District 7-3A D-I Preview: It’s Crowded at the Top
It's anybody's guess as to who will win District 7-3A Division I.
Atlanta drops down from 4A and brings Rice commit and star running back Jawan King with it. The Rabbits will be one of the favorite in this district. Meanwhile, Jefferson is coming off two of its best seasons in school history but still hungry for postseason success. Mount Vernon went undefeated through 11 games this past season before falling in the second round and returns plenty as it seeks to do better.
Below those schools, Hughes Springs, Hooks and Redwater are all coming off playoff appearances. Six of the seven schools in this district made the postseason in 2017.
The only exception, New Boston, has a new coach this season and will look to make gradual improvement after winning one game last season.
District 7-3A Division I will be loads of fun to follow in 2017. He's ETSN.fm's guess as to how it will shake out.
District 7-3A Division I Preview
- RB Jawan King, Sr., 5-10, 180, Atlanta
- QB/DB Andrew Samples, Sr., 5-11, 185, Atlanta
- WR T.Q. Jackson, Sr., 6-3, 185, Jefferson
- WR/DL Eric Gipson, Sr., 6-2, 205, Jefferson
- WR/DB Trace Smith, Sr., 6-4, 190, Jefferson
- QB/LB Trey Hodge, Sr., 6-3, 218, Jefferson
- RB/DB Tybo Williams, Sr., 5-8, 165, Jefferson
- QB/DB Kason Pletcher, Sr., 6-2, 185, Mount Vernon
- OL/DL Daniel Arnold, Sr., 5-9, 180, Mount Vernon
- FB Adolfo Rodriguez, Sr., 5-11, 210, Mount Vernon
- RB/LB Bryce Johnston, Sr., 5-10, 175, Hughes Springs
- WR/DB Chandler King, Sr., 6-3, 165, Hughes Springs
- WR/DB Marquiz Estell, Jr., 6-0, 160, Hooks
- OL/LB Dylan Roberts, Sr., 5-8, 185, Redwater
- WR/DB Deaundre Robinson, Sr., 6-4, 190, New Boston
- Jefferson at Pittsburg, Aug. 30
- Jefferson at Mount Vernon, Oct. 12
- Atlanta at Jefferson, Oct. 26
- Gilmer at Atlanta, Aug. 31
- Hughes Springs at Hooks, Oct. 19
1. Atlanta Rabbits
- Coach: Matt McClure
- 2017 finish: 5-6 (4A D-II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 9 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Jawan King, Sr., 5-10, 180
- WR/DB Jordan Brigham, Jr., 5-11, 162
- QB/DB Andrew Samples, Sr., 5-11, 185
- WR/DB Kade Wood, Jr.
- DL/OL Shun Hunter, Sr.
- WR/DB Josh Edwards, Sr., 5-10, 165
Offense: Jawan King and quarterback Andrew Samples will lead the offense. King, an impressive blend of size and speed, committed to Rice this month. He rushed for 1,189 yards and 11 touchdowns this past season while also netting 316 yards receiving and five touchdowns.
Samples led the Rabbits offense with 1,644 passing yards and an additional 695 rushing. Receiver Kade Wood is back and samples will have targets in Jordan Brigham and Josh Edwards as well.
Defense: Shun Hunter will lead the way for the defense after finishing with 65 tackles, nine for loss and six sacks in 2018.
The defensive lineman will get help from Edwards, Brigham, Wood and Samples, all two-way players at defensive back. The Rabbits will need a couple of stars to emerge if they hope to improve on 36.2 points allowed per game a season ago.
2018 outlook: Atlanta drops down from 4A, which should give it some room to improve from a first round appearance last season. King is a legit Division I player and gives the team the star potential to propel it toward a district title. Samples is just as deadly an offensive weapon and has experience to throw to at receiver. Look out for the Rabbits, who seem to be the favorite to open the season.
2. Jefferson Bulldogs
- Coach: Antwain Jimmerson
- 2017 finish: 10-2 (3A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- WR T.Q. Jackson, Sr., 6-3, 185
- WR/DL Eric Gipson, Sr., 6-2, 205
- WR/DB Trace Smith, Sr., 6-4, 190
- QB/LB Trey Hodge, Sr., 6-3, 218
- DL/OL Jacari Mosley, Sr.
- OL/DL Dylan Polver, Sr., 6-3, 278
- ATH Kylan Thomas, Jr., 5-11, 188
- K/P Landon Fuquay, Jr.
- FB/LB Maurice Williams, Sr., 5-6, 151
- RB/DB Dee Black, Jr.
- RB/DB Tybo Williams, Sr., 5-8, 165
Offense: There isn't much to dislike about the Jefferson offense. The Bulldogs have playmakers across the board. T.Q. Jackson, an Arkansas commit and No. 2 on ETSN.fm's list of the top 25 East Texas recruits in 2019, finished just shy of 1,000 yards receiving after achieving that feat his sophomore season.
He'll eye that goal once more, but he won't be the only option for quarterback Trey Hodge. Eric Gipson and Trace Smith, both of whom have tremendous height, will be targeted plenty. Running backs Tybo Williams and Dee Black will split time and are always touchdown threats because of their speed. The Bulldogs averaged 47.7 points per game in 2018. DOn't expect that to change much this season.
Defense: Jefferson has to replace Jordan Randle, Rocky Cunningham and Taylor Smith, all of whom finished in the top five in tackles this past season. Gipson, who plays defensive end, will be the leading returner.
He finished with 137 tackles, 25 for loss and 10 sacks in his first season at the position. Trace Smith will look to lead the secondary and linemen Dylan solver and Jacari Mosley provide a solid foundation up front. If the Bulldogs can muster at above average defense to go with their offense, look out.
2018 outlook: Jefferson could easily win this district. The talent is there for the Bulldogs, arguably the most gifted group in 7-3A D-I. Unfortunately, this group has vastly underachieved to this point. The Bulldogs have finished the past two seasons in the second round despite going 8-2 and 9-1 in the regular season those years. The Bulldogs have deep playoff run potential still and should contend with Atlanta and Mount Vernon in the district's top tier.
3. Mount Vernon Tigers
- Coach: Josh Finney
- 2017 finish: 11-1 (3A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 6 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
- QB/DB Kason Pletcher, Sr., 6-2, 185
- OL/DL Daniel Arnold, Sr., 5-9, 180
- DL/TE Braden Bolin, Sr.
- FB Adolfo Rodriguez, Sr., 5-11, 210
- OL/DL Kristian Ramirez, Sr.
- OL Landon Wallace, Sr.
- DB Cedric Chandler, Jr., 5-10, 160
- LB Nathan Smith
- RB/C Cade Hyman, Sr.
Offense: Kason Pletcher leads the offense after finishing with 1,220 total yards a season ago. He'll have Daniel Arnold blocking for him again and Adolfo Rodriguez back in the backfield to run for tough yards.
Mount Vernon burst onto the scene this past season by fighting for most of its yards on the ground. Expect that theme to continue in 2018 with Pletcher, Rodriguez and running back Cade Hyman the main workhorses.
Defense: Mount Vernon's defense was stifling in 2017, allowing only 14.9 points per game.
The Tigers will have Arnold, who had 32 tackles for loss, back to lead the unit. Linebacker Nathan Smith will also play a big role after finishing with 178 tackles this past season. Watch out for lineman Braden Bolin and defensive back Cedric Chandler as well.
2018 outlook: Mount Vernon escaped the regular season unscathed but lost in the area round last season. The Tigers return enough key players to build on that finish. They are one of three teams that truly have a chance at the district crown.
4. Hughes Springs Mustangs
- Coach: Chris Edwards
- 2017 finish: 9-3 (3A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Nakia Lee, Sr.
- OL/DL Dylan Dunn, Sr., 6-0, 294
- RB/LB Bryce Johnston, Sr., 5-10, 175
- WR/DB Chandler King, Sr., 6-3, 165
- WR/DB Triston Hickey, Sr.
- QB/DB Andrew Gaul, Jr., 5-11, 163
- TE/DL Logan Trenbook, Sr.
Offense: Hughes Springs loses six starters on offense from this past season and most of them are on the line.
The Mustangs hope Dylan Dunn can lead a group that will have a lot of newcomers. Andrew Gaul is back at quarterback and can run if need be. Bryce Johnston will take the lead in the backfield after rushing for nearly 600 yards in 2017.
Defense: Johnston will also lead the defense after posting 67 tackles in 2017.
Defensive backs Chandler King and Triston Hickey look to be forces in the secondary. Like on offense, the Mustangs will have to deal with the loss of most of their starters up front from last season.
2018 outlook: Hughes Springs loses a decent amount of starters and will likely take a step back after a 9-3 season. The Mustangs, however, should still be good enough to take the final playoff spot in this district.
5. Hooks Hornets
- Coach: Chris Birdwell
- 2017 finish: 5-6 (3A Division II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB Marquiz Estell, Jr., 6-0, 160
- QB/LB Mason Vasquez, Jr., 5-11, 180
- QB Connor Price, 5-11, 150
- FB/LB Coleton Mills, Sr.
- WR Logan Murray, Sr.
- OL/DL Victor Hernandez, Sr.
Offense: Receiver Marquis Estell seems like a promising player after a sophomore campaign in which he posted 351 yards and four touchdowns. Mason Vasquez is back at quarterback after a nearly 1,000-yard season. Connor King could challenge him for playing time, though. Coleton Mills is a back who isn't afraid to fight for tough yards.
Defense: Estell will star on defense after 75 tackles and three interceptions as a sophomore. Vasquez and Mills will play big roles at linebacker and defensive lineman Victor Hernandez give the group experience up front.
2018 outlook: Hooks still has a fair amount of young players and returns a lot from last year. Some improvement will happen. The Hornets were a playoff team last year and could possibly repeat that feat in 2018, but it will be easier said than done in this district.
6. Redwater Dragons
- Coach: Tommy Graf
- 2017 finish: 5-6 (3A Division I bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Jonah Ketchum, Sr.
- OL/LB Dylan Roberts, Sr., 5-8, 185
- OL/LB Jordan Helms, Sr.
- QB/LB Preston Davis
- DL/OL Garrett Harp, Sr., 6-0, 230
Offense: Jonah Ketchum will lead the offense from the backfield. He ran for 630 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017. He's got an extremely experience line to run behind but the Dragons don't return much else on offense. Preston Davis takes over at quarterback after spending last season on junior varsity, meaning it will likely be a transition year for the offense.
Defense: The Linebacker group is strong. Davis, Dylan Roberts and Jordan Helms lead the way for this group. Defensive lineman Garrett Harp will also be a factor.
2018 outlook: Redwater was a playoff team this past season, but the Dragons lose a fair amount from that squad. It's too early to count the Dragons out of postseason contention, but they've got a big hill to climb.
7. New Boston Lions
- Coach: Justin Waltz
- 2017 finish: 1-9
- Returning starters: 9 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB Deaundre Robinson, Sr., 6-4, 190
- OL/DL Ben Willis, Sr., 6-0, 235
- LB/RB Trent Graham, Jr., 5-9, 180
- LB/RB Demarcus Smith, Sr., 5-8, 170
- WR/DB Cameron Smith, Jr., 5-11, 158
Offense: Lots of experience returns but it might not translate to more success. Either way, Deaundre Robinson looks like he could be a factor. He at least has the size. Running backs Trent Graham and Demarcus Smith will split time.
Defense: Again, there are lots of returners for this group. Ben Willis leads the way for the line and Cameron Smith will join Robinson in the secondary.
2018 outlook: Waltz is entering his first season as the Lions' coach. He inherits a program that has won only five games in the past three seasons. It will be an uphill battle for New Boston, especially in this district.