Welcome to the District of Doom, Version 2.0.

How does the UIL reward Bullard for getting its first two playoff wins in program history? Throwing the Panthers into a district with Gilmer, Henderson, Chapel Hill, and down-from-Class 4A Kilgore. Pittsburg and three-time state champion Carthage may be gone, but the additions of defending 3A Division I champion Chapel Hill, 2011 Class 4A Division II quarterfinalist Kilgore, and eight-win Bullard more than make up for those departures.

Gilmer, Kilgore, and Henderson all must revamp their offenses -- especially their quarterback positions -- but return veteran defenses that will make life difficult for new QBs. Chapel Hill returns three starters total, so the Bulldogs' will have some growing pains early, especially with a trying non-district schedule. They'll have to get over them fast, though, since they open District 16-3A with back-to-back games against Henderson and Gilmer.

Bullard will have an uphill battle in its quest for another playoff berth, and the same goes for Gladewater and Spring Hill, although the Bears could be a darkhorse. Their defensive tackle tandem alone might be able to keep them in games.

As for predictions, well, this is about as tough as it gets in East Texas. Any of four teams are league championship contenders, and six are probably playoff-caliber squads. Don't be surprised if these preseason district rankings are jumbled come November.

1. Gilmer Buckeyes

Coach: Jeff Traylor (12th season, 134-22)

2011 Record: 13-1 (3A Division II Region II finalist; lost 51-35 to Gilmer)

Returning starters: 2 offensive (spread), 7 defensive (50 front)

Players to watch

  • QB/FS Tanner Barr, Jr., 6-1, 175 (38 tackles, 10 INTs)
  • RB/OLB Josh Walker, Jr., 6-1, 220 (130 tackles, 9 sacks, 1 INT, 4 FF, 17 QB pressures)
  • RB/WR Chase Tate, Soph., 5-5, 140 (71 carries, 489 yards, 3 TDs; 19 catches, 248 yards)
  • QB/H-back Jaidon Parrish, Jr., 6-0, 180 (18 catches, 274 yards, 2 TDs)
  • K Pablin Olivares, Jr., 5-8, 160 (4-for-6 FGs, 101-for-108 PATs)
  • NG Xavier Fluellen, Sr., 6-1, 260 (78 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 19 QB pressures)
  • LB Adam Witcher, Sr., 5-11, 180 (124 tackles)
  • CB Trey Washington, Sr., 6-1, 180 (25 tackles, 2 INTs; committed to SMU)
  • OL Brady English, Sr., 6-4, 255
  • QB McClane Carter, Soph.
  • RB Kris Boyd, Soph.
  • S Dylan Bowman, Sr.

Strengths: Speed, defensive experience. District 16-3A is home to some serious speedsters, and Gilmer’s sophomore tandem of Chase Tate and Kris Boyd are among the fastest. Josh Walker, who will probably see more touches on offense this season, and cornerback Trey Washington give the Buckeyes even more speed. They’re also two of Gilmer’s best players in the Buckeyes’ 50-front defense, which is anchored by Xavier Fluellen. Throw in veteran linebacker Adam Witcher and the Buckeyes have one of the most experienced defenses in the “District of Doom” with their seven returning starters. Gilmer held opponents to 20.6 points per game in 2011, including 18.3 per contest during the regular season.

Weaknesses: Offensive experience. Gilmer must overhaul its offense, which graduated nine starters after averaging 40.6 points per game last season. The personnel changes start at quarterback, where three players have battled during two-a-days: junior Tanner Barr, junior Jaidon Parrish, and sophomore McClane Carter. Whoever wins the job will have weapons in Tate, Boyd, Walker, and others, who should again give the Buckeyes a high-scoring attack, even with early uncertainty at the quarterback spot.

2012 Outlook: Dual-threat star Luke Turner (Rice) and 2,100-yard passer Jordan Traylor are gone from Gilmer’s traditionally great QB position, which has produced five Division I FBS signees since 2004 (Manuel Johnson, Jamell Kennedy, G.J. Kinne, Stump Godfredy, Turner). But don’t sleep on the Buckeyes. The defensive experience is there to ease the new offensive cast into its roles, and once the new faces do that, watch out. Gilmer should again be Gilmer. Longtime coach Jeff Traylor may not like that his team will have such high expectations thrust upon it with so few returning offensive starters, but we know better than to underestimate the Buckeyes. Their solid 3-4 defense and the potential for excellence on offense are enough to give them ETSN.fm’s nod as the preseason pick to win 16-3A and be a difficult matchup for anyone they encounter in the playoffs.

2. Kilgore Bulldogs

Coach: Mike Wood (third season, 12-12)

2011 Record: 9-5 (4A Division II Region II finalist; lost 42-21 to Corsicana)

Returning starters: 3 offensive (multiple I), 6 defensive (4-2-5)

Players to watch

  • LB A.J. Davis, Sr., 6-0, 220 (179 tackles, 13 for loss, 3 INTs)
  • ATH Benny Colbert, Jr., 5-10, 175 (45 tackles, 3 INTs)
  • QB/FS Cooper Coldiron, Sr., 5-11, 170 (133 tackles, 3 INTs)
  • FS Hector Peralez, Sr., 6-0, 175 (60 tackles, 7 INTs)
  • DT Josh Daniels, Sr., 6-0, 295
  • DE D.Q. Scott, Jr., 5-11, 220
  • DT LaDarrin Anthony, Jr., 5-11, 225
  • OLB Jake Brantley, Jr., 5-10, 185 (134 tackles, 3 INTs)
  • FB/DE Cornelius Bell, Sr., 6-1, 225 (25 carries, 78 yards)
  • OL Clay Wiley, Jr., 6-1, 280
  • OL Tyler Jones, Jr., 5-10, 260
  • RB JuJu Brown, Jr.
  • RB Kevrin Justice, Soph.
  • WR Q Brewster, Jr.

Strengths: Back seven, size. The majority of Kilgore’s six returning defensive starters come in the linebacker and defensive back units, where the Bulldogs have several playmakers back. A.J. Davis will be among the state’s best linebackers, while Benny Colbert, Cooper Coldiron, and Hector Peralez will make life difficult for opposing passing attacks. Jake Brantley also factors into Kilgore’s solid defensive core. Kilgore will likely be District 16-3A’s largest team physically with Clay Wiley, Tyler Jones, Josh Daniels, and others giving the Bulldogs plenty of heft as they move into the “District of Doom.”

 

Weaknesses: Offensive experience, pass rush. Quarterback Riley Toler and tailbacks L.D. Anthony and Dondra Halton, who combined for 2,400 rushing yards in 2011, graduated, as well as receivers Matthew Dickey and Shelton Toliver. Coldiron takes over at quarterback and has shown promise during two-a-days.

JuJu Brown and Kevrin Justice will get the first chances to become Kilgore’s new go-to ball carriers, although Cornelius Bell is a load and had a great scrimmage against Carthage. Bell also figures into the defensive line, which has experience but must cope with the graduation of Chris Paige, who had 14 sacks in 2011. Paige’s speed off the edge will be hard to replace.

 

2012 Outlook: Kilgore will be 16-3A’s only team not regularly running the spread, and the Bulldogs’ size will serve them well in that capacity. Even with

Anthony and Halton gone, Kilgore will be able to run the ball, so opponents better plan for that. Coldiron and the new receivers’ ability to give Kilgore a balanced offense will go a long way in determining just how successful the Dogs will be offensively, but the defense should be stout, even if all 14 of Paige’s sacks can’t be duplicated by the new defensive front. ETSN.fm expects Kilgore to contend for the 16-3A crown, and at least make the playoffs, where the Dogs will be the Division I representative. The key will be simply qualifying for the postseason from the brutal 16-3A because after playing 14 games as a 4A school last season, Kilgore knows what it takes to make a deep playoff run.

 

3. Henderson Lions

Coach: Dickey Meeks (seventh season, 35-34; 227-168-7 overall)

2011 Record: 11-3 (3A Division I state semifinalist; lost 34-13 to Alvarado)

Returning starters: 5 offensive (multiple), 6 defensive (multiple)

Players to watch

  • ATH Patrick "Monster" Brown, Sr., 5-10, 175 (23 carries, 226 yards, 3 TDs; 38 catches, 610 yards, 10 TDs; 6 punt return TDs; 1 KOR TD; 1 def. TD)
  • OT Nick Siler, Sr., 6-4, 255 (committed to Air Force)
  • DE Bo Brady, Sr., 6-1, 195 (116 tackles, 27 for loss, 17 sacks, 7 FF, 1 punt block)
  • RB/LB Jamaal Kind, Sr., 5-10, 185 (130 tackles, 13 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FR)
  • ATH Arqez Walton, Sr., 5-8, 190 (34 tackles, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 def. TD)
  • WR/DB J’Korrie Centers, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • WR/DB Jamie Anthony, Sr., 6-2, 175
  • DE Travon Roquemore, Sr., 6-2, 195
  • CB Tre' Hollins, Jr., 5-11, 170
  • DL William Odum, Sr., 5-11, 235
  • DT Brandon Armstrong, Jr., 5-10, 215
  • K William Mann, Sr., 5-11, 160 (6-for-10 FGs, 73-for-78 PATs)
  • C Hunter Perry, Sr., 5-11, 220
  • TE Jeff Holt, Jr. (25 punts, 38.2 average, 70 long)
  • DT Contrell Phillips, Sr., 6-1, 230
  • QB Zane Boles, Soph., 6-5, 198
  • QB Jansen Moore, Sr., 6-1, 180
  • QB Connor Dotson, Jr., 5-9, 165

 

Strengths: Athleticism, defensive line. Patrick “Monster” Brown, Arqez Walton, Jamie Anthony, and J’Korrie Centers are a hand full of the players who give Henderson a ton of athleticism on the edge of its offense and back end of its defense. Bo Brady will move from tackle to end after his all-state junior season on the defensive line, which will also include veteran Travon Roquemore and Contrell Phillips, who could be a force at tackle after missing all but Henderson’s 2011 season opener with a knee injury. William Odum and Phillips will anchor a front four that will be as athletic as any in District 16-3A.

 

 

Weaknesses: QB experience, schedule. Record-setting quarterback Del Barnes (Cornell) is gone after leading the Lions to a 24-5 record in 2010-11. Three players are vying for the Henderson starting job: senior Jansen Moore, junior Connor Dotson, and sophomore Zane Boles. Whoever wins the job will have plenty of weapons to play with. Henderson’s 16-3A schedule is less than favorable. The Lions play Chapel Hill, Gilmer, and Kilgore all away from home; the Gilmer contest is a Saturday night game (Oct. 13) at Longview’s Lobo Stadium. Those three district foes should be the toughest games on Henderson’s schedule.

2012 Outlook: A running game featuring Walton and Jamaal Kind will be solid, especially running behind Division I FBS-bound Nick Siler. But Henderson must find a quarterback from its three-man race. Defensively, the Lions will be fast, as fast as anyone in 16-3A, which means as fast as anyone in the state in 3A. If Henderson can get out of the District of Doom, the Lions will be a regional title contender. Any team that can get out of DOD 2.0 will be a serious threat come playoff time. The task will be getting out of 16-3A.

 

 

4. Chapel Hill Bulldogs

Coach: Thomas Sitton (fourth season, 33-7)

2011 Record: 15-0 (3A Division I state champion; beat Alvarado 20-19)

Returning starters: 1 offensive (spread), 2 defensive (4-3)

Players to watch

  • FB/DE Tre Allen, Sr., 6-0, 230 (25 carries, 231 yards, 6 TDs; 29 catches, 358 yards, 2 TDs; committed to Arkansas State)
  • S Joseph Clark, Jr., 5-9, 175 (51 carries, 406 yards, 5 TDs; 139 tackles, 2 INTs)
  • RB/LB Wesley Thompson, Jr., 6-2, 190 (95 tackles)
  • QB Andrew Black, Jr., 6-0, 180 (1,616 passing yards, 747 rushing yards for Jacksonville)
  • WR/DB Gabriel Robinson, Jr., 5-9, 150
  • WR/DB Jamarcus McCowin, Sr.
  • QB Lex Heckel, Jr.
  • OL/DT Kevone Kennedy, Sr.
  • OG Julio Espinoza, Sr.
  • NG Ronald Dean, Jr.
  • OL/DE Keith Minor, Jr.
  • WR/DB Sammy Guzman, Jr.
  • C Brandon Upshaw, Sr.
  • RB/LB Londreyus Johnson, Jr.
  • OT/DE Shaquille Warren, Jr.
  • WR/FS Deeshiuwn Mumphrey, Jr.
  • OT/DL Thad Bevis, Jr.

Strengths: Credibility. The Bulldogs have been one of, if not the best, program in East Texas over the last two seasons. Chapel Hill has won 28 of its last 30, including the 3A Division I state championship last December. And despite graduating all but three of its starters from last season, expectations remain high for fourth-year coach Thomas Sitton. The three returning starters were all forces on the title team. Senior fullback/defensive end Tre Allen, an Arkansas State commit, was one of the most versatile players for Chapel Hill last season with 12 touchdowns on offense. Junior Joseph Clark ran for more than 400 yards and made big play after big play from his safety spot on defense. The future is also bright for junior linebacker Wesley Thompson, who wowed college scouts over the summer.

 

Weaknesses: Experience. A massive overhaul at almost every position may yield a few growing pains early in the season. And with Chapel Hill’s non-district schedule, which features Lindale, Whitehouse, Carthage and Palestine, it will be trial-by-fire for the young and inexperienced Bulldogs. If Chapel Hill doesn’t have things figured out by then, it could be tough sledding the rest of the way. The Bulldogs’ first two district opponents are Henderson and Gilmer.

2012 Outlook: Everyone is intrigued by how Chapel Hill will follow its state championship run. One thing is certain: if the Bulldogs are able to navigate their brutal, 10-game schedule and make the playoffs, they should be able to handle anything thrown their way during the postseason. Even though it’s the district opener, the Sept. 28 clash with Henderson may ultimately decide the third and final playoff spot from 16-3A. There is no question that at least one very good team will miss the playoffs from 16-3A, and as many as two or three playoff-quality programs will sit at home come November.

 

5.Gladewater Bears

Coach: Jerrod Baugh (third season, 8-12)

2011 Record: 5-5

Returning starters: 4 offensive (multiple), 6 defensive (multiple)

Players to watch

  • QB Derrick Daniels, Sr., 6-1, 182 (40 of 86, 623 yards, 5 TDs; 82 carries, 488 yards, 2 TDs)
  • WR Nick Johnson, Sr., 6-3, 176 (10 catches, 143 yards, 2 TDs)
  • DT L.D. Anthony, Sr., 5-10, 302 (45 tackles, 10 for loss, 2 sacks)
  • DT Daylon Mack, Soph., 6-2, 297
  • DB Daedrian Gordon, 5-10, 171 (72 tackles, 2 INTs)
  • DB J'Mal Barnes, Sr., 5-8, 146
  • DB Ledarrian Christian, Sr., 5-7, 147
  • RB Tyler Price, 5-8, 162
  • OL Michael Finnigan, 5-11, 223

Strengths: Size. Gladewater boasts one of the biggest defensive line tandems in the area with senior L.D. Anthony (5-10, 302) and sophomore Daylon Mack (6-2, 297), who is a star in the making. Mack benches 300 pounds and squats 550 and could be one of East Texas' top recruits in the 2015 class. The Bears return six starters from a defense that held opponents to a respectable 20.6 points per game in 2011. Gladewater also returns what could be a dynamic QB-WR combo. Derrick Daniels hurt opposing defenses with his arm and his legs in 2011, and Nick Johnson is a rangy receiver who will be tough to cover man-to-man.

Weaknesses: Tailback experience. The Bears rely heavily on the running game, and a replacement must be found for Darion Gregory, who posted more than 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns a season ago. That followed the stellar rushing career of Corey Davis, who is now a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh. Aside from the inexperience in the backfield, the front line will be a point of emphasis as well for Gladewater, which will be breaking in several new starters.

 

 

 

2012 Outlook: Gladewater got off to a 4-1 start last season before struggling in district. The Bears defeated Spring Hill, but weren’t competitive in games against Gilmer and Henderson. If the Bears are to challenge for a playoff spot in arguably the state’s toughest district, some breaks must go their way. Gladewater improved by two games last season, and if it can do that again, that might just be enough to earn a playoff spot for the first time since 2006. ETSN.fm doesn't expect the Bears to reach the postseason, but of the teams outside the "big four" in 16-3A, Gladewater is the darkhorse that the others should perhaps respect the most.

6. Bullard Panthers

Coach: Shannon Wilson (third season, 11-12)

2011 Record: 8-5 (3A Division II Region III semifinalist; lost 45-13 to West Orange-Stark)

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

Players to watch

  • WR Haden Bryant, Sr., 5-10, 170 (38 catches, 781 yards, 9 TDs)
  • K Weston Gray, Sr., 5-8,150 (8-for-10 FGs, 41-for-44 PATs; 34.3 punt average)
  • QB Colton Mebane, Sr., 5-10, 180 (110 of 189, 1,698 yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs; 199 carries, 1,150 yards, 9 TDs)
  • DB Jess Wood, Sr., 5-9, 165 (7 INTs)
  • LB Zack Holladay, Sr., 5-10, 185 (117 tackles)
  • OT Aaron Johnson, Jr., 5-10, 180
  • RB Houston Alexander, Sr., 5-9, 170
  • OL Trevor Rumbelow, Sr., 5-10, 210
  • OL Britt Thomas, Sr., 5-10, 220
  • OLB Dustin Skelton, Jr., 5-10, 170
  • OLB Brentavian Henderson, Soph., 5-10, 170
  • LB J.P. Hendrey, Sr., 5-9, 175
  • DB Holden Bryant, Sr., 5-9, 150
  • DB Jesse Duplechin, Sr., 5-9, 165

Strengths: Experience. Bullard scored its first playoff win in school history in 2011, and took it a step further by reaching the third round of the playoffs. It was the Panthers’ first postseason appearance in 18 years. And with 17 starters returning, expectations are higher than they’ve ever been in Bullard. The Panthers are blessed with a trio of skill players that enjoyed breakout seasons in 2011. Quarterback Colton Mebane, who totaled almost 3,000 yards last season, is primed for a big senior season. Running back Houston Alexander is a hard runner, and receiver Haden Bryant gives Mebane a threat on the edge. Nine starters are back on defense, including hard-hitting linebacker Zack Holladay and ball-hawking defensive back Jess Wood. Weston Gray is among the area’s top kickers, giving Bullard a leg up on the competition in the special teams department.

 

Weaknesses: Size. Bullard’s top three offensive linemen -- Aaron Johnson, Trevor Rumbelow and Britt Thomas -- average 203 pounds. Team speed has never been a strong suit for Bullard, and it showed in losses to traditionally fast teams Tatum, Chapel Hill, and West Orange-Stark. The Panthers were outscored a combined 139-44 in those games. Bullard won’t the biggest or fastest team in the district, so the Panthers must find ways not to beat themselves with turnovers and penalties, something they excelled at in 2011.

 

2012 Outlook: The odds of Bullard making a return trip to the playoffs in 2012 took a big hit during realignment when the Panthers were assigned to a district that features heavyweights Gilmer, Kilgore, Henderson, and Chapel Hill. That fearsome foursome has combined to win five state championships since 2004. If Bullard makes the playoffs, that means two of those four will miss out on the postseason, which seems almost impossible entering 2012. And don't forget about Gladewater, which will be significantly larger on both lines than the Panthers.

7. Spring Hill Panthers

Coach: Bobby Chadwick (first season; 31-38-1 overall)

2011 Record: 2-8

Returning starters: 4 offensive (multiple), 4 defensive (multiple)

Players to watch

  • QB Ben Hollas, Sr., 6-0, 185 (103 carries, 548 yards, 4 TDs; 18 catches, 117 yards; 53 tackles, 3 INTs; 35.1 punt average)
  • OL Morgan Knight, Jr., 6-2, 230
  • RB Trevor Martin, Jr., 6-1, 185
  • WR Jake Ferrill, Jr., 5-10, 165 (9 catches, 42 yards; 23 tackles, 6 INTs)
  • DL Dallas Green, Sr., 6-0, 190

Strengths: Backfield. Ben Hollas is the undisputed leader in the playmaker department entering the 2012 season. Hollas was a threat running the ball, catching it, and in the secondary a year ago, and will give the Panthers a multi-dimensional option at quarterback. Trevor Martin has the frame to become a good tailback if the Panthers can find some new faces on the offensive line, which will be anchored by Morgan Knight.

Weaknesses: Size, experience. Spring Hill doesn't appear to have the size it usually does, which won't help the Panthers against the District 16-3A heavyweights. With only four starters back on each side of the ball, the Panthers must find themselves early if they hope to tip the balance of power on its head in the District of Doom.

2012 Outlook: Spring Hill is the longest shot to make the playoffs from 16-3A. The Panthers lack the experience, size, and proven playmakers to be considered a playoff contender entering 2012. But perhaps a new regime under new head coach Bobby Chadwick, who took Ore City from perennial doormat to relevance, can spark new life in the Panthers, who were a regular playoff participant just several years ago.