Carlisle was a pleasant surprise a season ago and 10 starters are back from that regional finalist team.

We like what the Indians have cooking. They will begin the year ranked fifth in our Class 2A/Private Schools poll.

Head coach Rocky Baker's offense should not take a step back with senior quarterback Tristan Craig returning to the fold. Craig, a dual-threat, recorded 31 total touchdowns a season ago while putting up 1,760 passing yards to 723 yards on the ground.

If that's not enough, Jay Price is back to give the passing game a one-two punch. He caught for 650 yards and is the team's leading returning receiver.

But defense wins championships, whether it's a district crown or a state title.

Five of Carlisle's 10 experienced starters fall on the defensive side of the ball, including leading tackler Max Jackson at the strong safety spot. He was part of a unit that held opponents to 13.8 points per game and district competitors to an impressive 12.6 points per game.

The objective this season obviously will be to break free of Region III for the state semifinals and beyond. Carlisle got within six points of accomplishing the feat last year after tying with Joaquin for the District 11-2A Division I title.

However, the competition to make the playoffs will be fierce. Alto, Cushing, San Augustine and Shelbyville all tie for the district lead in returning starters with 16 apiece. In fact, the Indians have the fewest returning starters of all six district teams.

Alto and San Augustine made the postseason with San Augustine falling one round short of Carlisle's final position.

No. 10 Overton headlines a decent non-district slate to get ready for league competition.

ETSN.fm Preseason Class 2A/Private Schools Poll