WHITEHOUSE -- Without Patrick Mahomes, Jake Parker and 13 other starters from last season's regional semifinals appearance, the Wildcats are a mystery team.

There's definitely talent here. But this team could be done by Nov. 7 after going through one of the state's best districts regardless of classification.

Then again, the squad might be the dark horse for something special beyond District 16-5A play against John Tyler, Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Lindale, Jacksonville, Ennis and Corsicana.

"Kind of like last year where everyone was saying Chapel Hill's district was the 'District of Doom,' this is it right here," senior running back and linebacker Dominique Hollie said. "We've got Ennis and Lufkin coming in and then Texas High in the non-district. We can't look past them. We can't look at them any different. We have to look at them like, 'Hey, they put their pants on one leg at a time just like we do."

Whitehouse isn't exactly bankrupt in the talent department. It still has several players who might leave opponents star struck in the early weeks of the season.

Safety Justin Dunning is considered one of the best senior recruits in the country and is committed to the red-hot Texas A&M program, cornerback Nate Brooks has pledged to a strengthening North Texas program and colleges are investigating Hollie.

But, like the team as a whole, senior quarterback Jackson Allen is largely an unknown commodity.

That's where this team's story really begins. The newcomers must supplement the veterans.

So far, so good. Especially in Allen's case.

Jackson Allen led Whitehouse to the Division I state championship game in last month's state-wide 7-on-7 tournament in College Station. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

The new signal caller guided the Wildcats to the Division I championship game of the state 7-on-7 tournament last month. He also has received good reviews from head coach Adam Cook through two days of preseason camp.

"That's a huge honor to be the quarterback here," Cook said. "Some people look at this thing and say, 'Who wants to be the guy who follows Patrick Mahomes?' But really, with Jackson, it's just an honor to be the quarterback at Whitehouse High School.

"You look back at Brady Attaway, Hunter Taylor, Patrick Mahomes and now Jackson. I think the key is his mental ability. His mental aspect of, 'Am I ready to go out there and do this?' He's always been a worker. He's probably the hardest working quarterback that we've ever had."

Cook added Allen has played junior varsity soccer just to improve his foot work.

Whitehouse's spread offense is sophisticated. Mahomes excelled in it on the way to becoming Texas Tech's No. 2 quarterback as a true freshman in the Big 12 Conference.

The hope is Allen will as well.

"You can't replace a guy like Patrick, but it's a great feeling to be the one to take over for him after all he's done," Whitehouse's new quarterback said. "I just want to continue some of the legacies we've had in the past. It's a great feeling just leading the team through being the offensive leader."

Allen spends a lot of time being a 'film junkie.' The quarterback independently studies his trade at home with opponents' old game film and rehearses the Wildcats' playbook around the house.

He calls it extra homework.

"It's a lonely road as a Q.B.," Allen said. "A lot of staying in and watching film by myself. It's a lonely road, but I've come down it and I'm ready."

The first test for Whitehouse comes right off the bat from Gilmer, a Class 4A Division II state power, on Aug. 15 in an inter-squad exhibition scrimmage.

"We lost a lot of seniors last year, but we have a lot of guys who have come in all summer and have been working hard," Cook said. "It doesn't matter where you're at in your program. If you're a returning starter, you've still got to work hard. If you're that guy who's trying to prove yourself, and we have a lot of them, you've got to come in and go to work. These guys have been doing that."

 

Who Wants Hollie?
Whitehouse's Dominique Hollie runs for yardage during the Wildcats' 43-21 win at Nacogdoches on Oct. 25, 2013. (Christopher Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Dominique Hollie is not one of the 31 East Texas players holding at least one FBS offer.

That could change with a nice beginning to the 2014 season at either running back or middle linebacker.

"My future is very undecided right now," Hollie said. "But I do have schools looking at me at linebacker and some at running back. Some are looking at me for both at the same time."

Hollie checked into the ETSN.fm Football Recruiting Combine at 6-1 and 219 pounds at the beginning of June.

"I want to be defined as a guy that can open up people's eyes this season," he said. "I want to be someone that people really want to see play and I want to play at a level where people respect me and want the best for me after the game. I want to be a game changer this season."

Hollie moved to Whitehouse in the third grade and has seen the program rise to its current height. In fact, he helped the team to the narrow regional semifinal loss against Mesquite Poteet last year.

"As a kid, you see the varsity and the lights," he said. "You hear the fans and the band and everything. It becomes a big dream to play here. And to see where it came from to where it is now is a dream come true. I can say, 'Hey, I'm playing for a big time team and have the opportunity to get noticed.' When you're playing, it's amazing. Sometimes it's like you're running in a dream. Sometimes you can't hear the fans. All you can hear is the wind blowing and you're just running."

Capping this season off with a better finish will complete the high school dream and further his college football credibility.

Mesquite Poteet edged the Wildcats in a 65-60 shootout.

"Coach Cook has said we're working on our G.T.G.," Hollie said. "That's 'Good To Great.' We've gotten better on defense and we're excited for this season."

 

The Back End
Nate Brooks has gained some good weight this offseason and returns to cornerback for his senior season. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)

Nate Brooks and Justin Dunning return to the Whitehouse's defensive backfield for their senior seasons.

Both have committed to major college football programs and are known players across the region.

The road hasn't always been smooth though, especially for Dunning. The Texas A&M commit tore his ACL last season against Chapel Hill and missed the remainder of the season.

"It was really a freak accident," Dunning said. "I just jumped up and landed on it wrong. The big thing was rehab. Getting back was really hard and sometimes I was like, 'Do I even want to come back and play?' But I set my goals and was able to come back from it. I was a guy that thought I would never get hurt. It showed me anything can get taken away from you in the snap of a finger. I try to enjoy every minute."

Brooks -- a future North Texas cornerback -- recently underwent a minor, arthroscopic surgery procedure to clear loose cartilage from a kneecap. He is considered day-to-day.

The corner looks much better this season from a physical standpoint. He has trouble gaining weight but tacked on a few good pounds by eating six meals a day.

"Peanut butter is big," he said. "Protein is really important. I added a weight gainer shake and have been eating a lot more chicken. Chicken breast and turkey. Nuts and fruit help, too."

Brooks is listed as 6-1 and says his weight is fluctuating between 155 and 160 pounds.

"I've put a lot into my four years in high school," he said. "I never thought I'd get college offers when I started out. This has been about playing with my best friends and all of my classmates. Going out with them and these coaches means a lot."

Dunning has been committed to Texas A&M since November.

You won't have to worry about him checking out on the Wildcats if the going gets tough.

"You've got to focus on one goal at a time," Dunning said. "I'm in high school right now and I am a high school football player. I play at Whitehouse High School right now."

Combined, Brooks and Dunning make a difficult secondary for opponents this season.

"We communicate well, we're great friends and very proud of the program," Dunning said. "We'll come out and play hard."

Whitehouse senior safety Justin Dunning is back from a torn ACL injury and will start in the Wildcats' exhibition scrimmage against Gilmer. (Christopher R. Vinn, ETSN.fm)