Ordinarily, a jump up in classification would be a cause for concern. That's not the case for the West Rusk Raiders, who maintain high expectations for 2018 in Class 3A Division I.

With 14 total returning starters from last year's 3A Division II regional semifinalist, West Rusk is ranked No. 2 in ETSN.fm's Preseason Class 3A Poll.

West Rusk had one of the area's best defenses in 2017, holding opponents to nine points per game. The Raiders pitched six shutouts on the season, and limited eventual state champion Newton to its lowest scoring output of the year in a 21-7 playoff loss.

Graduation did take away West Rusk's top defender, defensive lineman Tyree Wilson, who signed with Texas A&M. But defensive tackle and Texas State commit Darius Richardson and linebacker Diego Molina come back.

The offense returns almost entirely intact. The trio of quarterback Lajavius Harper, running back Jaylon Garland, and receiver DJ Hart is one of the most talented offensive groups in East Texas.

With the move up to Division I, the district competition will be stiffer. The new District 8-3A Division I features two teams that dropped from 4A in Gladewater, Tatum, along with Mineola, White Oak, Winnsboro, and Sabine.

Region II will be difficult with Kemp, Malakoff, Atlanta, Mount Vernon, Jefferson, and Hughes Springs as potential West Rusk playoff opponents.

ETSN.fm Preseason Class 3A Poll