There's not much doubt here in the preseason Union Grove will contest for the District 10-2A Division I crown.

Sixteen returning starters and head coach Roger Adams' track record at a historically downtrodden school will put those kinds of expectations on a program. We think the Lions are in for a pretty good season, so they will begin the year ranked sixth in the Class 2A/Private Schools poll.

Union Grove is the first Class 2A Division I team to join the list and the second 2A team at large, surpassing No. 10 Overton.

The Lions might have a winner in receiver-turned-quarterback Parker Thornton, but the best known quantity is the school's defense. It held opposing teams to an average of 18 points per game, further reduced district opponents to 13 points per contest and forced 26 turnovers in 11 games last year.

With eight starters back, it's not an outlandish bet those numbers could drop even more.

Mikie Webb is back for his junior season at linebacker. He led the team with 126 tackles last year.

Union Grove's leading tackles for loss man also is back, senior lineman J.D. Kessler. He had 17 takedowns behind the line of scrimmage.

Eight starters are back on offense, but the big question mark is replacing former signal-caller Austin Owens with Thornton. Owens was the team's leading rusher as well as a quarterback with more than 1,800 yards.

Dylan Borden, a senior, might help the new quarterback out as the team's second-leading rusher from a season ago. While Thornton was the team's leading receiver, Tanner Stanley was not far behind and is back as well.

District foe Big Sandy brings back 17 starters to the Lions' 16 returners. None of the four other league teams are even in double digits, so the Week 9 meeting between the two squads could feasibly be for the district championship.

Overton and an improving New Diana program well help Union Grove get ready for the district portion of the season.

ETSN.fm Preseason Class 2A/Private Schools Poll