The Palestine Wildcats enter the season with their highest expectations since the Adrian Peterson era. With 15 starters back for the 2011 district-runner up, anything short of a district title might be deemed a disappointment.

However, there are no sure things in sports. Fairfield went 10-0 during the regular season a year ago and the Eagles have the pieces in place for another run despite losing head coach Darrell Piske to Tyler Lee in the offseason.

Rusk, which is coming off its first playoff appearance in 2006, is a program on the rise after the Eagles went a couple rounds deep in the postseason.

Anywhere you look, a case can be made for improvement in 2012.

 

1.Palestine Wildcats

Coach: Lance Angel (third season, 9-11; 65-49 overall)

2011 Record: 7-4 (3A Division I Region III bi-district finalist; lost 35-20 to Waco La Vega)

Returning starters: 7 offensive (spread), 8 defensive (4-2-5)

Players to watch

  • RB Darrius Stephens, Sr., 5-10, 160 (145 carries, 1,005 yards, 10 TDs)
  • WR Paul Barksdale, Sr., 5-8, 170
  • QB Brian Gummelt, Jr., 5-9, 170 (61-for-117, 1,055 yards, 14 TDs)
  • WR Jordan Anthony, Sr., 6-1, 180
  • G Eric Gonzales, Jr., 6-0, 284
  • T Brian Thlang, Jr., 6-1, 280
  • RB/LB Ben Luckett, Jr., 5-11, 180
  • DT Walter Sheridan, Sr., 6-0, 260
  • OLB Jadarius Beasley, Sr., 5-10, 170
  • DE Juan Trejo, Sr., 5-9, 170
  • CB Ivory Brown, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • WR Tony Butler, Jr., 5-10, 155
  • WR Chris Weaver, Soph., 5-8, 150
  • S Isaiah Mitchell, Jr., 5-9, 175
  • LB Christian Ward, Sr., 5-8, 160

Strengths: Speed and athleticism have come to define Palestine over the last decade, going back to the days of Adrian Peterson. While the Wildcats don’t have anyone on the same level as A.D., a strong nucleus of skill players comprise what could be Palestine’s best team in years. Running back Darrius Stephens ran for more than 1,000 yards a year ago, averaging just less than 10 yards per attempt. Quarterback Brian Gummelt also returns after earning valuable experience as a sophomore. The Wildcats are just as fast on defense with linebacker Jadarius Beasley and cornerback Ivory Brown, the son of Palestine legend and former NFL player Ivory Lee Brown.

Weaknesses: The Wildcats may have been blessed with speed, but Palestine is lacking in size, especially at linebacker. The offensive and defensive lines are average, but Palestine is small everywhere else on the field, which could become problematic against big and physical opponents.

2012 Outlook: Everyone is excited about what Palestine has in store for the 2012 season. A tough non-district schedule should serve as a litmus test for what the Wildcats hope to become by the time playoff football rolls around. However, Palestine’s likely first-round opponent will be Carthage, which has won three of the last four state championships. Even if Palestine were to pull an upset, either Waco La Vega or Navasota would be up next.

 

2.Fairfield Eagles

Coach: John Bachtel (first season; 19-22 overall)

2011 Record: 10-1 (3A Division II Region III bi-district finalist; lost 28-14 to Lorena)

Returning starters: 7 offensive (I formation), 7 defensive (3-4)

Players to watch

  • RB Andre Welch, Sr., 6-0, 215 (89 carries, 1,208 yards, 12 TDs)
  • QB Aaron Cain, Sr., 6-0, 175 (55 of 102, 902 yards, 8 TDs, 6 INTs)
  • RB Larry Rose, Jr., 6-0, 170 (608 yards, 8 TDs)
  • WR/FS Cooper Cole, Sr., 6-1, 190 (15 catches, 203 yards; 65 tackles)
  • WR/OLB Bryson Gates, Jr., 6-3, 210 (14 catches, 215 yards, 2 TDs; 2 INTs)
  • OLB Alex Ward, Jr., 5-8, 175 (78 tackles)
  • CB Jacob Gallegos, Jr., 6-0, 175 (2 INTs)
  • FB Cody Sell, Sr., 6-0, 220
  • WR Chris Lide, Jr., 6-0, 180
  • OL Deonte Carr, Sr., 5-10, 265
  • OL Will Doyle, Sr., 6-1, 210
  • OL Zachary Pratt, Sr., 6-0, 290
  • OL Dillen Kilpatrick, Jr., 5-10, 235

2012 Outlook: Fairfield is coming off a memorable but unsatisfying 2011 season. The Eagles rolled to a 10-0 regular season only to be eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs. While trying to escape the bitter taste left in their mouths at season’s end, the Eagles lost head coach Darrell Piske and hired John Bachtel as his replacement. The new coach will have some building blocks to work with, including bruising running back Andrew Welch and quarterback Aaron Cain. Despite a change at the top, there is no reason to believe Fairfield will not compete for another district title. If Fairfield is to get past its first-round opponent this year, perennial power West Orange-Stark will likely be standing in the way a couple rounds later.

 

3.Rusk Eagles

Coach: Ted Patton (fifth season, 16-26; 43-38 overall)

2011 Record: 4-8, 2-2 (3A Division II Region III area finalist; lost 40-0 to Lorena)

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

Players to watch

  • RB/DB Chaston Bennett, Sr., 5-10, 160 (150 carries, 1,480 yards, 21 TDs; 11 catches, 142 yards, 1 TD; 126 tackles, 1 for loss, 4 INTs, 3 FF, 1 FR, 18 PBUs)
  • QB/LB Kody Stanley, Sr., 6-1, 175 (21 of 49, 209 yards, 1 TD; 101 carries, 529 yards, 6 TDs; 47 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 INT, 1 FF)
  • WR Kadarius Neal, Sr., 6-1, 170 (7 catches, 86 yards, 1 TD)
  • FB Ray Foreman, Jr., 5-11, 185 (75 carries, 350 yards, 5 TDs; 2 catches, 32 yards)
  • LB David Overstreet, Sr., 6-1, 185 (63 tackles, 8 for loss, 4 sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR)
  • LB Keshannon Dearman, Sr., 5-9, 160 (103 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 FR)
  • DL Darren Franklin, Sr., 6-3, 300 (31 tackles, 3 for loss)
  • DB Carter Hutchison, Sr., 5-9, 150 (24 tackles, 2 INTs, 8 PBUs)
  • DL Luke Prosise, Sr., 6-0, 205 (63 tackles, 2 for loss)
  • DL Chase Emerson, Sr., 5-10, 190 (47 tackles, 2 FR)
  • DL Octavian Arrington, Jr., 6-2, 225 (33 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack)
  • OL Drew Walley, Sr., 6-0, 260
  • OL Jacob Tylich, Sr., 6-1, 215
  • OL Daniel Duran, Sr., 5-11, 234
  • QB Leroy Lewis, Soph., 6-1, 160
  • DB Jeremy Mosley, Sr., 5-9, 150

Strengths: Experience and speed. It hasn’t been an easy four years for Rusk head coach Ted Patton, but the program took a big stride late in the 2011 season and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Eagles not only reached the postseason, but scored a convincing first-round win, which should serve Rusk well this year. Eight starters on either side of the ball are back, and several of them can run. Running back Chaston Bennett’s dynamic playmaking ability make him a threat to score from anywhere on the field, both from the backfield or by returning kicks. He was also the Eagles’ best defensive back in 2011 with an impressive 18 pass break-ups. Kody Stanley the triggerman in Rusk’s run-heavy, flexbone offense and should improve behind center after a solid junior campaign.

Weaknesses: Size and depth. Rusk is a tad bit below average size on the offensive line, which requires the front line to become more precise with their blocking schemes and techniques. With as much emphasis that’s placed on the running game, the Eagles’ linemen must be quicker than the opponent off the snap. While excitement around the program is up, the participation numbers have been down, lower than most 3A schools. Injuries at key positions could really take a toll.

2012 Outlook: This is without question Patton’s best team at Rusk. If the Eagles get another big season from Bennett and can stay relatively healthy, a second consecutive trip to the playoffs is attainable. Rusk may not challenge for the district title, but nailing down the third postseason spot from the district is definitely within reach. Assuming things go to plan, Jasper or Center become a likely first-round opponent where speed will be the name of the game.

 

4.Mexia Blackcats

Coach: Lamonte Chambers (first season)

2011 Record: 2-9 (3A Division II Region III bi-district finalist; lost 28-7 to Robinson)

Returning starters: 6 offensive (multiple), 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • RB Broderick Reeves, Sr., 5-10, 185
  • WR Ike Jones, Jr., 5-10, 160
  • G Jacob Reyes, Jr., 5-10, 243
  • G Tre Craig, Jr., 6-3, 245
  • ATH Kaylon Watson, Jr., 6-1, 185
  • ATH Camron Gentry, Jr., 5-11, 170
  • OL Rickey Reyes, Soph., 5-9, 200
  • LB Kieston Carter, Sr., 6-0, 190
  • LB Sergio Rios, Sr., 5-10, 170
  • CB Afrem Banks, Sr., 5-6, 140

2012 Outlook: It was a rather odd season for Mexia in 2011, winning just twice and qualifying for the postseason. Lamonte Chambers, a former assistant at Class 5A San Antonio Madison, takes over the program and is high on some of his skill players. Running back Broderick Reeves and receiver Ike Jones are potential game-changers because of their speed. The Blackcats aren’t big on the offensive line, but the guard combo of Jacob Reyes and Tre Craig will be key to Mexia’s success in 2012. It appears Rusk will be Mexia’s challenger for the third and final playoff spot from the district. Needless to say, a lot may be riding on their matchup on the final Friday night of the regular season.

 

5.Groesbeck Goats

Coach: Kodi Crane (first season)

2011 Record: 2-8

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

Players to watch

  • RB Matt Barnes, Sr., 6-2, 225 (138 carries, 762 yards, 9 TDs)
  • QB Colt McCoy, Sr., 5-10, 175 (32 of 60, 410 yards, 3 TDs)
  • QB Klein Wiley, Sr., 5-8, 167 (31 of 70, 475 yards, 4 TDs)
  • LB Martin Balderas, Sr., 5-10, 183 (61 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack)
  • S Jamareus Tatum, Sr., 5-9, 185 (78 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 sack, 1 INT)
  • LB McKenzie Masters, Sr., 5-11, 165
  • DL Antone Carter, Sr., 6-0, 294
  • WR Michael Adams, Sr., 6-2, 173
  • RB Terrell Miles, Sr., 5-10, 164
  • WR Traye Roberts, Sr., 5-9, 148
  • WR Kris Hutchenson, Sr., 5-10, 164
  • OL Blaine Meyers, Jr., 6-0, 200
  • OL Barett Meyers, Jr., 6-0, 200
  • ATH Jacob Fox, Soph., 5-11, 170

2012 Outlook: Things did not quite go as planned for the Groesbeck Goats last season, finishing with a disappointing 2-8 record. New coach Kodi Crane hopes to inject some life into a program that’s accounted for just 12 wins in the last four years. Running back Matt Barnes and quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Klein Wiley are expected to shoulder a heavy load for the Goats in 2012. Groesbeck should be a much-improved team this year, but the Goats will probably be staring up at the rest of the district.