Still considered one of the very best programs in all of East Texas, the Marshall Mavericks are convinced they're headed in the right direction following a couple of dreadful seasons.

Partially responsible for the renewed optimism was Marshall's return to the playoffs last season after a two-year hiatus that featured an overall record of 3-17. And the other big reason for rising expectations happens to be the talent pool.

Marshall OL Chett Munden. (Christopher R. Vinn,

A talented 2016 class that features quarterback Justin Hart, running back Deondre Osborne and defensive lineman Antonio Washington has Marshall thinking big as it enters year two of the Clint Harper administration.

Harper, a former quarterback at Marshall who enjoyed head coaching success elsewhere in the state, rallied the troops in year one and returned the Mavericks to their rightful place: the postseason.

The UIL put out a potential stumbling block to Marshall's quest of back-to-back playoff berths by aligning longtime area power Longview with the Mavericks in the new District 15-5A back in February. That means, more than likely, that Marshall will have to outdo either Sulphur Springs or Hallsville, who both finished ahead of the Mavs in the district standings a year ago.

But with 16 starters back from last year's group, Marshall remains confident.

Hart passed for more than 1,500 yards as a sophomore, while receiver John Love is back to finish off what has been an injury-riddled high school career. Osborne (5-9, 212) is a bruising back capable of eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark this season, while the O-line is anchored by North Texas pledge Chett Munden (6-6, 303) and C.J. Powell (6-2, 295).

The defense, which allowed more than 45 points per game in 2013, must improve, but there are nine starters back from that side of the ball. The strength of the unit will be its line play, led by senior Trey Valentine (6-4, 230) and Washington (6-1, 246).

2014 Marshall Mavericks Schedule

Aug. 29Royse CityW 54-21
Sept. 5at CrandallW 50-15
Sept. 13vs. Bossier City Parkway (at Shreveport)L 45-21
Sept. 19OPEN
Sept. 26*at HallsvilleL 21-19
Oct. 3*Pine TreeW 55-29
Oct. 10*at LongviewL 56-13
Oct. 17*at GreenvilleW 42-17
Oct. 24*Texas HighL 41-14
Oct. 31*at Mount PleasantW 56-6
Nov. 7*Sulphur SpringsW 36-27
Nov. 14vs. Nacogdoches (at Longview)W 67-42
Nov. 21vs. Dallas South Oak Cliff (at Tyler)L 55-35 Class 6A/5A Preseason Poll