There may not be any legitimate state title contenders in District 7-2A Division I, but that doesn't mean the league won't be among the area's most competitive.

Five of the schools -- Eustace, Grand Saline, Lone Oak, Malakoff and Winnsboro -- combined for a 39-19 record in 2011. Four of the teams made the playoffs, and three won at least one postseason game.

While the teams below are listed in order of projected finish, the predictions are in no way 100 percent guaranteed.

 

1.Winnsboro Red Raiders

Coach: Steve Pinnell (14th season, 87-57)

2011 Record: 7-4 (2A Division I Region II bi-district finalist; lost 46-19 to Daingerfield)

Returning starters: 8 offensive (flexbone), 9 defensive (multiple)

Players to watch

  • QB Luke Tebbetts, Sr., 6-1, 195 (45 of 85, 650 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs; 195 carries, 1,550 yards, 22 TDs; 5 INTs)
  • OL Trenton Hardy, Sr., 5-10, 225
  • RB/LB Dugan Winkle, Sr., 5-9, 170 (95 tackles)
  • WR Colton Wood, Sr., 6-3, 175 (25 catches, 350 yards, 4 TDs)
  • LB Ian Raper, Sr., 5-8, 175
  • DE Sheyan Thompson, Jr., 6-2, 205
  • LB David Santoy, Jr., 5-6, 165
  • TE Ryan Zimmerman, Sr., 6-0, 190
  • C Greyson Amerson, Jr., 5-11, 215
  • K Julio Olivaria (38-for-44 PATs)

Strengths: On paper, the district title appears to be Winnsboro’s for the taking. Longtime head coach Steve Pinnell enters his 14th season on the sidelines for the Red Raiders with 17 starters back from 2011’s bi-district finalist. The brightest star is quarterback Luke Tebbetts, who produced more than 2,000 yards of offense with 30 touchdowns. Senior receiver Colton Wood will serve as a big target in the passing game for Tebbetts. Two-way force Dugan Winkle is primed for a big season after making plays all over the field a season ago.

Weaknesses: Winnsboro won a share of the district championship last season, but was drubbed by Daingerfield in the first round of the playoffs. While the Red Raiders should be improved in 2012, it remains to be seen whether they can contend with area 2A powers like Daingerfield, Tatum and Arp. In the past, Winnsboro has not matched up well with teams loaded with speed.

2012 Outlook: If the Red Raiders are to follow through on expectations and win the district title, they should be well prepared for a deep postseason run. Winnsboro should be fine until the regional semis where a meeting with either Daingerfield or New Boston could test how far the Red Raiders have come in a year.

 

2.Lone Oak Buffaloes

Coach: Dean Lasseter (third season, 19-6)

2011 Record: 8-5 (2A Division II Region II semfinalist; lost 20-19 to Gunter)

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

Players to watch

  • RB Ty Tolleson, Sr., 5-10, 170 (170 carries, 1,100 yards, 18 Tds; 150 tackles)
  • WR Jace Hart, Sr., 5-11, 175 (18 catches, 330 yards, 5 TDs)
  • QB Austyn Hooten, Sr., 6-2, 220
  • LB Cody Hardin, Jr., 5-10, 165
  • OL Tyler McClain, Sr., 6-1, 200
  • WR Kason Freelen, Sr., 5-9, 165
  • QB Kyle Crow, Sr., 5-11, 205 (21 of 44, 450 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs)
  • WR Trent Sikes, Jr., 5-9, 150
  • OL Tyler Barnhart, Sr., 6-2, 220
  • RB Devin Shaw, Soph.

2012 Outlook: Head coach Dean Lasseter has turned some heads in his first two seasons on sidelines at Lone Oak. The Buffaloes followed up 2010’s 11-1 performance with a three-round playoff journey a season ago. Two-way standout Ty Tolleson returns after posting more than 1,000 rushing yards and 150 tackles last year. One player to watch in particular will be quarterback Kyle Crow, who made just one start in 2011. A big season from Crow and another big season may be in store for Lone Oak, which came within two points of reaching the state quarterfinals last season.

 

3.Malakoff Tigers

Coach: Jamie Driskell (fourth season, 26-8)

2011 Record: 9-3 (2A Division I area finalist; lost 24-7 to Winnie East Chambers)

Returning starters: 5 offensive (spread), 6 defensive (4-3)

Players to watch

  • QB/LB Tate Taylor, Sr., 5-11, 190 (73 tackles)
  • DE Keonte Ross, Sr., 5-11, 185 (76 tackles)
  • LB Cesar Garcia, Sr., 5-7, 155 (90 tackles; 6-for-8 FGs, 39-for-44 PATs)
  • DT Jesse Ochoa, Sr., 5-9, 200 (73 tackles)
  • RB/S Damontes Dowell, Jr., 5-7, 165 (91 carries, 576 rushing yards, 6 TDs)
  • OL David Hawlik, Sr., 6-0, 215
  • OL Randy Mullins, Sr., 5-10, 200
  • WR Terrance Scott, Jr., 5-8, 160
  • QB Stephan Wolfe, Soph., 5-11, 170
  • OL Thomas Kekauoha, Jr., 6-0, 300
  • TE Jordan Harris, Jr., 5-10, 190
  • OL Isreal Chavez, Jr., 6-0, 230
  • OL Diego Medina, Jr., 5-6, 220
  • OL Kolton Edwards, Sr., 5-11, 175
  • CB Dariuhn Jackson, Jr., 5-7, 150
  • CB Marcus Willingham, Sr., 5-8, 160
  • S Garrian McCallister, Jr., 5-6, 140

Strengths: Head coach Jamie Driskell took over a Malakoff program coming off an 0-10 season in 2008, and has guided the Tigers to three consecutive playoff berths since. More of the same is expected in 2012 with a strong nucleus of players returning, including running back Damontes Dowell, who has appeared on everyone’s radar after a solid sophomore campaign. Malakoff’s top three tacklers from a season ago make up half of the Tigers’ returning defenders.

Weaknesses: Malakoff must find a viable replacement for graduated quarterback Jacob Teague, who enjoyed a stellar career for the Tigers. As of right now senior Tate Taylor is penciled in at QB, but Driskell may be grooming sophomore Stephan Wolfe as Malakoff’s quarterback of the future. But when you’re coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons that have created a major spike in expectations, the future may be now.

2012 Outlook: There is nothing to suggest Malakoff’s string of playoff appearances will be coming to an end anytime soon. The fact that Crockett, which has kept Malakoff from winning district the last two years, is no longer a league foe of the Tigers should make everyone in Malakoff breathe a little easier. Without a proven winner at quarterback, however, it may be asking too much to suggest a multiple-round run through the playoffs.

 

4.Grand Saline Indians

Coach: Michael Ludlow (second season, 5-5)

2011 Record: 5-5

Returning starters: 5 offensive (pistol), 7 defensive (odd-front stack)

Players to watch

  • RB T.J. Ollison, Sr., 5-9, 210 (171 carries, 1,185 yards, 11 TDs)
  • QB Austen Truett, Soph., 5-10, 170 (64 of 121, 782 yards, 5 TDs; 137 carries, 834 yards, 8 TDs)
  • TE Dean Latta, Sr., 6-4, 215
  • LB Brian Davis, Sr., 5-11, 210
  • ROV Dalton Vail, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • LB Bruce Spaulding, Jr., 5-8, 170
  • DB John Corrales, Sr., 6-3, 170
  • DB Frank Mitchell, Sr., 6-3, 175
  • LB Ethan O’Donnell, Jr., 5-11, 175

Strengths: Familiarity. With head coach Michael Ludlow entering his second full season, the expectation level of both coach and player has gone way up. The Indians should feel more comfortable with Ludlow’s offensive and defensive schemes, making it easier for the coaching staff to evaluate the talent and expand the playbook. And a sizeable chunk of the play-calling will center around running back Torrey Ollison, who burst onto the scene with almost 1,200 yards a season ago. Quarterback Austen Truett might be given more freedom to the run the offense after totaling 1,616 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman. Tight end Dean Latta, who could become a favorite target of Truett in the passing game, is what Ludlow calls a raw talent. Latta is coming off his first ever season of football.

Weaknesses: It was a dream start to the Ludlow era when the Grand Saline Indians got off to a 5-1 start to the 2011 season. But injuries took a toll in district play, causing Grand Saline to end the season on a four-game losing skid when it seemed the Indians were poised for their first playoff appearance since 2007. Time will tell if there is any lingering effect from the disappointing finish to last season. Again there’s not much depth, so the Indians must find a way to stay healthy in order to be in contention down the stretch.

2012 Outlook: Even though there was a bitter ending to last year, Grand Saline’s five wins were its most since 2003, leading many to believe that the Indians are poised for a breakthrough season. The district will pose challenges, however, with Winnsboro, Lone Oak, Malakoff and Eustace all coming off playoff appearances in 2011.

 

5.Eustace Bulldogs

Coach: Brian Herman (second season, 10-2)

2011 Record: 10-2 (2A Division I Region II area finalist; lost 19-10 to Melissa)

Returning starters: 4 offensive (slot T), 4 defensive (4-3)

Players to watch

  • RB Tyler Folsom, Sr., 6-0, 201 (1,603 rushing yards, 18 TDs)
  • OL Ramon Ramirez, Sr., 6-0, 215
  • OL Kyle Purselly, Sr., 6-0, 185
  • RB A.C. Carson, Sr., 5-9, 175
  • DT Zach Hughes, Soph., 5-10, 215 (51 tackles; overcame cancer as an 8th-grader)
  • LB Nathan Denson, Soph., 6-0, 215 (51 tackles)
  • DB Jon Bradburn, Sr., 6-1, 165
  • DB Steven Stine, Jr., 6-1, 175 (3 INTs)
  • DB Tyler McWilliams, Sr., 6-0, 160
  • LB Abed Abuhatub, 5-9, 170

2012 Outlook: Eustace won 10 games last season, the Bulldogs’ most since going 11-1 in 1997 under Chad Morris, who went on to have a successful high school coaching career in Texas before being hired as Clemson’s offensive coordinator. Graduation hit the Bulldogs hard, however, with just four starters back on both sides of the ball. One of the returnees is senior running back Tyler Folsom, who eclipsed the 1,600-yard plateau in 2011. The defense will need several new players to step up if it is to return to the form of a year ago when Eustace surrendered just 16 points per game. There appear to be five playoff-caliber teams in the district and the Bulldogs will be one of them if they can avoid the injury bug and a few young players can break through with big seasons.

 

6.Quitman Bulldogs

Coach: Ronald Callahan (fourth season, 12-19; 38-57 overall)

2011 Record: 1-9

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

Players to watch

  • TE Ethan Callahan, Sr. (23 catches, 475 yards, 1 TD)
  • ATH Jacob Hurley, Sr., 5-11, 170
  • RB Vonterias Sessions, Sr., 6-0, 220 (98 carries, 475 yards, 4 TDs)
  • WR Austin White, SR., 5-7, 155
  • C Bobby Wells, Jr., 6-1, 302
  • OG Sherman Birdsong, Jr., 5-10, 230
  • QB Jesus Ramirez, Jr., 5-8, 185 (83 tackles)
  • OL Dyess Gardner, Sr., 6-0, 180
  • K Ivan Molina (3-for-4 FGs, 3-for-4 PATs)
  • DE Joel Cameron, Sr., 5-10, 180
  • CB Shaquan Bell, Sr., 6-0, 165
  • LB Austin Dobbs, Jr., 5-7, 155

Strengths: Continuity. With head coach Ronald Callahan entering his fourth season at Quitman, every player in the program has been joined by Callahan every step of the way. There shouldn’t be any more surprises, which should make the job of recovering from a 1-9 season easier. One bright spot for Quitman is junior center Bobby Wells, whose size alone makes him a front-line force at the 2A level. Vonterias Sessions, a big and bruising running back, should improve on his 475 yards and four TDs from a season ago. Tight end Ethan Callahan, who enjoyed a fine junior year, is also one of Quitman’s 17 returning starters.

Weaknesses: Momentum. Quitman entered the offseason void of any positive energy, which can slow the rebuilding process. Another question mark is at quarterback where coach Callahan will start Jesus Ramirez, a two-way standout who recorded 83 tackles and 600 rushing yards in 2011.

2012 Outlook: Despite last season’s struggles, Quitman is just a year removed from a playoff berth. So it may not take a Bulldogs team loaded with experience very long to get back on the right track. A return to the playoffs, although not out of the question, appears unlikely at this point due to the stiff competition in the district.

 

7.Kemp Yellowjackets

Coach: Greg Anderson (sixth season, 13-38)

2011 Record: 0-10

Returning starters: N/A

2012 Outlook: The Kemp Yellowjackets, just 5-24 the past three seasons, should feel good about the drop to 2A but there is still a long way to go for a team attempting to rebound from a winless 2011. A reasonable expectation for the Yellowjackets would be two or three wins. The playoffs seem highly unlikely at this point.