The Lufkin Panthers had high expectations entering last season. With one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the entire state and a defense full of proven playmakers coming off a trip to the regional semifinals, Lufkin appeared primed for big-time success in 2013.

The season began well with a 24-point blowout of rival John Tyler in the opener, but the Panthers suffered defeats to Tyler Lee and Longview and its first loss to Nacogdoches in more than 20 years. Lufkin was even in danger of missing the playoffs following an up-and-down district performance. The Pack made it, but their season ended with a first-round loss.

Lufkin DE Bronson "Boom" Massie. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

For the first time since 1995, Lufkin had to carry the weight of a losing season all the way through the offseason.

But as fate would have it, enrollment numbers forced Lufkin out of the state's highest classification and dropped the Panthers into an East Texas district for the first time in more than a decade. Only now, Lufkin will be bigger than almost every school it plays in the new Class 5A.

That's not to say Lufkin will steamroll the competition in 16-5A, arguably the state's toughest district in its classification. Ennis, a defending state semifinalist in 4A D-II, is there. So is John Tyler, which has won 55 games the last five seasons. Then, throw in Whitehouse, a 12-game winner from a year ago, and a Nacogdoches program hungry for respect.

Nearly every opponent on Lufkin's schedule, which includes non-district foes Longview, Tyler Lee and River Ridge John Curtis out of Louisiana, has a little bit of history attached to its name.

Thankfully for Lufkin, the Panthers have quite a few returning playmakers.

Senior receivers KeKe Coutee and Terry Mark are both FBS recruits, as is senior offensive tackle Erik McCoy. Last year's starting quarterback Trey Cumbie, a Houston baseball commit, returns as well, along with 2013's starting running back Steven Sowell.

Defensively, Lufkin will be strong up front. D-linemen Bronson "Boom" Massie and Tyrique Spencer will be two of the very best at their position in all of East Texas. Meanwhile, the secondary is loaded as well with the return of Dre Hooper and promising junior safety Mister Calloway.

2014 Lufkin Panthers Schedule

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ETSN.fm Preseason Class 6A/5A Poll