2015 Football Preview: Coaching Changes Could Create Chaos In District 10-2A Division I
With so much uncertainty brought on by offseason coaching departures and arrivals, District 10-2A Division I could be one of the most difficult East Texas leagues to project entering the 2015 season.
West Sabine, San Augustine, and Joaquin will all sport new head coaches after their longtime leaders left for other jobs.
Shelbyville, which began the 2014 season with an 8-0 start, has arguably the top overall player in the district and has its sights set on a district championship.
District 10-2A Division I Preview
- RB Octavian Burrell, Sr., Shelbyville
- DL Kal Metcalf, Sr., Shelbyville
- FB Nate Belrose, Jr., Joaquin
- OL/DL EJ Barnes, Sr., San Augustine
- WR Keonte Watts, Sr, San Augustine
- DL Tyler Rhodes, Sr., West Sabine
- RB Demarie Smith, Jr., West Sabine
- HB Kase Yates, Soph., Joaquin
- RB Jacari Reed, Sr., Beckville
- RB Darian Buckley, Sr., Cushing
- Tenaha at Shelbyville, Sept. 11
- West Sabine at San Augustine, Oct. 9
- Beckville at San Augustine, Oct. 16
- West Sabine at Shelbyville, Nov. 6
- Joaquin at Beckville, Nov. 6
1. Shelbyville Dragons
- Coach: Jason Ferguson
- 2014 finish: 8-2 (2A Division I bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 10 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Octavian Burrell, Sr., 5-7, 200
- DL Kal Metcalf, Sr., 6-0, 240
- DL Riheam Jenkins, Sr.
- DB Terrell Cartwright, Jr.
- DB Isaiah Stansberry, Sr.
- QB Ta'Vion Barnes, Jr., 6-0, 170
- OL Kawon McCowin, Soph.
- OL Logan Jefferson, Soph.
Offense: It was quite the start for the Shelbyville offense in 2014. In beginning the season with eight consecutive victories, the Dragons averaged more than 42 points per game. However, Shelbyville dropped its regular-season finale and bi-district playoff contest -- its first postseason game since 2010 -- and mustered a combined six points. Head coach Jason Ferguson is hopeful, that with eight returning starters on the offensive end, the Dragons will be able to maintain their explosiveness throughout the course of the season. With senior running back Octavian Burrell, a 2,000-yard rusher in 2014, back in the fold, the odds of another productive season for Shelbyville are extremely high. The Dragons are loaded up front with big sophomore linemen Kawon McCowin and Logan Jefferson providing the rushing lanes. Junior quarterback Ta'Vion Barnes is athletic enough to make plays with his feet as well.
Defense: Lost in how well Burrell and the Shelbyville offense operated, the Dragons' defense was among the area's stingiest in 2A last year. Shelbyville held opponents to an average of just 15.9 points per game, including less than 10 points per during the Dragons' 8-0 start to the season. And with 10 of 11 defensive starters coming back, expect more of the same from Shelbyville's defense in 2015. The defensive line combo of seniors Kal Metcalf and Riheam Jenkins, along with the secondary tandem of junior Terrell Cartwright and senior Isaiah Stansberry, make the Dragons difficult to attack from an offensive standpoint. The big question mark for the defense, much like the offense, will be how it holds up for the long haul. In Shelbyville's final two games of the regular season against West Sabine and Ore City, the Dragons allowed a combined 82 points after they surrendered just 79 total through their first eight games.
2015 outlook: Shelbyville hasn't experienced a 10-win season since 1976, but the pieces are in place for the Dragons to have one of the best seasons in program history. Shelbyville will be tested during non-district against perennial state power Tenaha -- a game that was cancelled because of inclement weather last season -- on Sept. 11. The Dragons' next big test will be their regular-season finale against defending district champion West Sabine. The good news for Shelbyville is that both of those games are at home this year. If the Dragons can get by those two matchups with wins, Shelbyville could be in line for its first undefeated regular season since 1960. Needless to say, the Dragons have plenty to play for in the coming months.
2. West Sabine Tigers
- Coach: Jonathon Jones
- 2014 finish: 8-3 (2A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- DL Tyler Rhodes, Sr., 5-11, 210
- RB Demarie Smith, Jr., 5-7, 150
- DL Tyler Sepulvado, Sr., 5-11, 230
- QB C.J. Williams, Sr.
- WR Dillon Sepulvado, Sr.
- LB Collin Dew, Sr.
- OL Mark White, Jr.
- DL Nick Harper, Jr., 6-2, 200
Offense: When longtime West Sabine head coach Tod Stark left for the job at Hardin, there was more than just a void on the coaching staff. The Tigers also graduated several key contributors on offense, especially quarterback ReShod Williams, a three-year starter who led West Sabine to its best three-season stretch since 2001-03. But the cupboard isn't completely bare on the offensive side for new coach Jonathon Jones. New quarterback C.J. Williams and Demarie Smtih posses the patented West Sabine speed that's become a trademark of the program over the years. Junior Mark White returns to the offensive line, while receiver Dillon Sepulvado is back to help ease the burden on the new starting quarterback for the Tigers. It may be asking a lot to expect West Sabine to average 35 points per game as it did a season ago, but make no mistake: the Tigers will still be able to score the football.
Defense: Just like the offense, West Sabine returns six defensive starters from 2014's group. The Tigers allowed just a shade more than 21 points per game a season ago, but that number could be coming down this fall. The strength of the West Sabine defense is its line play, and with the return of senior Tyler Rhodes and Tyler Sepulvado and junior Nick Harper, finding running lanes or extra time to complete passes might be hard to come by for opposing offenses. Senior linebacker Collin Dew is one of the most physical defenders in the district and is capable of making plays all over the field. The defense's biggest obstacle heading into the new season is finding key contributors in the secondary, which has always been a strength of the West Sabine program.
2015 outlook: For the last two seasons, the district championship has belonged to West Sabine, but it is uncertain what, if any, affect a change in head coach will have on the Tigers going forward. One thing is for certain: West Sabine isn't ready to just hand over the throne as 10-2A Division I champs. There are enough holdovers from last year's group to make another run at the league crown and beyond. While West Sabine's matchups with San Augustine over the last couple of seasons have been exciting, the district title could very well come down to the final night of the regular season when the Tigers travel to Shelbyville.
3. San Augustine Wolves
- Coach: Marty Murr
- 2014 finish: 6-6 (2A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- OL/DL EJ Barmes, Sr.
- WR Keonte Watts, Sr., 5-10, 180
- WR Chris Rodgers, Jr., 6-0, 175
- DL CJ Berry, Sr.
- LB DeSavion Crane, Jr.
- DB Kordell Parks. Sr., 5-7, 140
- RB KJ Davis, Soph., 5-9, 175
- ATH Quentavian Borders, Soph.
Offense: San Augustine has had one of the most exciting and explosive offenses in all of East Texas the past few seasons, but there are legitimate concerns now that head coach Donald Hubbard and offensive coordinator Seth Hubbard have left for other jobs after four seasons with the Wolves. Jamikel Roberts, a Texas A&M-Commerce signee, is gone as well after three highly productive seasons as San Augustine's quarterback. The Wolves aren't completely void of seasoned offensive talent in 2015, however. The pass-catching duo of senior Keonte Watts and junior Chris Rodgers should create a few matchup nightmares for opposing secondaries this fall. Sophomores KJ Davis and Quentavian Borders are also intriguing prospects capable of making a meaningful impact on the offensive end. But perhaps San Augustine's top returning player is EJ Barnes, a senior who stars on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Defense: As exciting as San Augustine's offense has been in recent years, the Wolves' defense has been responsible for a few memorable shootouts. The Wolves allowed a little more than 29 points per game last season, which was a big improvement over San Augustine's 2013 defense, which gave up an average of 41.4 points per week. With five returning defensive starters, it's difficult to get a read on whether San Augustine will continue to show progress in that area. The Wolves will rely on Barnes and CJ Berry up front to main the interior, while junior linebacker DeSavion Crane returns after a breakout sophomore campaign. Defensive back Kordell Parks is small in stature, but he came up with his fair share of big plays on the defensive side of the ball in 2014.
2015 outlook: Marty Murr, a longtime East Texas coaching veteran, takes over the San Augustine program after Hubbard led the Wolves to the playoffs in all four seasons he was in charge. Murr is no stranger to leading prominent programs, having coached at tradition-rich Alto from 2001-04, a stretch that saw the Yellowjackets compile a record of 33-14. The new coach may not put together a district championship contender right off the bat, but San Augustine has enough future building blocks in the lower classifications to keep the Wolves' level of play at or near the same level it's been the previous four seasons.
4. Joaquin Rams
- Coach: Wade Lawson
- 2014 finish: 5-5
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
- FB Nate Belrose, Jr., 5-10, 185
- HB Kase Yates, Soph.
- TB Nathaniel Retamar, Sr., 5-7, 150
- OL Colby Hamilton, Sr., 6-1, 275
- OL Rustin Miller, Jr., 6-1, 250
- QB Brock Lawson, Jr.
- DL Cardrae Brown, Sr.
- DB Peyton Martinez, Jr.
Offense: Joaquin's been running the same offense for years, but now that longtime head coach Wayne Gandy is gone, will the Rams sport a different look? That remains to be seen, but don't count on it. Wade Lawson, who served as Gandy's offensive coordinator previously, steps into the role as head coach, and he has several returning impact players from the offensive side of the ball. Junior fullback Nate Belrose is a two-way playmaker, but figures to receive the bulk of the carries out of the run-heavy offense. Senior tailback Nathaniel Retamar and sophomore halfback Kase Yates should also figure heavily into the running game. Quarterback Brock Lawson has two years of experience in the program and just happens to be related to the new coach, so it is reasonable to expect a great deal of chemistry and communication between the two leaders of the offense. Points were, a times, hard to come by for Joaquin, which averaged a little more than 27 points per game in 2014. But a solid final three weeks of the season, which included an average of 41.3, was a perfect way to enter Joaquin's first offseason without Gandy since 2000.
Defense: Nine starters on the defensive side of the ball are returning for Joaquin this season, so it appears as if he Rams' defense should improve quite a bit moving forward. That will be key after last year's group surrendered an average of 26.1 points per game. Belrose doubles as a hard-hitting linebacker, while senior Cardrae Brown will man the defensive line. The secondary is expected to be in great shape as well, especially with ball-hawking defender Peyton Martinez returning after a breakout sophomore campaign in 2014. Joaquin's offensive philosophy is ball-control, which should only benefit a defensive group deep with seasoned talent.
2015 outlook: Gandy was one of East Texas' longest-tenured head coaches, spending 13 seasons on the Joaquin sidelines. He was also among the winningest over the last decade-plus, compiling an overall record of 93-52, which included eight postseason berths and three seasons with double-digit win totals. However, the Rams have missed out on the playoffs in four of the last five seasons and have not recorded a win in the postseason since 2009. Now it's time for Wade Lawson, a 2005 graduate of Joaquin, to begin putting his stamp on the program. Time well tell if a youthful first-time head coach will be just what Joaquin needs to begin challenging for district championships once again.
5. Beckville Bearcats
- Coach: Lance Gamble
- 2014 finish: 5-4
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Jacari Reed, Sr., 5-9, 185
- WR Braden Wise, Sr., 5-10, 165
- DL Preston Ellis, Sr., 6-0, 190
- LB Jase Dixon, Jr., 5-10, 170
- RB Ethan Harris, Soph., 5-11, 165
- OL Robert Baker, Jr., 6-0, 230
- DL Cameron Ross, Sr., 6-2, 225
- K/P Garret Hope, Sr., 5-11, 165
Offense: Beckville made a few strides in its first season under head coach Lance Gamble in 2014, but the Bearcats just missed out on the playoffs by finishing fourth in the district. The offense returns seven starters, which is a good thing, because Beckville averaged just a shade less than 30 points per game a season ago. Among the key returnees is senior running back Jacardi Reed, who has the potential to be among the top overall offensive weapons in the entire district. Expect the fast and physical runner to step into a much larger role in the offense this fall. Braden Wise is also back following a productive year as a pass-catcher, while sophomore Ethan Harris will help ease the burden off Reed by getting his fair share of carries out of the backfield. The coaching staff is also high on junior lineman Robert Baker, who is expected to anchor the Bearcats' big bodies up front.
Defense: Beckville had its difficulties slowing down the opposition last season, allowing more than 36 points per game. During the Bearcats' critical three-game losing streak in district play, they gave up right about 55 per game. So obviously, there is work to be done on that side of the ball moving forward. Beckville brings back seven defensive starters from 2014, so there should be some natural improvement that usually comes from experience. The strength of the unit may be the defensive line, which figures to be led by seniors Preston Ellis and Cameron Ross. Junior linebacker Jase Dixon might be the Bearcats' top overall tackler, and his instincts and ability to cover the entire field sideline-to-sideline could come in handy when opponents have the ball.
2015 outlook: Beckville began the previous decade strong with 21 combined wins in 2000 and 2001, but ever since, the Bearcats have had problems stringing success together. Beckville is on its sixth head coach since 2002, which makes attaining continuity a tricky proposition. However, the Bearcats did show some steady progression in Gamble's first year at the helm, and with the amount of starting experience returning to the fold, the opportunity exists for Beckville to make some serious headway towards resurrecting its program. The biggest test this season will be figuring out how to prevent opposing offenses from finding the end zone with such regularity.
6. Cushing Beakats
- Coach: Bill Jehling
- 2014 finish: 4-6
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Darian Buckley, Sr., 5-10, 185
- DL Tristin Wright, Sr., 6-3, 230
- OL Taylor McBride, Sr., 6-4, 315
- QB Brandon Matlock, Sr., 5-11, 175
- DB Darius Buckley, Sr., 5-10, 185
- DB Mason Reeves, Jr.
- OL Luis Ibarra, Jr.
- FB Isaiah Velasquez, Sr.
Offense: Cushing stormed out of the gate with a 4-0 start to the 2014 season, and its offense was on fire, averaging 43.5 points through the year's first month. But unfortunately for the Bearkats, they could not sustain that momentum, and finished the campaign with six consecutive losses. And as you might expect, the offensive production took a massive nosedive. After putting up 174 points through its first four games, Beckville totaled just 81 the rest of the way for an average of just 13.5 per game. Second-year head coach Bill Jehling is hopeful that with eight returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, the Bearkats can once again get off to a hot start and then carry it on through the rest of the regular season. Senior running back Darian Buckley was off to a fabulous start to the year a season ago, but it was cut short because of injuries. If Buckley can stay healthy and follow up his early-season success of 2014, Cushing's offense might surprise a few folks this fall.
Defense: The Cushing defense suffered a similar breakdown down the stretch last season. After pitching three shutout in their first four games, the Bearkats began to cave defensively. Following the 4-0 start, Cushing's defense yielded an average of almost 50 points per game. In district, the Bearkats were outscored by a score of 262-60, which could not have left a very good taste in the mouths of anyone on the Cushing defense. The Bearkats welcome back six defensive staters, including standout defensive lineman Tristin Wright, who could once again be a big factor this season. The back end of Cushing's defense has a chance to be solid as well with the return of defensive backs Darius Buckley and junior Mason Reeves.
2015 outlook: As good as it was for Cushing during its four-game winning streak to begin last season, it was equally as troubling how the year came to an end. If nothing else, the Bearkats players can look back on last year's struggles to finish and use it as motivation for the 2015 season. All in all, the four wins were the most Cushing had achieved in a season since 2007, so there was at least a few positives Jehling and his staff could build upon in the offseason. Time will tell if we see Cushing begin to take real strides towards becoming a legitimate factor in the playoff chase.