit. Jonathan Hunt will anchor the unit from his tackle spot, while Anthony Rhone had a breakout sophomore season and will likely be a coveted recruit in East Texas’ loaded 2014 class. Perhaps more troubling to Texas High’s 14-4A title hopes than the lack of veterans is the Tigers’ schedule, which forces them to play at Sulphur Springs and at Hallsville, the other two teams that could be the most likely to contend for the league title. With four playoff spots to go around, Texas High should reach the postseason, but much more than that may be asking too much of such an inexperience squad.

3.Hallsville Bobcats

Coach: David Plunk (eighth season, 34-39)

2011 Record: 5-6 (4A Division II Region II bi-district finalist; lost 31-21 to Sulphur Springs)

Returning starters: 6 offensive (spread), 6 defensive (4-2-5)

Players to watch

  • OLB Cayden Ferrill, Sr., 5-10, 195 (67 tackles, 1 INT, 4 FF, 2 FR)
  • DE Coby Bradford, Sr., 6-1, 205 (68 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FF)
  • OL Hayden Wall, Sr., 6-4, 270 (Graded 85 percent)
  • RB Thaddeus Fagan, Sr., 6-0, 190 (147 carries, 667 yards, 6 TDs)
  • WR Andre Jones, Jr., 5-9, 170 (17 catches, 258 yards, 2 TDs)
  • QB Austin Toney, Sr., 6-3, 185
  • LB Roderick Boyd, Sr., 5-7, 205 (64 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FR)
  • LB Santos Estrada, Sr., 5-9, 175 (2 INTs)
  • FS Macailyn Wilder, Jr., 5-10, 175
  • OL Brent Rogers, Sr., 6-0, 270
  • RB Quatron Davis, Sr., 5-8, 170
  • OL Lucas Roberts, Sr., 5-9, 215
  • OL Austin Howell, Sr., 6-3, 220
  • CB Jesse Navarro, Sr., 5-9, 170
  • CB Braden Fleet, Sr., 5-10, 175
  • DT Michael Wilbur, Sr., 5-10, 230
  • CB Jacori Crayton, Jr., 5-9, 170

Strengths: Running game, linebackers. Thaddeus Fagan is primed for a big year after a solid junior season,

especially with a good group of offensive line back to block for him. Left tackle Hayden Wall will be one of East Texas’ best offensive lineman, which will not only help Fagan, but new starting quarterback Austin Toney. Defensively, the Bobcats will lean on their linebackers. Cayden Ferrill has been a difference-maker since his sophomore season, while Roderick Boyd and Santos Estrada have almost as much experience themselves. The group may not be big, but it’s effective. Don’t forget about Coby Bradford off the edge.

Weaknesses: Explosiveness, starting better. Hallsville averaged 25.8 points per game in 2011, a number veteran coach David Plunk could probably stand to see rise this season. Plunk believes the Bobcats are deeper at the skill positions than they have been in the past, so perhaps they could be well on their way to finding a remedy for what may be perceived as a lack of explosiveness. Hallsville finished the 2011 regular season on fire to claim a playoff spot, but the Bobcats must avoid stumbling out of the gate. Their 1-4 start last season almost cost them that playoff berth. With a non-district schedule featuring four playoff teams, that may be difficult.

2012 Outlook: A year ago, Hallsville got back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Though they might

not rout opponents left and right, the Bobcats could be looking at their best shot at a district championship in years. Texas High and Sulphur Springs might have a few more home run hitters offensively, but Hallsville may be the cream of the crop in the new District 14-4A when it comes to ball control. In a district with no head-and-shoulders-above favorite, that could pay huge dividends. ETSN.fm expects Hallsville to make a return trip to the postseason and serve as one of a couple of 14-4A’s darkhorses in the district championship race, which could be really muddy entering the season’s final week. That’s when the Bobcats host Texas High.

4.Mount Pleasant Tigers

Coach: Mart Graham (third season, 4-16)

2011 Record: 3-7

Returning starters: 9 offensive (spread), 8 defensive (4-2-5)

Players to watch

  • QB Montravious James, Sr., 6-0, 175 (82 of 145, 1,025 yards, 6 TDs, 6 INTs; 49 carries, 242 yards, 6 TDs)
  • WR K.D. Cannon, Jr., 6-0, 163 (61 catches, 1,004 yards, 10 TDs; 13 KORs, 22.5 average)
  • QB Cullen Grubbs, Jr., 6-1, 200 (58 of 122, 918 yards, 5 TDs)
  • SS J.R. Gonzalez, Sr., 5-9, 170 (97 tackles)
  • DB Jamald McGill, Sr., 5-11, 170 (3 INTs)
  • WR A.J. Hughes, Jr., 5-9, 160 (13 catches, 110 yards, 1 TD)
  • WR Andrew Flanagan, Jr., 6-0, 200
  • RB Terrance Taylor, Jr., 5-9, 165
  • OG Dondre Burris, Sr., 5-10, 220
  • OT Tucker Brown, Sr., 6-1, 295
  • OT Mackenzie Rosborough, Sr., 6-1, 240
  • DT Joel Bautista, Jr., 6-0, 245
  • OLB Jamarlon Brown, Sr., 5-9, 190
  • S Luke Hill, Sr., 5-8, 180
  • DT Demond Craddock, Sr., 5-10, 225
  • DE T'Neous Smith, Jr., 6-1, 215
  • OLB Josh Scoggin, Jr., 5-11, 175

2012 Outlook: Here’s your other big-time darkhorse along with Hallsville. Mount Pleasant’s junior class

should have an even bigger impact on the Tigers’ fortunes this season. Players such as K.D. Cannon, who will be one of the state’s top recruits next year, Cullen Grubbs, Andrew Flanagan, and T’Neous Smith have Mount Pleasant fans fired up about getting the program’s first playoff berth since 2007. With two proven quarterbacks and a solid group of playmakers, none greater than the game-breaking Cannon, the Tigers should get that postseason trip in 2012. Mount Pleasant has more starters back than any team in the new District 14-4A, so don’t be surprised if the strong junior class and the other experienced Tigers not only snag a playoff spot, but join Hallsville in pushing Texas High and Sulphur Springs in the district championship race.

5.Marshall Mavericks

Coach: Alex Richters (second season, 2-8)

2011 Record: 2-8

Returning starters: 2 offensive (spread), 3 defensive (30 front, Cover 2)

Players to watch

  • C Johnathan Patterson, Sr., 5-11, 265
  • WR Christian Williams, Sr., 6-2, 175 (29 catches, 307 yards, 4 TDs)
  • RB John Love, Soph., 5-8, 170
  • LB Kris Johnson, Sr., 5-11 185 (43 tackles)
  • DB Jacovin Coats, Sr., 5-10, 175
  • DB Jaque Kuykendall, Jr., 5-9, 160
  • DE Alberto Balderas, Sr., 6-2, 210
  • WR Marek Reyes, Jr., 5-8, 165

Strengths: Receivers, secondary. Chris Williams is one of the top returning receivers in District 14-4A, and Marek Reyes gained experience as a sophomore last season. That duo should help the new Marshall quarterback. Defensively, Jacovin Coates and Jaque Kuykendall will be the strength of Marshall’s defense, which hopes to improve on the 36.1 points per game Marshall allowed a season ago.

Weaknesses: Quarterback, line play. Marshall’s best playmaker last season was quarterback Alandric Tutt, who the entire offense revolved around. He will be very difficult to replace. While Johnathan Patterson and Alberto Balderas give second-year coach Alex Richters a veteran on each line, the Mavericks must find a boatload of new starters in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

2012 Outlook: Marshall’s disappointing 2011 season leaves a lot of uncertainty around the Mavericks entering 2012. Marshall will have athleticism, but perhaps not in the droves it has in the past when players such as Darius Jones, Aaron Franklin, Jamal Anderson, J.C. Haigwood, and Jackie Robinson wore the red and white. The Mavs will have a shot to return to the playoffs for the seventh time in nine seasons, but ETSN.fm does not expect that to happen with Mount Pleasant and Hallsville looking like teams on the upswing.

6.Pine Tree Pirates

Coach: Derek Fitzhenry (second season, 1-9; 74-32 overall)

2011 Record: 1-9

Returning starters: 6 offensive (flexbone), 7 defensive (4-2-5)

Players to watch

  • QB Jake Oden, Sr., 6-1, 185 (11-for-52, 143 yards, 0 TDs, 7 INTs; 156 carries, 710 yards, 12 TDs)
  • RB Victor Hawkins, Sr., 6-1, 190 (20 carries, 211 yards; 43 tackles, 1 INT)
  • FB/DT Eddie Calico, Sr., 6-0, 240 (29 carries, 120 yards, 1 TD; 31 tackles, 1/2 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR)
  • RB Douglas Morgan, Soph., 6-0, 185 (7 carries, 80 yards)
  • DB Dee Gray, Sr., 5-8, 160 (44 tackles)
  • LB Jeremy Allen, Sr., 6-0, 185 (16 tackles, 2 sacks)
  • LB Justin Bledsoe, Sr., 5-10, 185 (13 tackles)
  • WR Mason Liu, Sr., 5-11, 175
  • OL Bradley Clayton, Sr., 6-0, 220
  • OL Jacob Smith, Jr., 6-0, 235
  • OL Andrew Lee, Jr., 6-2, 265
  • OL Tyler Allen, Sr., 6-3, 270
  • WR Caleb Chumley, Jr., 6-4, 215
  • WR Evan Estes, Sr., 5-10, 185
  • FB Quay Ward, Soph., 5-9, 195
  • DB Trevor Thomas, Sr., 5-9, 180
  • DB Corvell Marshall, Jr., 5-9, 175
  • DE Keyotrick Brown, Sr., 6-0, 200
  • LB Dalvin Manns, Jr., 6-0, 205

Strengths: Running game, size. Pine Tree posted huge rushing numbers last season in the first year running coach Derek Fitzhenry’s flexbone offense, which led the Pirates attempting fewer than six passes per game. The result was Pine Tree’s best offensive output since 2007. Quarterback Jake Oden and ball carries Victor Hawkins, Eddie Calico, and Douglas Morgan are back to again give Pine Tree plenty of choices in its option-heavy offense, which will have a large line blocking for it led by Tyler Allen and Andrew Lee.

Weaknesses: Offensive balance, defense. Pine Tree not only attempted very few passes in 2011, but completed very few. Pine Tree’s completed only 20.8 percent of its passes, or 1.1 completion on 5.3 attempts per game. The Pirates also failed to throw for a touchdown, yet threw eight interceptions. But Pine Tree’s most crippling struggles were on defense, where the Pirates allowed 39.1 points per game and 42 or more points four times. Seven defensive starters are back, but they’ll need to show vast improvement for the Pirates to get the defensive performance required to change their fortunes.

2012 Outlook: In a wide open District 14-4A, Pine Tree could have its best shot in several years at snagging its first playoff berth in more than a decade. But the Pirates will need a significantly different defensive effort, and must limit turnovers and penalties, both of which caused problems at times a year ago. The offense made huge strides last season and should be even better in the second year of the flexbone system, but don’t expect that to be enough to get the Bucs into the top four of the 14-4A race.