Three teams in the new District 9-2A Division I made the postseason a year ago. One team was right on the cusp. Two of the teams went winless.

This district looks straight forward on paper, but that's why they play the game.

The top end of the league looks safe to advance to the playoffs. There's a lot of uncertainty at the bottom between Simms Bowie, Big Sandy and Ore City. Head-to-head games in the bottom half of the league will feel like playoff games as the Big Sandy Wildcats and the Rebels hope to get back on track.

This district appears to be the easiest of the four leagues in Class 2A Division I. The other groups have more dangerous teams.

It is imperative to earn the top spot in this district and avoid the likes of San Augustine, West Sabine and Shelbyville in the first round of the playoffs.

District 9-2A Division I Preview

PLAYMAKERS
  • Payton Alexander, Sr., OL/DL, Harleton
  • Mack Allen, Jr., OL, Union Grove
  • Colton Allshouse, Jr., QB, Ore City
  • Garrett Bowery, Sr., OL/DL, Union Grove
  • Matthew Casey, Sr., WR, Ore City
  • Noah Flores, Sr., OL/DL, Harleton
  • Cole Harwell, Sr., DE, Hawkins
  • Jesse Harwell, Sr., RB/LB, Hawkins
  • Spencer McDaniel, Sr., C/DT, Simms Bowie
  • Rans Mullins, Sr., WR/CB, Big Sandy
  • Dustin Reddock, Sr., LB, Harleton
  • Caleb Smith, Sr., TE/LB, Big Sandy
  • Kardaylun Tennyson, RB, Jr., Hawkins
  • Tristan Thompson, Sr., QB/ATH, Union Grove
  • Dylan Trissel, Soph., RB/FS, Simms Bowie

 

TOP GAMES
  • Oct. 10 -- Harleton at Hawkins
  • Oct. 17 -- Union Grove at Hawkins
  • Oct. 17 -- Simms Bowie at Harleton
  • Nov. 7 -- Harleton at Union Grove

 

1. Union Grove Lions

Union Grove defensive lineman Garrett Bowery recorded 72 tackles, including 10 sacks. He also blocked six kicking attempts. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Roger Adams

2013 finish: 5-6 (2A D-II bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 9 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • OL/DL Garrett Bowery, Sr., 6-2, 285 (72 tackles, 10 sacks, 6 blocked kicks)
  • QB/ATH Tristan Thompson, Sr., 5-10, 180 (11 TDs)
  • RB Corey Sturrock, Sr. (6 TDs, 803 rushing yards)
  • OL Mack Allen, Jr.
  • OL Tristan Adkins, Sr.
  • OL/DL Hunter Gray, Sr.

 

Offense: The Lions should have a very good group of big uglies this season. Mack Allen has returned for his senior year after an injury plagued junior season. The offensive line should help senior running back Corey Sturrock up his number from a six touchdown, 803-yard campaign last season on the way to the Class 2A Division II bi-district round. Sturrock split time in the offensive backfield last season. Nine returning staters should have the unit clicking early. Only Hawkins' eight returning offensive starters rivals the Lions' experience factor.

Running back Corey Sturrock recorded 803 yards and six touchdowns last season while splitting time in the backfield. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Tristen Thompson looks poised for a big senior season. He can do it all for Union Grove and will be utilized at positions across the offense and as a defensive back. Offensively, Thompson recorded 11 touchdowns a year ago. Thompson ran a 4.7 40-yard dash at last check, but he is a coordinated playmaker. Putting the ball in Thompson's hand is a priority, so expect more of the same with him lining up as the quarterback frequently.

 

Defense: Union Grove returns eight starters on the defensive side of the ball and looks great up front. Defensive lineman Garrett Bowery (6-2, 285) recorded 76 tackles and 10 sacks last season in addition to six blocked kicks. Those are outstanding numbers for a lineman. Hunter Gray (6-1, 183) adds to the line with a nice frame for the Class 2A level. Coleson Klein is a standout at linebacker. The secondary looks good as well with Ethan Tillery and Thompson headlining the group.

Head coach Roger Adams will have to hope the group improves on its 2013 numbers. The Lions gave up more than 35 points in three games last season, including the playoff loss against Waskom. Experience should allow Union Grove to get a better handle on opponents this season.

 

2014 outlook: No team in the district returns more starters than the Lions with their 17 total. Overall retention from the 2013 team is fabulous with 21 lettermen coming back opposed to just seven players lost to graduation. Union Grove does not appear to be in any trouble whatsoever in the six-team district. Both Ore City and Big Sandy went winless last season and have their work cut out.

In the Lions' case, district play should be about seeding. The road out of Region III is very difficult with West Sabine, San Augustine, Shelbyville, Joaquin and Beckville in the neighboring district. Alto, Cayuga, Carlisle, Centerville, Groveton and Hull-Daisetta also are in the region. A high finish in district increases the odds Union Grove can play up to Thanksgiving or even beyond. Perhaps they'll encounter injury-crippled or underachieving programs in the early postseason rounds with a first-place finish in the league.

2. Hawkins Hawks

Cole Harwell is a dangerous force in Hawkins' very good front seven. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Coach: Marty Moore

2013 finish: 5-5

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 6 defensive

Players to watch

  • DE Cole Harwell, Sr., 6-0, 210 (76 tackles, 2 sacks)
  • LB Jesse Harwell, Sr. (42 tackles)
  • RB Kardaylun Tennyson, Jr., 5-8, 145 (1,005 yards, 8 rushing TDs)
  • QB/LB Jason Hass, Jr., 6-2, 198 (773 passing yards)

 

Offense: Like Union Grove, Hawkins returns a majority of its offense. The Hawks, however, relied on their defense frequently last season. The team's offensive high-point came in Week 2 with a 55-14 win against Cross Roads. Hawkins did not score more than 28 points in district play on the way to a 1-5 league record. Kardaylun Tennyson should get a lot of work behind an offensive line that is more mature. It will be exciting to see if the team's overall experience factor helps push the running back beyond the 1,0005 yards the racked up as a sophomore. Quarterback Jason Hass put up 773 passing yards last season and could be poised for a breakout junior season.

Defense: There's a key player head coach Marty Moore has named at each level of the Hawks' defense. Cole Harwell is a great defensive end with a very high number of tackles under his belt. He recorded 76 takedowns last season, an outstanding number for a lineman. Jesse Harwell had 42 tackles at linebacker and, as one of six returning defensive starters, brings experience to the table. Defensive back Demyron Francis will anchor the secondary.

Jesse Harwell's 42 tackles a season ago make him another difficult proposition for opposing offenses. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Hawkins fans should be optimistic about returning a small majority of the starters on defense. The group grinded away and put the team in positions to win three 2013 district games if it could have mustered a late touchdown. Its league game against Union Grove last season, a loss, came by the final score of 20-14.

 

2014 outlook: Returning 14 starters is nothing to sneeze at, and the Hawks were right on the cusp of garnering some playoff experience last season. Three district games could easily have gone the other way. The program returns 16 lettermen to the eight it lost to graduation.

Hawkins appears to be in good playoff standing in 2014, especially considering the recent struggles of Big Sandy and Ore City in the six-team district. Games against Union Grove, Harleton and Simms Bowie will define the Hawks' regular season. A high finish is recommended with so many other strong programs in Region III. District 9-2A Division I was the best Hawkins could have asked for.

3. Harleton Wildcats

Coach: Jackie Lloyd

2013 finish: 7-4 (1A D-I bi-district finalist)

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive

Players to watch

  • FB/MLB Jacob Earle, Sr., 6-2, 260 (138 tackles)
  • OL/DL Noah Flores, Sr., 6-0, 240 (63 tackles)
  • OL/DL Payton Alexander, Sr., 6-1, 245 (58 tackles)
  • WR/DB Cody Fregia, Jr., 5-10, 140 (168 receiving yards on 14 catches)

Offense: Harleton's biggest asset is without a doubt its offensive line. The line's statistical accomplishments have mostly been recorded through their work on the defensive side, but it gives you an indication of their strength. Look for Jacob Earle to get a lot of carries behind the line with his 6-2, 260-pound frame. Cody Fregia gives the Wildcats an advantage on the outside after averaging 12 yards per catch last season.

Defense: Head coach Jackie Lloyd can hang his hat on the defensive side of the ball with a lot of the most important starters on that side returning. Earle recorded a staggering 138 tackles as a junior at linebacker. That many takedowns at the linebacker level indicates the secondary isn't being overworked and opposing offenses are recording marginal gains.

Harleton bullied most of its opponents last season, avergaing 19.5 points against in the regular season before running into powerhouse Alto in the first round of the playoffs. Its defensive front should cause headaches for any team in the district.

 

 

2014 outlook: Harleton should be in the playoffs once again. The defense could arguably be the best in the league while the offense has potential to improve with a great offensive line. Attrition was fairly heavy on the Wildcats with 12 of 22 starters graduating and 14 lettermen graduating to nine returning players with varsity experience. The team did top Simms Bowie and Big Sandy last season. An Oct. 17 meeting with Simms Bowie will be a very important game. No one wants to face the winner of District 10-2A Division I, likely San Augustine or West Sabine.

4. Simms Bowie Pirates

Coach: Eddy May

2013 finish: 7-5 (1A D-I area finalist)

Returning starters: 3 offensive, 4 defensive

Players to watch

  • C/DT Spencer McDaniel, Sr., 6-0, 240 (returning starer)
  • FB/DTBrandon Myers, Sr., (all-district selection on offense and defense)
  • RB/LB Will Watts, Sr., 5-10, 170 (returning stater)
  • WR/FS Dylan Trissel, Soph.
  • OL Taylor Stinson, Sr., 5-8, 178 (returning stater)
  • OL/DL Blake Smith, Jr., 5-8, 178 (returning starter)

 

Offense: Simms Bowie returns three starters from an offense that worked its way to a 7-5 record a season ago. The unit won back-to-back games by a total of four points late in the season, so the returners have faced quite a bit of adversity. The offensive line constitutes the starters and give running back Will Watts something to work with. There are 14 returning lettermen on this team. Hopefully that provides some answers for replacing a group that helped the team advance to the second round of last year's playoffs.

Defense: The Pirates' unit returns four players from a defense that held opponents to 27.5 points per game. The defensive line is a huge asset and could help this squad contain the more athletic offensive backfields of the district.

 

2014 outlook: Graduation did a number to this playoff team of a year ago, but Simms Bowie is another benefiter of the new district. Defeating both Big Sandy and Ore City will be important to clinch a playoff spot. A loss against either team could have this program in hot water on the final night of the regular season.

5. Big Sandy Wildcats

Coach: Larry Minter

2013 finish: 0-10

Returning starters: 5 offensive, 8 defensive

Players to watch

  • TE/LB Caleb Smith, Sr., 6-0, 190 (114 tackles)
  • WR/CB Rans Mullins, Sr., 5-11, 165
  • OL/DE Charlie Ramsey, Sr., 5-9, 215 (97 tackles, 14 tackles for loss)
  • LB John Caldwell, Sr. (83 tackles)

 

Offense: Big Sandy has five returning offensive starters and every defeat in a 10-loss season was fairly close. Four of the losses were by 17 total points, so there is some hope. Caleb Smith is obviously an asset at tight end and Rans Mullins has quite a bit of athleticism.

Defense: The Wildcats have eight returners on the defensive side of the ball and that should help remain them competitive once again. Mullins is a player with college talent at cornerback while Smith, Charlie Ramsey and John Caldwell combined for 294 tackles.

 

2014 outlook: Games against Simms Bowie and Ore City will be huge in this proud program's quest for a return to the playoffs. There is quite a bit of experience on this team and some nice tools to work with. Unfortunately, the top half of the district will be very difficult to contend with. Don't expect another winless season, but Big Sandy does have a lot of work to do.

 

6. Ore City Rebels

Coach: Tracy Blankenship

2013 finish: 0-10

Returning starters: 8 offensive, 7 defensive

Players to watch

  • QB Colton Allshouse, Jr.
  • OT/DT Collin Hart, Sr.
  • LB Dalton Hasler, Sr., 5-7, 160

 

Offense: Ore City's losses were sizable with exception to a four-point district defeat against De Kalb and and a one-point, season finale loss against Linden-Kildare. Tackle Collin Hart is someone to rally around as a three-year starter. Eight starters are returning, so it's definitely in the realm of possibilities the group can pull it together and reel off some wins against teams overlooking it.

Defense: The Rebels' defense was generally respectable last season and it returns seven starters. Dalton Hassler will anchor the group.

2014 outlook: The team will be seeking the playoffs for the first time in four years. Ore City's district isn't overly strong in the back half, so wins against an inexperienced Simms Bowie team in the district opener and Big Sandy the next week would likely get the program back on track. If the Rebels don't have it together by the start of district on Oct. 10, their season is in jeopardy.