It's going to be a lonely season for Athens.

The Hornets stand alone as the only team from East Texas in District 9-4A Division I. They will have to contend with Midlothian Heritage, fresh off of a 12-1 season, and Crandall for the top spot in the district. That goal might seem lofty after a 3-7 finish in 2017, but Athen s should be much improved.

Near the bottom of the district, Waxahachie Life, Quinlan Ford and Mabank will battle it out for the final playoff spot.

This district has plenty of intrigue heading into the season, so let's get right into the preview.

District 9-4A Division I Preview

Athens DE/TE Rowdy Godwin. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

PLAYMAKERS

  • QB Landon Ledbetter, Sr., 6-1, 180, Midlothian Heritage
  • WR Langston Anderson, Sr., 6-2, 188, Midlothian Heritage
  • WR Jay Wilkerson, Jr., 6-1, 155, Midlothian Heritage
  • ATH Doneric Rivers, Sr., Crandall
  • OL/DL Branson Bragg, Sr., 6-4, 310, Crandall
  • DL/TE Rowdy Godwin, Jr., 6-6, 225, Athens
  • OL/DL Garrett Hayes, Jr., Athens
  • LB/RB Josh Bateman, Sr., Athens
  • RB Nathan Sims, So., 5-11, 200, Athens
  • OL/DL Kenneth Richardson, Sr., 6-1, 235, Waxahachie Life
  • WR/DB Gage Mayfield, Jr., 5-10, 175, Waxahachie Life
  • ATH Kobe Jennings, Jr., 6-4, 175, Quinlan Ford
  • RB/QB Eli Chambers, So., 6-0, 190, Quinlan Ford
  • QB Devyn Gibbs, Jr., 6-5, 200, Mabank
  • RB Alynn Gentry, Sr., 5-9, 165, Mabank

TOP GAMES

  • Athens at Rusk, Sept. 7
  • Athens at Crandall, Nov. 9
  • Athens At Midlothian Heritage, Oct. 19
  • Midlothian Heritage at Crandall, Oct. 26
  • Quinlan Ford at Waxahachie Life, Nov. 9

1. Midlothian Heritage Jaguars

  • Coach: Lee Wiginton
  • 2017 finish: 12-1 (4A D-I regional semifinalists)
  • Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Landon Ledbetter, Sr., 6-1, 180
  • WR Langston Anderson, Sr., 6-2, 188
  • WR Jay Wilkerson, Jr., 6-1, 155
  • DB Noah Parker, Sr., 5-11, 165
  • LB Konner Jones, Jr., 5-11, 203

 

2018 outlook: Midlothian Heritage might take a small step back after losing 11 starters from this past season, but the Jaguars won't drop too much. Landon Ledbetter will again lead the offense after passing for 2,860 yards and nearly 40 touchdowns. He'll have two solid weapons in Jay Wilkerson and Langston Anderson, who combined for more than 1,500 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns a season ago. Defensively, the Jaguards will lean on Noah Parker and Konner Jones. Parker looks to build off of a five interception season, while Jones finished with 109 tackles. Look for Midlothian Heritage to be at the top of its district once again.

2. Crandall Pirates

  • Coach: Joe Dale Carey
  • 2017 finish: 7-5 (D-I area finalist)
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • ATH Doneric Rivers, Sr.
  • OL/DL Branson Bragg, Sr., 6-4, 310
  • QB/LB Josh Redding, Sr., 6-2, 175
  • DB Jake Redding, Sr., 6-1, 185
  • WR/DB Billy Myers, Jr., 5-8, 145

 

2018 outlook: The offense should be potent with Doneric Rivers, who can make an impact receiving or running the ball. Branson Bragg will be the anchor of the unit, bringing both the experience and size needed to be successful. He's got several scholarship offers and is probably the Pirates' best player. The defensive line should be strong with Bragg back, plus the secondary has Jake Redding and Billy Myers. Crandall should be a playoff team once again.

Athens OL/DL Kenshawn Barron. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

3. Athens Hornets

  • Coach: Paul Essary
  • 2017 finish: 3-7
  • Returning starters: 9 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • DL/TE Rowdy Godwin, Jr., 6-6, 225
  • OL/DL Garrett Hayes, Jr.
  • LB Drew Cook, Sr., 6-0, 158
  • LB/TE Rylan Benge, Sr., 6-0, 185
  • LB/RB Josh Bateman, Sr.
  • RB Nathan Sims, So., 5-11, 200
  • ATH Rhejhi Sherfield, Sr., 5-9, 160
  • OL/DL Kenshawn Barron, Sr., 6-1

Offense: The line will be the strength of the offense. Garrett Hayes and Kenshawn Barron have the experience needed to guide the unit to success. Rowdy Godwin could have a breakout season and certainly has the size of a potential college football player.

Athens RB Nathan Sims. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Look for him to be the main target. Nathan Sims will hope to build on a freshman season in which he rushed for more than 700 yards. He's built for a sophomore and has a bright future. Athens is primed for drastic improvement and has the skill players to put up big numbers.

Defense: Rylan Benge and Josh Bateman look to lead the defense at linebacker. They combined for more than 200 tackles a season ago.

Athens MLB/RB Josh Bateman. (© Clint Buckley, ETSN.fm)

Rhejhi Sheffield is the leading returner in the secondary and Hayes and Barron will both play on the defensive line as well. The defense might not see the drastic improvement the offense does, but expect this unit to make strides this season.

2018 outlook: Athens should be back in the playoffs after missing in 2017. Godwin, Hayes and Sims are all young, and this could be the breakout season for a group that sees plenty of success in the next couple of years. Expectations should certainly be tempered for a team that finished 3-7 a year ago. However, don't be surprised if the Hornets make a big jump.

4. Waxahachie Life Mustangs

  • Coach: Heath Blalock
  • 2017 finish: 5-6 (4A Division I bi-district finalist)
  • Returning starters: 8 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL/DL Kenneth Richardson, Sr., 6-1, 235
  • OL/DL Sam Duran, Sr., 6-2, 265
  • WR/DB Gage Mayfield, Jr., 5-10, 175
  • QB Cody Oder
  • RB/DB SirMichael Veasley, Jr.
  • FB/LB Logan Blake, Sr., 5-7, 210

 

2018 outlook: Defensive lineman Kenneth Richardson will be the star, returning from a seven-sack season in 2017. Cody Oder will lead the offense and SirMichael Veasley and Logan Blake will likely split carries in the backfield. Gage Mayfield will look to make an impact on both sides of the ball. Waxahachie Life returns 15 starters from a team that made the playoffs in 2017, so it's hard to bet against them to repeat that feat.

5. Quinlan Ford Panthers

  • Coach: Todd Wallace
  • 2017 finish: 5-5
  • Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • ATH Kobe Jennings, Jr., 6-4, 175
  • RB/QB Eli Chambers, So., 6-0, 190
  • OL/DL Jose Talonia, Sr., 6-2, 250
  • OL/DL Hunter Carter, Sr., 6-0, 250
  • LB Garrett Davis, Sr., 5-5, 150

 

2018 outlook: Kobe Jennings might play quarterback after starting on defense this past season. If not him, it would be Chambers, who could also be a viable target in the passing game. The offensive line should be solid with the return of Jose Talonia, who was injured in 2017, and Hunter Carter. Garrett Davis finished with 84 tackles this past season and should again lead the defense. Quinlan Ford might have enough talent to push into the playoffs, but for now, it's safer to bet on the Panthers to be just on the outside.

6. Mabank Panthers

  • Coach: Zack Hudson
  • 2017 finish: 1-9
  • Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Devyn Gibbs, Jr., 6-5, 200
  • DB/WR Cade Bell, 5-11, 150
  • RB Alynn Gentry, Sr., 5-9, 165
  • FB/LB Dakota Shaw, Jr., 5-10, 185
  • LB Bryson Wilson, Sr., 5-11, 165

 

2018 outlook: Devyn Gibbs will play quarterback, and has the size and arm to make a big impact. He'll have several backs behind him, including Alynn Gentry and Dakota Shaw. Cade Bell, who plays both receiver and defensive back, will look to lead the defense along with linebacker Bryson Wilson. Still, coming off of a 1-9 campaign, not much should be expected from Mabank.