Everyone is already well aware of the expectations surrounding the John Tyler Lions. Sixteen starters return from last season's 4A Division I semifinalist.

The rest of District 16-4A is filled with intrigue.

Corsicana must recover from the graduation of 3,000-yard back Cameron Washington, Whitehouse is replacing record-setting quarterback Hunter Taylor, Jacksonville is moving forward with a new head coach in Chris Taber, Lindale is back in 4A after a two-year stint in 3A and Nacogdoches is starting from scratch with new head coach Bobby Reyes.

While there probably won't be that much drama in the chase for the district title, there should be plenty of interesting developments in the race for the playoffs.

 

1. John Tyler Lions

Coach: Ricklan Holmes (first season)

2011 Record: 11-4 (4A Division I state semifinalist; lost 51-20 to Waco Midway)

Returning starters: 9 offensive (spread), 7 defensive (4-3)

Players to watch

  • QB Greg Ward, Sr., 5-10, 160 (283 of 393, 3,782 yards, 34 TDs, 5 INTs; 229 carries, 1,242 yards, 19 TDs; committed to Houston)
  • WR Fred Ross, Sr., 6-1, 185 (99 catches, 1,335 yards, 15 TDs; 33 carries, 450 yards, 6 TDs; committed to Oklahoma State)
  • DE Tyus Bowser, Sr., 6-3, 205 (63 tackles, 5 sacks)
  • DB Traven Johnson, Sr., 6-1, 175
  • WR Darion Flowers, Sr., 6-0, 165 (64 catches, 1,055 yards, 9 TDs)
  • WR Justice Liggins, Sr., 6-1, 192 (29 catches, 282 yards, 1 TD)
  • WR Dequante Woods, Sr., 5-11, 175 (22 catches, 401 yards, 5 TDs)
  • LB Richard Gipson, Sr., 6-1, 205 (128 tackles, 6 TFL)
  • FS Terry Ausborne, Jr., 5-10, 165
  • OT Chris Mobley, Sr., 6-0, 240
  • C Chris Starling, Sr., 5-10, 255
  • OG Cornelius Davis, Sr., 5-10, 255
  • OT Emmanuel Terrazas, Sr., 6-1, 245
  • RB Reggie Gipson, Jr.
  • K Noe Diaz, Sr., 6-0, 220
  • DT Deandre Miller, Sr., 5-11, 230

 

Strengths: Experience, speed, athleticism. Everything starts with dynamic quarterback Greg Ward, whose 5,000 yards and 53 touchdowns were something to behold in 2011. Oh, and did we mention his TD-INT ratio was 34-5 and his completion percentage was .720? And he’s got weapons aplenty at his disposal beginning with the explosive Fred Ross, who scored 21 touchdowns and averaged 13.5 yards per touch as a junior. Ross isn’t the only returning 1,000-yard receiver. Darion Flowers is back along with Justice Liggins, both of whom are starting to attract the attention of big-time college recruiters. The muscle is provided by Tyus Bowser, a big recruit in his own right, and linebacker Richard Gipson. In all, 16 starters return from last season’s semifinalist. Needless to say, confidence is higher than it’s been in a while at JT.

Weaknesses: As explosive as the Lions’ offense was in 2011, the defense was hit or miss at times. John Tyler

allowed an average of 28.7 points per game. And in their four losses, Lions opponents averaged 40.5. In an effort to get the best 11 guys on the field on defense, new coach Ricklan Holmes has vowed to play some of his offensive stalwarts on defense on an as-needed basis, including Ward who may end up playing DB in college. If that’s the case, the coaching staff will have to keep a watchful eye on the two-way players in hopes of keeping them healthy. So depth could end up being a factor.

2012 Outlook: The expectations at John Tyler have not been this high since 2001, when the Lions were coming off a trip to the state finals. Adding to the intrigue is that five-time defending 4A champion Lake Travis and last season’s runner-up in 4A, Waco Midway, have moved up to Class 5A. Midway eliminated JT from the postseason last year before being bested in the finals by Lake Travis. The Lions will be tested right off the bat with a home game against perennial 5A contender Lufkin, but the challenges will be few and far between for JT until late in the playoffs.

 

2. Corsicana Tigers

Coach: Phil Castles (fourth season, 26-12; 78-42 overall)

2011 Record: 13-2 (4A Division II state semifinalist; lost 68-28 to Aledo)

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

Players to watch

  • QB Devontay Bell, Jr., 5-10, 175 (113 of 215, 1,410 yards, 14 TDs, 7 INTs; 211 carries, 1,495 yards, 21 TDs)
  • OL Jeffery Jordan, Sr., 6-4, 355
  • RB Donovan Fields, Jr., 6-1, 190
  • OLB Breyon Hill, Sr., 6-0, 190
  • DB Bobby Wallace, Sr., 6-0, 180 (4 INTs)
  • OL Chris Jones, Jr., 6-1, 275
  • OL Floyd Shresta, Sr., 5-10, 230
  • FB Pedro Escimilla, Sr., 6-0, 200
  • OL Donavan Hailey, Jr., 6-0, 230
  • OL Dean Fletes, Sr., 5-10, 230
  • TE Will Stubbs, Sr., 6-2, 200
  • TE Tim Yancey, Sr., 6-1, 175
  • DE Jerrett Hall, Sr., 6-1, 210
  • DB Zachary Rash, Sr., 6-0, 170
  • DB Alanzo Gipson, Sr., 6-0, 170
  • LB Cedric Weaver, Sr., 6-0, 180

2012 Outlook: The Corsicana Tigers have big shoes to fill after the graduation of running back Cameron Washington, who ran for more than 3,000 yards during Corsicana’s run to the 4A D-II semifinals in 2011. However, one-half of the Tigers’ dynamic backfield returns in senior quarterback Devontay Bell. Until viable replacements for Washington are found, the offense will rely heavily upon the arm and legs of Bell. Head coach Phil Castes will also have his hands full replacing a few starters on the offensive line, but he’s a got a pretty good one to build around in Jeffrey Jordan. Just as many question marks exist on defense as Corsicana must replace eight starters from last year’s team. However, Corsicana has been down this road before and had success. The school’s 39 playoff appearances (third all-time in 4A) and 670 wins, which is sixth all-time, are a testament to the outstanding football program put together year-in and year-out in Corsicana.

 

3. Jacksonville Indians

Coach: Chris Taber (first season)

2011 Record: 4-6

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

Players to watch

  • WR Darrell Minifee, Sr., 5-11, 160 (60 catches, 901 yards, 10 TDs)
  • QB/WR Dadrian Franklin, Sr., 6-1, 180
  • LB Bryson Haywood, Sr., 5-11. 190
  • CB Londedrick Taylor, Sr., 5-11, 170
  • LB Shakil Mosely, Sr., 5-9, 180
  • RB/CB Chris Ruffin, Sr., 5-9, 160 (4 INTs, 1 def. TD)
  • RB Stacey Cummings, Jr., 5-10, 170
  • OL Jared Wright, Jr., 6-2, 265
  • WR Kaderrius Buckingham, Sr., 6-4, 190
  • DL Chase Palmer, Sr., 5-11, 285
  • DE Javon Johnson, Sr., 5-9, 198
  • S LaDarius Session, Sr., 6-1, 190

 

Strengths: Speed at the skill positions. With a new coaching staff on the scene, there are a lot of questions at Jacksonville these days. But one thing’s for certain: the Indians will field one of the fastest teams in the area. Senior receiver Darrell Minifee is not the biggest target, but his speed allows him to beat defenders to any spot on the field, making him a legitimate threat in the passing game. And while there may not be a defined role yet for Dadrian Franklin, expect the senior speedster to have a major impact on offense. The rushing duties will likely be shared by Chris Ruffin and Stacey Cummings, whose small size and shiftiness make them hard for opposing defenders to corral. The Indians are also expected to be stout on defense with the return of hard-hitting linebackers Bryson Hawyood and Shakil Mosely and super-athletic cornerback Londedric Taylor.

Weaknesses: While Jacksonville’s collection of talent at the skill positions rivals any school in the area, the

Indians are a bit small on the offensive and defensive lines -- small in size and small in number. Keeping the big bodies healthy will be of the utmost importance for new head coach Chris Taber, who gained a reputation for running some of the most fast-paced offenses in the area as the offensive coordinator at Chapel Hill the previous three years. He was able to have success without huge lineman with the Bulldogs, but he expects his linemen to keep up with the lightning-quick nature of his play-calling. It may take a while before Jacksonville’s big men can process Taber’s direction both mentally and physically.

2012 Outlook: John Tyler and Corsicana each reached the state semifinals in 2011, but the rest of the district combined to go just 10-21, meaning the final two playoff spots from 16-4A could be up for grabs. Taber brings instant credibility to Jacksonville. After a .500 season in his first season as Chapel Hill’s OC, the Bulldogs reached the state title game in each of the next two years. Even if big-time success doesn’t show up this season, it may not be long before Jacksonville returns to the forefront as one of East Texas’ premier programs.

 

4. Whitehouse Wildcats

Coach: Randy McFarlin (eighth season, 51-39; 111-56 overall)

2011 Record: 5-6 (4A Division I Region II bi-district finalist; lost 45-24 to Sherman)

Returning starters: 7 offensive (spread), 9 defensive (4-2-5)

Players to watch

  • WR Dylan Cantrell, Sr., 6-3, 215 (87 catches, 1,414 yards, 21 TDs; committed to Texas Tech)
  • QB/FS Patrick Mahomes, Jr., 6-3, 195 (5 INTs)
  • WR Michael Nuon, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • RB Zen'Darrian Haskins, Sr., 5-10, 175 (103 carries, 459 yards, 4 TDs)
  • FS Colby Campbell, Sr., 6-0, 185 (77 tackles)
  • CB Coleman Patterson, Jr., 6-0, 185
  • LB Derek Clemons, Sr., 5-10, 195
  • DL Aaron Clemons, Sr., 5-10, 195
  • WR Jared Raabe, Sr., 6-0, 190
  • OL Hunter Conn, Sr., 6-5, 290 (committed to Lamar)
  • OL Caleb Bowman, Jr., 6-0, 225
  • OL Kyle Battles, Sr., 5-10, 200
  • OL Zach Conerly, Sr., 6-2, 215
  • OL Austin Dickerson, Jr., 6-0, 215
  • OL Keagan Smith, Sr., 6-1, 295
  • OL McKenlee Smith, Sr., 6-1, 310
  • RB Isaiah Burton, Jr., 5-9, 175
  • DL Brannon Beaton, Sr., 6-2, 225
  • DL Matt Gibson, Sr., 5-10, 195
  • DL Will Thomas, Sr., 6-0, 215
  • LB Reggie Long, Jr., 6-0, 195
  • LB Dominique Hollie, Soph., 6-0, 195

 

Strengths: Experience. Only John Tyler returns as many starters in 16-4A than the Whitehouse Wildcats. Of the 16 back, two are of the game-changing variety. Senior receiver Dylan Cantrell has size, speed and a full ride waiting for him at Texas Tech. It will be hard to duplicate last season’s 21-touchdown performance, but his impact on the field may be even greater this year after the graduation of fellow 1,000-yard receiver Jonathan Aldridge. The other game changer is junior Patrick Mahomes, who figures to be one of the state’s top recruits in 2014. Mahomes, the son of former major league pitcher Pat Mahomes, picked off five passes at safety and is in the mix to become the starting quarterback this season. The Wildcats are also pretty big up front with Division I lineman Hunter Conn (Lamar) anchoring an experienced group.

Weaknesses: Uncertainty at quarterback, defense. It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to fill the shoes of

the Wildcats’ record-setting quarterback Hunter Taylor (SFA), who passed for 4,110 yards in just 11 games a season ago. Whether it’s been current SFA QB Brady Attaway or Taylor, head coach Randy McFarlin seemingly always has great quarterback play. The uptempo, spread attack is waiting for the right guy to get behind center. Until that happens, the offensive numbers may experience a dip. Defensively, Whitehouse fielded an entirely new starting lineup in 2011 and the unit was downright porous, yielding almost 48 points per game on average. This year, there are nine defenders with starting experience so the numbers should improve. They’ll need to improve significantly if the Wildcats are to have the kind of season McFarlin and Co. expect.

2012 Outlook: Unless a minor miracle happens, this will be the last year on the sideline for McFarlin, whose contract was not extended beyond this year. The coaches and players have admitted to using that as motivation. By all accounts, the defense has looked much better during training camp, and the offense has come along nicely as well without Taylor or Aldridge. Whitehouse began 2011 with three consecutive losses, but rebounded by winning five of its last seven regular-season games.

 

5. Lindale Eagles

Coach: Mike Meador (seventh season, 44-22)

2011 Record: 10-2 (3A Division I Region II semifinalist; lost 56-20 to Henderson)

Returning starters: 4 offensive (spread no-huddle), 5 defensive (3-4)

Players to watch

  • RB Trey Acy, Sr., 5-8, 180 (1,478 rushing yards, 17 TDs)
  • QB Josiah Johnson, Sr., 5-10, 170
  • WR Jake Anderson, Sr., 6-0, 190
  • RB Demarcus Lynch, Sr., 5-8, 165
  • OT Justin Young, Jr., 6-3, 275
  • OT D.J. Williams, Jr., 6-3, 265
  • LB Lance Kane, Sr., 5-10, 175
  • LB Lane Walters, Sr., 6-1, 200
  • NG Adam Galaz, Sr., 5-8, 190
  • DT Michael Stiles, Jr., 5-10, 250
  • LB Bo Anderson, Soph., 6-1, 205
  • WR Trenton Sir Louis, Sr., 6-2, 165
  • K Luc Swimberghe, Sr., 5-11, 190 (6-for-8 FGs, 54-for-56 PATs)

 

Strengths: Size. It seems as if it’s talked about every year, but once again Lindale is big up front with the return of junior linemen Justin Young and D.J. Williams. The main benefactors from the size on the line will be running backs Trey Acy and Demarcus Lynch, who combined for almost 2,000 yards and more than 20 TDs in 2011. Another strength for Lindale is coaching. In six years, head coach Mike Meador has won two-thirds of his games. And in the offseason, he brought in Randy Huffstickler to run his defense after serving in the same capacity at Tyler Lee for the last decade. The new DC will have some key building blocks to work with, especially up the middle with defensive linemen Adam Galaz and Michael Stiles and linebackers Lance Kane and Lane Walters.

Weaknesses: Uncertainty in the passing game. After the graduation of quarterback Clay Price, who guided

the Eagles to an 18-6 record and back-to-back district titles, Meador is moving receiver Josiah Johnson to quarterback. Johnson was Lindale’s most productive receiver in 2011, so not only is there a void at quarterback but at receiver as well. Lindale is hoping Jake Anderson, a move-in from Southlake Carroll, can pick up the slack as well as a few touchdown catches. In Lindale’s spread attack, the Eagles are only as good as its quarterback and corps of receivers. New faces will have to step in and get the job done.

2012 Outlook: Lindale left one of the toughest regions in the state (3A, Region II) and were placed in a 4A district that is also home to a pair of 4A semifinalists from a season ago. The good news for Lindale is that four teams in 4A districts qualify for the playoffs, instead of the three districts in 3A are limited to. Taking John Tyler and Corsicana out of the equation, Lindale’s competition for the other two postseason spots are Jacksonville, Whitehouse and Nacogdoches who combined to win just 10 games last year. If adequate replacements are found at QB and WR, there’s every reason to believe Lindale will be in the playoffs come November.

 

6. Nacogdoches Dragons

Coach: Bobby Reyes (first season; 70-76 overall)

2011 Record: 1-9

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

Players to watch

  • RB Derrick Fields, Sr., 5-9, 182 (92 carries, 484 yards, 3 TDs)
  • WR Michael Dove, Sr., 5-9, 165 (14 catches, 190 yards, 1 TD)
  • OT Jacob Bragg, Jr., 6-3, 280
  • OG Malik Gilder, Jr., 6-2, 270
  • DT Cody Bryce, Sr., 6-0, 245
  • DE Greg Roberts, Jr., 6-5, 205
  • RB Shawn Smith, Soph., 5-10, 185
  • QB Patrick Ledet, Sr., 6-0, 180 (20 of 41, 185 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT)
  • WR Wes Smith, Sr., 6-5, 185
  • S Dre Foster, Sr., 5-9, 185
  • CB Jamar Woodard, Sr., 5-10, 165
  • DE Bryan Scott, Jr., 6-1, 190
  • SS Joseph Singletary, Jr., 6-0, 185
  • LB Sean Matthews, Jr., 6-0, 205

Strengths: The strength of the Dragons in 2012 appears to rest within the interior. The offensive line is anchored by juniors Jacob Bragg and Malik Gilder. Bragg is considered of one of the top prospects in the 2014 recruiting class. On the defensive side, junior end Greg Roberts has the ability to give quarterbacks and offensive tackles nightmares rushing off the edge. While still young in the trenches, Nacogdoches is senior heavy at the offensive skill positions. The Dragons’ top projected standouts -- Derrick Fields, Michael Dove, Patrick Ledet and Wes Smith -- are all Friday night veterans.

 

Weaknesses: Confidence. Nacogdoches has just one playoff appearance in the last 19 years, during which there have been eight different head coaches. Following last season’s 1-9 campaign, the Dragons are starting from scratch with the hiring of Bobby Reyes, who’s enjoyed moderate success as the head coach at

McKinney and Richardson Pearce. Nac brings back 13 starters, but 2011 was ugly on both sides of the ball. The Dragons were outscored by an average score of 42-23 last season, and only one of the losses was by less than a touchdown. Reyes and the new coaching staff’s first order of business will be changing the culture.

2012 Outlook: Outside expectations are low, but that could end up proving beneficial in the short term for the Dragons. Nacogdoches isn’t completely void of talent, and it only takes two wins in district to make the playoffs. Some of the schools challenging for the final postseason spots have question marks as well. Lindale is up from 3A, Jacksonville is breaking in a new coaching staff and Whitehouse snuck into the playoffs last year with a .500 record. It seems unlikely that Nac breaks through, but certainly not out of the question.