2016 Football Preview: Alto Seeks to Continue District Dominance in 11-2A Division I
Ever since Alto dropped to the state's smallest 11-man classification, the Yellowjackets have had a stranglehold on their district competition.
In head coach Paul Gould's three seasons in charge, Alto sports a 31-6 overall record.
The 'Jackets once again appear to be in good position to lay claim to another district title, but stiff challenges from the likes of San Augustine, Shelbyville, and Joaquin can be expected.
District 11-2A Division I Preview
- WR/DB Mikkah Hackett, Sr., Alto
- OL/DL Ra'Dedrick Woodson, Jr., Alto
- RB/LB Nick Pope, Sr., Alto
- RB K.J. Davis, Sr., San Augustine
- LB DeSavion Crane, Sr., San Augustine
- RB/DB Terrell Cartwright, Sr., Shelbyville
- RB/LB Nate Belrose, Sr., Joaquin
- WR/DB Dustin Perry, Sr., Carlisle
- K/P Luis Hernandez, Sr., Carlisle
- QB Austin Davis, Jr., Cushing
- Arp at Alto, Sept. 9
- San Augustine at Shelbyville, Oct. 7
- Alto at San Augustine, Oct. 21
1. Alto Yellowjackets
- Coach: Paul Gould
- 2015 finish: 11-1 (2A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB Mikkah Hackett, Sr., 6-0, 175
- QB/DL Fred Thacker, Soph., 6-2, 230
- RB/LB Jaqualon Finley, Jr., 5-10, 180
- RB/LB Nick Pope, Sr., 5-11, 175
- OL/DLRa'Dedrick Woodson, Jr., 5-9, 265
- OL/DL Steven Soto, Jr., 6-0, 270
- WR/DB Jayren Whitaker, Jr., 6-2, 170
- WR/LB Jaquenton Moore, Jr., 6-7, 200
Offense: It won't be easy to replace the production former QB and Tulsa signee Keenen Johnson provided the Alto offense the previous two seasons. Johnson put together back-to-back 2,000-yard rushing seasons while piloting Alto to consecutive 11-win seasons. The QB job now belongs to sophomore Fred Thacker, who made headway last season as starting defensive end. Thacker is much bigger in stature than his predecessor, and should be able to handle the constant pounding he'll take as a primary ball carrier. His size should help wear down opposing defenses as well. Jaqualon Finley and Nick Pope are expected to split reps at running back, while the receiving corps appears to be in good hands with the return of Mikkah Hackett, along with the promising juniors Jayren Whitaker and Jaquenton Moore.
Defense: Hackett doubles as a ferocious defender, evidenced by his 11 sacks and four interceptions a senior ago. While listed as a defensive back, expect Hackett to play more of a hybrid LB/DB position in 2016. Junior defensive lineman Ra'Dedrick Woodson enjoyed breakout success a season ago by making 33 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including a half-dozen sacks. With the graduation of five defensive starters, Alto coach Paul Gould will need a few newcomers to fill the gaps once the season gets going. Finley and Pope, when not running the ball on the offensive end, can be counted on to punish opposing rushers from their linebacker position.
Outlook: Alto was surprisingly eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last season by an upstart Beckville team, but now that the Bearcats have moved up to Class 3A, a path has been cleared for the Yellowjackets to push beyond their accomplishments from 2015. There might be a few bumps along the way early in the season with tough opponents like Winona, Arp, and Garrison, especially with the change at quarterback, but the 'Jackets should be in good shape once district play rolls around.
2. San Augustine Wolves
- Coach: Marty Murr
- 2015 finish: 6-6 (2A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB QuenTyvian Borders, Jr., 6-2, 180
- LB DeSavion Crane, Sr., 5-11, 230
- ATH Quay Johnson, Jr., 5-5, 165
- QB Gavin Murr, Jr., 5-11, 175
- OL/DL Tanner Rodriguez, Sr., 6-4, 245
- OL/LB Aaron Smith, Sr.
- RB K.J. Davis, Sr., 5-9, 185
- ATH Christian Lovell, Sr.
Offense: San Augustine lost as many games as it won in 2015, and inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball played a big role in that. The Wolves averaged just a shade more than 24 points per game, and in their six defeats, managed only 13 per game. Second-year head coach Marty Murr is hoping that with seven returning starters, including several impact performers, the Wolves will be much better suited to score points this season. Gavin Murr should be in line for a breakthrough campaign after getting his feet wet leading the offense at quarterback as a sophomore. He'll be joined by receiver QuenTyvian Borders, and a host of other difference makers at the skill positions like Quay Johnson, K.J. Davis, and Christian Lovell.
Defense: Coach Murr is counting on improvement with his defenders as the Wolves bring back five quality starters on that side of the ball. San Augustine's biggest weapon on defense is senior linebacker DeSavion Crane, who the eclipsed the 100-tackle plateau and finished with 18 tackles for loss in 2015. But Crane will need plenty of help around him. If San Augustine can find enough consistent performers on defense, 2016 could be an exceptional year for the Wolves.
Outlook: Almost everyone anticipates better results for the San Augustine offense moving forward, and with a handful of seasoned veterans returning on the defensive side, the Wolves are confident they could challenge the likes of Alto and Shelbyville for district supremacy.
3. Shelbyville Dragons
- Coach: Jason Ferguson
- 2015 finish: 12-1 (2A Division I quarterfinalist)
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/DB Terrell Cartwright, Sr., 5-11, 157
- RB/LB Trace Brittain, Sr., 5-11, 176
- OL/DL Logan Jefferson, Jr., 5-6, 190
- DB Malik Cartwright, Sr., 5-9, 170
- OL Kewon McCowin, Jr., 5-11, 240
- ATH C.J. Kirkwood, Jr., 5-11, 160
- TE/DL Kyle Tindol, Jr., 5-8, 160
- OL Logan Vickers, Sr., 6-0, 230
Offense: Shelbyville set a school record with 12 wins in 2015, but the Dragons must find a replacement for the production all-state running back Octavian Burrell delivered last season. Burrell rumbled for almost 3,000 yards on the ground as a senior in helping Shelbyville reach the state quarterfinals. Needless to say, third-year head coach Jason Ferguson has his work cut out. The offensive cupboard isn't completely bare, however, with the return of a handful of potential playmakers in Terrell Cartwright, Trace Brittain, and C.J. Kirkwood. Junior offensive lineman Kewon McCowin, one of the district's top run blockers, returns as well.
Defense: The Dragons' defense was largely overlooked last season as the Shelbyville offense grabbed most of the headlines by averaging almost 45 points per game. More than half of Shelbyville's starting defenders return in 2016, so don't expect a significant drop-off in the defense's level of play. Terrell Cartwright and Malik Cartwright, a pair of instinctual and physical defensive backs, will set the tone for the Dragons' "D."
Outlook: Shelbyville delivered unprecedented success a season ago, and with its biggest star now at the college ranks, no one is quite sure what to expect for an encore. It could go one of two ways for the Dragons this year. Either Shelbyville will let the weight of the newfound high expectations get the best of it, or the players will use last year's success to spur the team forward to new heights. Time will tell.
4. Joaquin Rams
- Coach: Wade Lawson
- 2015 finish: 5-5
- Returning starters: 9 offensive, 10 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/LB Nate Belrose, Sr., 5-10, 185
- RB/LB Hunter Harper, Sr., 5-10, 193
- OL/DL Rustin Miller, Sr., 6-1, 284
- OL/LB Reagan Hovey, Sr., 5-11, 190
- TE/LB Brock Lawson, Sr., 5-11, 172
- RB/LB Jakendric Smith, Sr., 5-9, 150
- RB/DB Peyton Martinez, Sr., 5-7, 156
- OL/DL Hayden Jergins, Sr., 6-3, 250
Offense: If one thing is certain, Joaquin won't be inexperienced on either side of the ball -- especially on offense where the Rams bring back all but two starters from 2015's squad. Last season, Joaquin averaged a little more than 30 points per game. And with the amount of seasoned veterans returning, expect those numbers to go up this fall. Running the football is what the Rams do best, and they'll have plenty of horses to do it with -- mainly the combination of seniors Nate Belrose and Hunter Harper. But expect to see seniors Jakendric Smith and Peyton Martinez get involved in the running game as well. The Joaquin offensive line can also be considered a strength with Rustin Miller, Reagan Hovey, and Hayden Jergins leading the way.
Defense: There might even be less of a learning curve on defense as Joaquin returns 10 defenders with starting experience. However, the Rams struggled containing opposing offenses in 2015, allowing teams to average more than 31 points per game. Belrose, Harper, and Smith each double as sure-tackling linebackers, while Martinez and Brock Lawson can be expected to pitch in as well. If the defensive side of the ball can see marked improvement this season, Joaquin could make real strides toward competing for the district championship.
Outlook: If there is one thing to be said about Joaquin in the last couple of seasons, the Rams have been extremely consistent. Second-year head coach Wade Lawson is hopeful his team can turn the corner following three consecutive 5-5 campaigns. With a total of 19 starters coming back, Joaquin's fate rests on the players being able to take their game to the next level.
5. Carlisle Indians
- Coach: Rocky Baker
- 2015 finish: 10-2 (2A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 2 offensive, 1 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB Dustin Perry, Sr., 5-7, 140
- ATH Jose Servin, Sr., 5-11, 180
- K/P Luis Hernandez, Sr., 5-8, 155
- WR/DB Zane Navarro, Sr., 5-9, 155
- OL Tanner Martin, Sr., 6-2, 215
- RB/LB Mason Pendleton, Jr., 5-10, 180
- OL/DL Cody Taylor, Sr., 6-3, 200
- RB/LB Luis Adame, Sr., 5-10, 170
Offense: Longtime head coach Rocky Baker has some overhauling to do as Carlisle brings back a total of just three starters off last year's 10-win team, including two on the offensive side of the ball. Luckily, there are a few newcomers the Indians feel comfortable with moving forward. Senior receiver Dustin Perry is one of the holdovers from 2015, and his ability to work in space gives Carlisle an excellent weapon in the passing game. Hoping to pick up the slack created by graduation are running backs Mason Pendleton and Luis Adame, and receiver Zane Navarro.
Defense: There is even more work to be done on defense with Carlisle replacing 10 of its 11 starting defenders from a season ago. The Indians have prided themselves on defense in past years, and Coach Baker and his staff will no doubt follow a familiar formula in finding new playmakers. Carlisle may have to rely on several players going both ways, which means a lot of defensive reps for Perry, Navvaro, Pendleton, and Adame. Senior lineman Cody Taylor is another Carlisle defender that can be considered an X-factor.
Outlook: It might be difficult to replicate Carlisle's performance the last two seasons, which include a 20-5 combined record. Although coaches tend to shy away from the term "rebuilding," that might be an apt description for the Indians' 2016 season. With so little experience, and an abundance of seasoning and talent in the rest of the district, Carlisle will have to scratch and claw to earn a playoff spot this year.
6. Cushing Bearkats
- Coach: Thomas Emerson
- 2015 finish: 3-7
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Austin Davis, Jr., 6-2, 180
- RB Mason Reeves, Sr., 5-8, 170
- LB Brayden Arnold, Sr., 5-8, 160
- TE DiAngelo Blakemore, Jr., 6-1, 205
- OL Luis Ibarra, Sr., 6-0, 230
- WR Jake Baxter, Sr., 6-0, 155
- ATH Logan Hensley, Jr., 5-10, 175
- RB Jordan Townsend, Jr., 5-10, 182
Offense: Cushing entered district play last season on the heels of a three-game winning streak. Five weeks later, the Bearkats had finished a winless campaign in league play, and a lack of offense was the biggest culprit. Cushing put up 30 points per game in its three non-district wins, but averaged just 11.8 the rest of the way. In order to change all of that, second-year head coach Thomas Emerson will need each of his four returning offensive starters to outperform their 2015 seasons. And the Bearkats must also receive big contributions from their newcomers.
Defense: The five-game losing streak to end last season was also in part due to a a defense that had difficulty slowing opposing offenses. In district contests, Cushing surrendered an average of 43.6 points per game. Coach Emerson also has just four defenders back with starting experience, so finding improvement on that side of the ball might be an uphill battle.
Outlook: It's been almost 20 years since Cushing had a team qualify for the playoffs, and with a lack of experience in 2016 coupled with the talented district counterparts, it could once again be tough sledding for the Bearkats.