Elysian Fields and Hughes Springs are more than familiar with each other. The Mustangs beat out the Yellow Jackets for back-to-back district championships the last two seasons, so EF's 20 returning starters will be motivated to serve up some payback in 2012.

Paul Pewitt and DeKalb should make the race for third place interesting. They could even challenge for the top two spots under the right circumstances.

And watch out for New Diana. Under first-year coach Brett Ratliff, the Eagles could become District 9-2A Division II's darkhorse.

1.Elysian Fields Yellow Jackets

Coach: Eric King (third season, 12-9)

2011 Record: 8-3 (2A Division II Region II bi-district finalist; lost 34-20 to Cooper)

Returning starters: 10 offensive (multiple I), 10 defensive (50 front)

Players to watch

  • QB Trevor Spear, Sr., 5-10, 175 (55 of 97, 1,382 yards, 12 TDs, 5 INTs)
  • WR Nathan Hall, Sr., 5-10, 180 (800 yards total offense; 3-for-4 FGs, 25-for-30 PATs)
  • WR Christian Smith, Sr., 6-1, 185 (21 catches, 587 yards, 5 TDs; 3 INTs, 1 def. TD)
  • DL Bruce Woods, Sr., 5-10, 180 (115 tackles, 26 for loss, 15 sacks)
  • DE Clay Vance, Sr., 6-0, 200 (60 tackles)
  • ILB Tanner Norman, Jr., 5-10, 185 (70 tackles)
  • WR Zane Barge, Sr., 5-9, 170 (21 catches, 521 yards, 5 TDs)
  • TE Don Deramus, Sr., 6-2, 210
  • RG Randall Wall, Jr., 5-11, 260
  • LG Zach Holcomb, Jr., 6-1, 210
  • LT Winfred Taylor, Sr., 5-11, 195
  • RB Tanner Davis, Jr., 5-10, 180 (71 carries, 612 yards, 5 TDs)
  • FB Colby Simmons, Jr., 5-10, 190 (500 rushing yards)
  • SS T.J. Clark, Jr., 6-1, 190 (40 tackles)
  • DT Terry Jones, Sr., 5-10, 250
  • OLB Lonzo Macon, Sr., 5-11, 180
  • ILB Trammel Hudson, Soph., 5-10, 175 (42 tackles)
  • DL Braden Jett, Jr., 5-10, 205 (50 tackles)

Strengths: Experience, skill positions. Elysian Fields may have more proven veterans back than any other team in East Texas. The Yellow Jackets lost high-major recruit Isaiah Golden during the spring (moved to Carthage), but they return every other defensive starter, as well as 10 offensive starters. Trevor Spear had a solid first year starting at quarterback, while Nathan Hall, Christian Smith, and Zane Barge give Spear three quality targets in the passing game. Tanner Davis and Colby Simmons are also back after rushing for more than 1,100 yards a season ago. That should help EF improve on the 25.7 points per game the Jackets averaged in 2011. Defensively, Bruce Woods is primed for a huge season after his all-state junior campaign, and Clay Vance and Tanner Norman are among the glut of proven defensive playmakers the Jackets can lean on in hopes of duplicating the 17.8 points per game they yielded last season.

 

Weaknesses: Loss of Golden, consistency. Even with 10 starters back on defense, Golden’s impact can’t be underestimated. He undoubtedly took a lot of pressure off the players around him, so the Jackets’ veteran unit will have to be aware of that and cope with it as they prepare for the 2012 season. Elysian Fields also must guard against an up-and-down finish, like the one the Jackets experienced in 2011, particularly on offense. EF went 3-3 in its final six games. In those three wins, the Jackets averaged 27.7 points. In the three losses, they averaged 11.0.

2012 Outlook: Elysian Fields and Hughes Springs will likely battle for the District 9-2A Division II championship. The Jackets’ Oct. 26 contest against the Mustangs is one of six Elysian Fields home games, a scheduling advantage that should help the Jackets in their quest for a district title. Elysian Fields’ non-district slate should more than prepare them in the quest considering all three opponents -- Corrigan-Camden, at Jefferson, and Arp -- are regular playoff participants and one (Arp) could be a 2012 state title contender. Elysian Fields hasn’t advanced beyond the first round since 2007, when the Jackets lost in the Division II state championship game. That should change this year. Elysian Fields not only is ETSN.fm’s preseason district champion, but is a darkhorse candidate for a deep playoff run.

2.Hughes Springs Mustangs

Coach: Chris Edwards (sixth season, 33-23)

2011 Record: 6-6 (2A Division II Region II semifinalist; lost 21-13 to Corsicana Mildred)

Returning starters: 6 offensive (slot T, shotgun T), 8 defensive (4-3)

Players to watch

  • C/DT Kadarrian Chism, Sr., 5-10, 220
  • RB Michael Martinez, Jr., 5-11, 190 (74 carries, 449 yards, 5 TDs)
  • OT Kyre Lewis, Jr., 6-1, 265 (91 percent)
  • DE Cameron Brewer, Sr., 6-2, 255 (64 tackles, 3 sacks, 14 hurries)
  • WR/DB Zach Bassham, Sr., 5-11, 175 (16 catches, 327 yards, 3 TDs; 32 tackles, 13 PBUs)
  • FS Trenton Shelton, Sr., 5-11, 160 (2 INTs)
  • LB Eric Berryhill, Sr., 5-9, 170 (97 tackles)
  • OG Josh Anton, Sr., 5-10, 240
  • RB Chad McKinney, Jr., 5-11, 170
  • OL Luis Dorantes, Sr., 6-0, 235
  • OL Trevor Perry, Sr., 5-11, 240
  • TE Hunter Smith, Soph., 6-0, 195
  • LB Shane Finney, Sr., 5-10, 175
  • LB B.J. Fickling, Sr., 5-11, 175
  • DB Dustin Garamillo, Sr., 5-9, 150
  • LB Kane Sampson, Jr., 5-10, 165

Strengths: Defensive line, running game. Tackle Kadarrian Chism and end Cameron Brewer will give Hughes Springs a solid defensive front, which is part of a unit that returns eight starters after allowing only 15.3 points per game in the final seven games of the 2011 season (6-1 in that span). Linebacker Eric Berryhill and defensive backs Zach Bassham and Trent Shelton give the Mustangs more defensive experience. While not quite as many offensive starters return, you can count on Hughes Springs running the ball well. The Mustangs always do. Michael Martinez is poised for a big season after averaging 6.1 yards per carry in limited action as a sophomore. Chism and Kyre Lewis are two of the players Hughes Springs will count on to lead the way on the ground.

Weaknesses: Quarterback, schedule. While we expect Hughes Springs to run the ball well, it must first find a dependable quarterback. Davuntae Hatten is no longer running the show after a strong career under center. Combine that with a tricky schedule and Hughes Springs has more uncertainty surrounding it than fellow District 9-2A Division II contender Elysian Fields, despite the Mustangs’ 28-7 victory against EF in 2011 and their consecutive district championships. Hughes Springs plays only four games at home (five road, one neutral) and travels to Paul Pewitt and EF in 9-2A D-II action.

2012 Outlook: Hughes Springs should stretch its consecutive postseason appearances streak to three (and seventh in the last nine seasons). But the jury is still out considering whether the Mustangs can win their third district title in as many years. The running game will eventually be there, but without a proven QB, when exactly will that be and how effective will it be? Right now, Elysian Fields is a safer pick to win the district crown, and the Jackets have home field against Hughes Springs on Oct. 26. But don’t be surprised if Hughes Springs once again gets rolling in district play and earns the top playoff seed. Either way, the Mustangs will be a tough opponent for everyone in 9-2A D-II and won’t be an easy playoff draw come November.

3.Paul Pewitt Brahmas

Coach: Reggie Kumrow (fifth season, 36-14)

2011 Record: 8-4 (2A Division II Region II area finalist; lost 47-28 to Corsicana Mildred)

Returning starters: 3 offensive (slot T), 4 defensive (5-2)

Players to watch

  • QB Rustin McFarland, Sr., 5-11, 160 (9 of 29, 213 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs; 63 carries, 221 yards, 3 TDs; 44 tackles, 3 INTs)
  • OT Marcus Lyons, Sr., 5-11, 270
  • OG Dillan Derrick, Sr., 6-0, 250
  • OT Jacob Hollon, Sr., 6-1, 240
  • TE Louis Hall, Jr., 6-2, 210
  • SS Timmy Hill, Sr., 5-10, 160
  • DT Darion Ivory, Sr., 6-0, 215 (31 tackles)
  • DB Robert Johnson, Sr., 5-9, 140 (33 tackles, 3 INTs)
  • LB Zane MacKay, Jr., 5-8, 170

Strengths: Offensive line, quarterback. Paul Pewitt returns only a few experienced starters on either side of the ball, but the offensive line should be a strength with tackles Marcus Lyons and Jacob Hollon joining guard Dillan Derrick to help form a large front, something that has become a Brahma tradition. Throw in tight end Louis Hall and that offensive front looks even larger. They’ll block for Rustin McFarland, who had a good junior year that can’t be judged by his statistical output. McFarland ran an offense that averaged 35.7 points per game thanks to its trademark power rushing attack.

Weaknesses: Backfield depth, experience. McFarland is the only seasoned veteran returning from Paul Pewitt’s powerful 2011 backfield, which featured running back Sedrick Johnson and fullback Bam Finley. That duo ran for more than 2,000 yards. Justin Goforth and Denton Evans also contributed to Pewitt’s 4,000-plus-yard rushing attack, not to mention their playmaking ability on defense, where Evans led the Brahmas in sacks and Goforth was among the tackles leaders. Goforth and Tanner Wright will be missed from their linebacker spots as Pewitt rebuilds its starting units on both sides of the ball. With only seven total returning starters, the Brahmas may have early growing pains.

2012 Outlook: Pewitt’s slot T system is so established that the loss of 15 starters shouldn’t keep the Brahmas out of the playoffs, but the road to the postseason won’t be easy. Pewitt plays 4 of 7 District 9-2A Division II games at home, but the non-district schedule starts with road trips to Liberty-Eylau and Arp before a home opener against Jefferson. In other words, the Brahmas will know how good they are and/or what they’ll need to shore up very early. That’ll come in handy with the 9-2A D-II schedule starting in late September, which gives Pewitt even less time to iron out any hiccups. We think Pewitt will clinch its fifth consecutive playoff berth -- which would be the Brahmas’ 19th in the last 21 seasons -- but it definitely won’t be easy, especially with a personnel overhaul coming in a deep district.

4.DeKalb Bears

Coach: Brandon Easterly (first season)

2011 Record: 10-2 (2A Division II Region II; lost 29-27 to Lone Oak)

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

Players to watch

  • RB Shaquille Wherry, Sr., 6-1, 190 (1,346 rushing yards, 18 TDs)
  • LB Jesse Salinas, Sr., 5-9, 200 (87 tackles)
  • OL Cade Palmore, Jr., 6-0, 230
  • QB Matt Crouch, Sr., 5-8, 165
  • WR Chamichael Hall, Jr., 6-0, 165
  • LB Jerry Dale Clark, Sr., 5-11, 200
  • SS Jacob Whitehead, Sr., 5-8, 160

2012 Outlook: Shaquille Wherry is one of the area’s top returning rushers after his stellar junior season, and Cade Palmore will help form a new offensive line to lead the way for Wherry. First-year head coach Brandon Easterly is the Bears’ former offensive line coach, so he’ll have more than enough expertise helping DeKalb maintain a solid ground attack. But DeKalb returns only six starters -- three on each side of the ball -- so the Bears lost a ton of experience from last season’s 10-win district championship team. They also move to a tougher district and may have a hard time returning to the postseason.

5.Linden-Kildare Tigers

Coach: Todd Elliott (second season, 5-5)

2011 Record: 5-5

Returning starters: 6 offensive (multiple), 8 defensive (multiple)

Players to watch

  • WR Jordan Craver, Jr., 6-2, 152
  • WR Robbie West, Soph., 6-0, 152
  • OL Tyler Hutsell, Jr., 6-0, 200
  • LB Gregg Stephens, Sr., 5-10, 184
  • QB/LB Logan Vise, Jr., 5-8, 173
  • DB Shaquille Grant, Sr., 5-9, 175
  • DE Jacob Tucker, Sr., 5-11, 190
  • DL Keith Green, Sr., 5-8, 175 (23 punts, 33.1 average, 56 long)
  • DL Leo Meyers, Jr., 5-11, 202
  • LB Travis Horn, Jr., 5-9, 185
  • DL Fernando Ramirez, Soph., 5-10, 217
  • DB Cody Fuller, Sr., 6-0, 155

Strengths: Experience, linebackers. Linden-Kildare welcomes back 14 starters, including eight on defense. That strength of that returning defensive core is at linebacker, where Gregg Stephens and Logan Vise are back after solid 2011 seasons, although Vise’s playing time at linebacker could diminish as he appears to be the frontrunner for the quarterback position.

Weaknesses: Quarterback. The impact of losing Ra’Shodrick “Shock” Linwood cannot be overstated. Everything L-K did offensively in 2011 started with Linwood, who signed with Baylor in February after rushing for more than 2,000 yards and passing for more than 1,000. He was also a huge threat in the return game that will be sorely missed in his impact on field position. Vise’s versatility will help the Tigers cope with Linwood’s departure, but nobody will be able to replace him.

2012 Outlook: Linden-Kildare has quality experience back on both sides of the ball, but can the Tigers make enough big plays, the kind that Linwood so often provided each of the past two seasons? That’s the huge question entering 2012. Linden-Kildare could be a good Class 2A team and still be left out of the playoffs since it’s playing in a deep District 9-2A Division II. On the bright side, L-K plays 4 of 7 district games at home, including matchups with Waskom, New Diana, and Ore City, three teams that the Tigers may be favored against if they played them right now. If L-K can win those three and steal a game or two from DeKalb and/or Paul Pewitt, second-year coach Todd Elliott would have the Tigers in the playoffs a year after so narrowly missing them with a 3-2 league mark.

6.New Diana Eagles

Coach: Brett Ratliff (first season)

2011 Record: 1-9

Returning starters: 5 offensive (pro I), 7 defensive (split)

Players to watch

  • DE Marco Newsome, Sr., 6-1, 240
  • RB D.D. Hill, Sr., 5-9, 160
  • RB/LB Edmond Jones, Sr., 5-11, 185
  • RB/LB Brandon Wesley, Jr., 5-8, 195
  • OL/DL Tad Clark, Sr., 6-0, 220

Strengths: Defensive line, backfield depth. Marco Newsome enters his final high school season as an established defender and primed for a huge senior season. Newsome, who was his district’s Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2011, will move from tackle to end so the Eagles can maximize his aggressiveness and playmaking ability on the edge. In other words, New Diana will be able to “turn him loose” on more occasions. His penchant for drawing the offense’s attention will give more opportunities to linebackers such as Edmond Jones and Brandon Wesley, who join D.D. Hill has capable ball carriers in New Diana’s I-formation base offense.

Weaknesses: Quarterback, offensive consistency. New Diana will have plenty of rushing options in 2012, but the quarterback spot is a bit of a question mark. Sophomore Cameron Taylor (6-0, 190) and Hill appear to be the frontrunners, according to first-year coach Brett Ratliff. That position must be pinned down if the Eagles are to improve on the 15.4 points per game they averaged in 2011, when opponents held them to 14 or fewer points six times.

2012 Outlook: With seven defensive starters back and a nice core of ball-carrying options, New Diana could be a darkhorse in the new District 9-2A Division II. Under Ratliff, who replaced Roger Adams after Adams (17-23 with one playoff appearance in four seasons) left for Union Grove, the Eagles hope to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. It’s not likely, but it’s also not out of the question, especially with only two true district road games (New Diana plays Hughes Springs on Oct. 6 at Longview’s Lobo Stadium).

7.Ore City Rebels

Coach: Tracy Blankenship (first season)

2011 Record: 6-5 (Class 2A Division II Region II bi-district finalist; lost 61-2 to Paul Pewitt)

Players to watch

  • QB/DB Keynon Whetstone, Jr., 5-9, 170 (82 of 161, 953 yards, 9 TDs, 4 INTs; 183 carries, 2,106 yards, 24 TDs; 2 INTs; 2 return TDs)
  • OL Jonathan Moser, Sr., 5-10, 225
  • WR/CB Deste Tatum, Jr., 5-10, 165 (18 catches, 216 yards, 5 TDs; 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble)
  • WR/DB Randall Stephens, Sr., 5-6, 140 (9 catches, 116 yards, 1 TD)

Strengths: Quarterback, receivers. Keynon Whetstone followed what was a promising freshman season in 2010, when he played receiver, with a breakout sophomore campaign. Whetstone is one of East Texas’ top returning playmakers and should only get better. He’ll have two proven receivers in Deste Tatum and Randall Stephens running routes for him, although new coach Tracy Blankenship, who was known for his run-heavy schemes in eight seasons at White Oak (40-45 from 2003-10), could steer the Rebels to a more ground-oriented attack. If that’s the case, look for Whetstone to get even more opportunities to shine.

Weaknesses: Line play. Whetstone and the other ball carriers’ opportunities could ultimately depend on line play. That also holds true on the defensive side of the ball, where the Rebels must deal with established rushing attacks in district play against Hughes Springs, Paul Pewitt, DeKalb, and Elysian Fields.

2012 Outlook: Jerry Blankenship, Tracy’s brother, led Ore City to a 35-20 record from 1990-94 and two of its three 10-win seasons in program history, so maybe the Blankenship name will bring renewed success to the Rebels. That might depend on how much help the rest of the Rebels give Whetstone, who could once again be one of East Texas’ top playmakers. Don’t expect Ore City to make a run to the postseason. But do expect the Rebels to be fun to watch under a first-year coach with a new weapon (Whetstone) to work with.

8.Waskom Wildcats

Coach: Whitney Keeling (third season, 8-12)
2011 Record: 5-5
Returning starters: 7 offensive (flexbone), 6 defensive (split)
Players to watch

  • OL Kris Monroe, 6-4, 240
  • RB Kevin Johnson, Soph., 5-10, 150 (35 carries, 500 yards, 3 TDs)
  • QB June Bug Johnson, 5-7, 135 (3 of 8, 100 yards, 1 TD; 2 INTs, 1 def. TD)
  • WR Raymond Purvis, Jr., 6-0, 175 (3 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD)
  • LB Gage Meshell (50 tackles)
  • OL Javier Sanchez, 5-9, 240

Strengths: Running game, skill positions. The backfield duo of quarterback JuneBug Johnson and tailback Kevin Johnson should give Waskom a nice 1-2 punch, while Raymond Purvis is ready to become a more relied upon target when the Wildcats decide to throw out of their flexbone base offense. Kris Monroe gives Waskom a big body and veteran presence on the offensive line to protect the returning skill players, who are part of a returning starter group of seven.

Weaknesses: Defensive line, getting over the hump. Waskom returns six defensive starters, but how strong the Wildcats will be up front remains to be seen. Gage Meshell will help against opponents’ rushing attacks after a solid 2011 campaign. Waskom started 2011 with a 5-0 record against five Class A teams, but once fellow Class 2A competition rolled around for district play, the Wildcats couldn’t keep the momentum going. That remains a big question mark entering 2012.

2012 Outlook: Waskom competed in district a year ago, averaging only 11.5 points per defeat in four of its five league losses. It won’t be easy, but if the Wildcats can continue that trend, they’ll keep progressing against fellow Class 2A competition. Don’t expect them to secure their first playoff berth since 1992, especially in a deep, balanced District 9-2A Division II. But don’t rule out more progress, something third-year coach Whitney Keeling has provided each of his first two years at Waskom.