Lufkin and The Woodlands have become rivals during the past eight seasons, when they have played every year since being placed in the same district.

Lufkin leads the series 6-2, including last year's 30-10 victory, which helped deliver an undefeated district championship to the Panthers. The Woodlands and the Pack again appear to be head and shoulders above the rest of the district, which is now District 14-5A, a league that has a couple of new faces.

While Lufkin and The Woodlands should finish 1-2 in either order, the rest of the standings are anyone's guess. College Station A&M Consolidated is always talented, and Conroe College Park is coming off a playoff berth, just like Consol. New head coach Dereck Rush, the former boss at John Tyler, could breathe new life into Conroe Oak Ridge, and don't be surprised if Bryan and Conroe throw kinks into the race for the third and fourth playoff spots.

But right now, Lufkin and The Woodlands appear to be on a collision course. That game is Oct. 12 at Abe Martin Stadium and could decide the 14-5A championship. Regardless of which team wins, both should be prepared to be threats in the postseason.

1. Lufkin Panthers

Coach: Todd Quick (first season)

2011 Record: 9-2 (Class 5A Division II Region II bi-district finalist; lost 30-27 to Spring Westfield)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • DE Demontrai Lewis, Sr., 6-3, 215 (48 tackles, 8 sacks)
  • WR JaBryce Taylor, Sr., 6-1, 180 (40 catches, 494 yards, 4 TDs; committed to SMU)
  • DT D’vante Botley, Sr., 6-4, 255
  • WR Jamal Jeffery, Jr., 5-9, 170
  • QB Tyler Stubblefield, Sr., 6-5, 190
  • WR Terry Mark, Soph., 6-2, 185
  • OL Michael Traylor, Sr.
  • DB Keyvantanie Coutee, Sr.
  • LB Kevin Moore, Sr.
  • ATH Jamarion Houston, Sr.
  • DB Jamal Davis, Sr.
  • OL Erik McCoy, Sr.
  • ATH Deandre Hooper, Sr.

Strengths: Receivers, defensive line. New quarterback Tyler Stubblefield, a Texas A&M commitment for baseball, will have a strong group of receivers to help him in his new role. JaBryce Taylor is a Division I-bound receiver, and Jamal Jeffery and Terry Mark have the talent to become D-I receivers themselves during the next two years. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers have a duo of stalwarts on the defensive line. Demontrai Lewis, who led Lufkin with eight sacks in 2011, has received recruiting interest from a few schools around the region. He’ll be a terror off the edge. Then there’s D’vante Botley clogging the middle from his tackle spot. New head coach Todd Quick believes Botley could soon get more recruiting attention, too.

Weaknesses: Growing complacent. Lufkin rolled through the 2011 regular season, losing only one game, a 21-10 non-district defeat against rival Longview. Then the Panthers hammered their district competition, outscoring six opponents 274-53. Then Spring Westfield ambushed them in the first round to end what appeared to be a season with bigger goals on the horizon. If Lufkin finds a way to again roll through its district, albeit one with a different slate of foes, the Pack cannot allow itself to fall into another first-round trap.

2012 Outlook: Quick takes over a stellar program built by the late John Outlaw, who led Lufkin to a state championship in 2001 and made the Panthers one of the most respected programs in the state. Outlaw, who passed away in December, trusted Quick as an assistant for many years, and now Quick has the opportunity to carry on Outlaw’s excellence. A strong passing game and pass rush should be trademarks of the 2012 Panthers, who will once again contend for a district championship. The league title should come down to Lufkin’s Oct. 12 home game against The Woodlands as those two teams appear head and shoulders above the rest of District 14-5A entering the season. That also means both will be tough outs come the postseason.

 

2. The Woodlands Highlanders

Coach: Mark Schmid

2011 Record: 12-2 (Class 5A Division I Region II finalist; lost 35-31 to Dallas Skyline

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL Sam Kronshage, Sr., 6-5, 290 (committed to Colorado)
  • OL Jonathan Huckins, Sr., 6-4, 310 (committed to Colorado)
  • WR/TE Jayme Taylor, Sr., 6-3, 225 (committed to Northwestern)
  • LB Cole Little, Sr. (65 tackles)
  • DB Colton Wordle, Jr. (65 tackles)
  • OL Tyler Rapp, Jr.
  • RB Ryan Trauffler, Sr.
  • DB Kolbi Brown, Sr.
  • WR Houston Brown, Sr.
  • WR Chris Warren, Sr.

2012 Outlook: The Woodlands is not only the largest team from an enrollment standpoint in the new District 14-5A, but the Highlanders could also be the largest team physically. Colorado-bound offensive line duo Sam Kronshage and Jonathan Huckins give the Highlanders a great combo to block for a new backfield after last year’s 12-2 finish. Jayme Taylor gives The Woodlands one proven skill player, but the other spots will need to be reloaded. A solid secondary should help against Lufkin’s fleet of receivers when the two teams meet Oct. 12 at Abe Martin Stadium. The matchup of Kronshage, Huckins, and the rest of the Highlander O-line against Lufkin’s defensive front, which is led by end Demontrai Lewis and tackle D’vante Botley, should be entertaining as well. Most media outlets have picked The Woodlands to win 14-5A, and ETSN.fm would not be surprised at all if that happened. But because of the experienced playmakers on both sides of the ball that Lufkin has back, ETSN.fm gives the Panthers the nod. Nevertheless, The Woodlands will be no fun to play in the postseason, which the Highlanders proved last season, when they lost 30-10 to Lufkin in district before playing four rounds deep.

 

3. Conroe College Park Cavaliers

Coach: Richard Carson

2011 Record: 6-5 (Class 5A Division II Region II bi-district finalist; lost 27-21 to Spring Dekaney)

Returning starters: 2 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Brett Buckley, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • RB/LB Eric Harrell, Jr., 5-11, 180 (transfer from Conroe Oak Ridge)
  • RB Connor McPherson, Sr. (63 carries, 319 yards, 6 TDs)
  • LB Tristen Newman, Jr., 6-0, 220 (64 tackles)
  • WR Charrod Henry, Sr., 6-2, 175 (26 catches, 340 yards, 5 TDs at Conroe)
  • LB Jacob McClean, Sr., 6-1, 205
  • DT Michael Cevera, Sr., 5-11, 250 (54 tackles, 4 sacks)
  • WR Nick Black, Sr.

2012 Outlook: College Park averaged 30.1 points per game in 2011, but only two starters return from that unit. Charrod Henry should be a boost, though, after transferring from Conroe, where he averaged 13.1 yards per catch as a junior. Henry, fellow receiver Nick Black, running backs Connor McPherson and Eric Harrell, and quarterback Brett Buckley give College Park a good shot to be good at the skill positions, but the offensive line must step up if the Cavaliers want to duplicate last year’s scoring average, especially against defensive fronts as talented as Lufkin and The Woodlands. Defensively, six returning starters should help College Park improve on the 26.0 points per game it allowed during the regular season. With solid O-line play, College Park could be a darkhorse in the new District 14-5A.

 

4. College Station A&M Consolidated Tigers

Coach: David Raffield

2011 Record: 5-6 (Class 5A Division I Region II bi-district finalist; lost 54-10 to DeSoto)

Returning starters: 2 offensive, 2 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Brandon Jackson, Jr., 5-9, 165
  • DB K.J. Dukes, Jr., 5-10, 165
  • LB Jimmy Gilbert, Sr., 6-5, 215
  • LB Kyle Chism, Sr.
  • QB Jaylan Cheshire, Sr.

2012 Outlook: Consol’s chances took a shot during the summer when one of the most highly regarded defenders in the state, defensive end Christian LaCouture (6-5, 260), transferred to Lincoln (Neb.) Southwest in preparation for his college career with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. LaCouture had moved from Odessa Permian to College Station for his junior season and was previously committed to the Aggies. Linebackers Jimmy Gilbert and Kyle Chism will have to pick up the slack. The Tigers allowed a respectable 20.6 points per game during the regular season, but their five losses before the first-round rout at the hands of DeSoto all came by 10 points or fewer, so they must learn how to win close games. With only three returning starters after LaCouture’s transfer, that might be tough.

 

5. Conroe Tigers

Coach: Roger Holtkamp

2011 Record: 2-8

Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Stedman Bell, Jr., 6-2, 175 (110 of 184, 1,453 yards, 10 TDs, 5 INTs)
  • RB Larry Day, Sr., 5-9, 195 (109 carries, 354 yards, 5 TDs)
  • WR Lamar Hernandez, Sr., 6-2, 165
  • WR Markelle Lee, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • FB Connor Greer, Sr., 6-0, 200
  • ATH Hayden Bowen, Soph., 5-8, 180
  • DB Joseph Grant, Sr., 5-10, 170

2012 Outlook: Conroe’s skill positions look strong with the return of quarterback Stedman Bell and running back Larry Day, who should see more opportunities as a senior. But the defensive side of the ball is where Conroe needs more improvement after surrendering 35.5 points per game last season. Conroe has a little more experience back than Bryan and A&M Consolidated, but it’d be surprising if the Tigers finished ahead of both in the district standings.

 

6. Bryan Vikings

Coach: Ross Rogers

2011 Record: 4-6

Returning starters: 2 offensive, 2 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Chris Johnson, Sr., 6-4, 215 (34 of 62, 474 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs; 86 carries, 431 yards, 6 TDs)
  • WR V.J. Banks, Sr., 6-1, 190
  • DT Zac Slaydon, Sr., 6-1, 240
  • DT Shikelyn Phillips, Sr.
  • OL Zach Jones, Sr.
  • DL Devin Marshall, Sr.
  • DB Joe Clay, Jr., 5-10, 170
  • DE Deondre Johnson, Soph., 6-0, 220

2012 Outlook: With only two returning starters on each side of the ball, Bryan will have to grow up fast. The Vikings appear to have a solid pass-catch combo in Chris Johnson and V.J. Banks, as well as several options on the defensive front, such as Zac Slaydon and Deondre Johnson. Bryan needs that defensive front to perform better than last year’s, which was part of a defense that allowed 29.7 points per game. Bryan closed 2011 on a five-game losing streak, and the Vikings yielded 35.2 points per contest during that skid. A new district with only one of the same teams from last year’s league schedule could give Bryan a fresh outlook, but with The Woodlands, Lufkin, and A&M Consolidated at the top of the league, cracking the top four and earning a playoff spot won’t be easy.

 

7. Conroe Oak Ridge War Eagles

Coach: Dereck Rush (first season)

2011 Record: 1-9

Players to watch

  • OL Taylor Dye, Sr.
  • DL Tye Chalker, Sr.

2012 Outlook: New coach Dereck Rush, who restored John Tyler to one of the state’s prominent names in high school football, takes over an Oak Ridge squad that won a single game last year, and without a large core of key players back, he may have a tough building the War Eagles back up initially. Oak Ridge has been a regular playoff participant in recent seasons, but don’t expect the War Eagles to be in that discussion in 2012. If they are, Rush deserves a ton of credit.