Despite playing with a heavy dose of underclassmen last year, the Tyler Lee Red Raiders were a much-improved product on the field in head coach Darrell Piske's second season at the helm.

The Red Raiders began the year 3-1 with impressive wins over Sulphur Springs, Lufkin and Texas High, leaving many to wonder if Lee was ready to challenge for a playoff berth. But the Raiders dropped five of their final six games to fall short of the postseason for the third consecutive year -- the school's longest playoff drought since the three-year stretch of 1994-96.

But there is a renewed since of confidence surrounding the Lee program these days, and most of it can be traced to a talented 2016 class of standouts eager to return the Red Raiders to prominence.

Tyler Lee LB Brandon Durman. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Quarterback Zach Hall, who started as a sophomore, is a true dual-threat option from behind center. His running ability was never an issue last season, and his passing prowess should be much more consistent this fall after going through an entire offseason -- including a trip to the state 7-on-7 tournament -- as the starter.

Junior running back Tavon Wesley has the size, vision, downhill speed and lateral quickness to become one of East Texas' very best at the position. He battled through a few bumps and bruises a season ago, but if he can stay healthy, expect Wesley to have a breakout 2014 season.

The receiving corps had to be re-shuffled after the graduation of playmaker Bryce Wilkerson, but Piske and Co. have moved a couple of defenders -- Isjuwan Barker and Jordan Devers -- from last season over to receiver in an effort to make Hall's job completing passes downfield much easier.

Lee's offensive line could be the best it's been in several years. Seniors Matthew Weeks and Justin Willoughby will bolster a unit responsible for springing numerous big plays for the offense a season ago.

But it's the defense, which allowed nearly 40 points per game in 2013, that really must improve in order for the Red Raiders to erase their losing ways. Too often last season, Lee defensive backs were burned deep for big plays or touchdowns, turning most of the teams it played into a pass-first mentality.

Senior linebacker Brandon Durman, a Louisiana Tech commit, should provide a steadying force for a Red Raiders' 'D' anxious to prove that better days are ahead.

Tyler Lee, the only school large enough to qualify for the new 6A classification, will spend the majority of its season playing teams from the Metroplex in District 11-6A. After non-district matchups with Keller Fossil Ridge, Lufkin and John Tyler, the Red Raiders begin their push for the playoffs against Sache at home on Sept. 19.

2014 Tyler Lee Red Raiders Schedule

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ETSN.fm Preseason Class 6A/5A Poll

Tyler Lee RB Tavon Wesley. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)