2016 Football Preview: No Easy Games This Go-Around In TAPPS Division II, District II
East Texas' major private schools league is a little different this season following TAPPS' realignment last fall. Yet different certainly does not mean weaker for the remaining teams in Division II, District II.
Frisco Legacy Christian bid adieu and was placed into District I of the division while Dallas Shelton was granted a reprieve after two very tough years and placed in Division III with smaller schools.
Two of four local teams defeated both squads last season, and only one side lost both of its games against the departing duo.
Meanwhile, TAPPS opted to throw Cedar Hill Trinity Christian into the mix. Trinity Christian only reached the Division III state championship game last season.
It looks like things are getting tougher at the top.
At the very top for years, however, has stood Dallas Christian. Is this the year a local team finally upends the four-time and reigning league champion?
Based on last season, Tyler Grace Community would seem the most likely of culprits. It shocked District II last year with a young and explosive offensive attack only Dallas Christian was able to get around -- by two points.
Bishop Gorman suffered the worst losses in experience, but it also retained a valuable piece in receiver Judah Bell. Are the Crusaders in or out?
Bullard Brook Hill had a very disappointing 2015 campaign and missed the playoffs for the first time since its first year of football in 2005. Will the Guard get back on track?
Can new head coach Drew Starnes change Tyler All Saints' fortunes immediately?
ETSN.fm's preseason TAPPS Division II, District II picks are just a scroll away.
TAPPS Division II, District II Preview
- Parker Ary, WR/DB, Sr., Grace
- Judah Bell, WR, Sr., Bishop Gorman (committed to Navy)
- Garrett Cody, QB, Jr., Dallas Christian
- Sean Riley Cunningham, LB/WR, Sr., Bishop Gorman
- Jace Evans, RB/DB, Sr., All Saints
- Parker Galbraith, WR, Sr., Brook Hill
- Max Huff, OL, Jr., Prince of Peace
- Hayden Mark, OL, Sr., Prince of Peace
- Reed Navara, LB/WR, Sr., Bishop Gorman
- Kris McCune, RB/DB, Sr., Dallas Christian (committed to Oklahoma State)
- Jordon McGowen, RB/LB, Sr., Brook Hill
- Palmer Nix, LB/RB, Jr., Dallas Christian
- Brooks Parham, RB/LB, Sr., Brook Hill
- Dylan Riley, DL/TE, Sr., Trinity Christian
- Josh Spitzer, LB/RB, Sr., Grace
- Smith Vickery, OL, Sr., All Saints
- Christopher Wilhelmi, QB, Sr., Grace
- Sept. 23 -- Dallas Christian at Grace
- Sept. 30 -- All Saints at Dallas Christian
- Oct. 7 -- Brook Hill at Bishop Gorman
- Oct. 14 -- Bishop Gorman at Dallas Christian
- Oct. 21 -- Dallas Christian at Brook Hill
- Oct. 21 -- Trinity Christian at Bishop Gorman
- Oct. 28 -- Bishop Gorman at Grace
- Oct. 28 -- Prince of Peace at All Saints
- Nov. 4 -- Brook Hill at Grace
- Nov. 4 -- Bishop Gorman at All Saints
1. Dallas Christian Chargers
Coach: Mike Wheeler
2015 finish: 12-2 (TAPPS Division II state finalist)
Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/DB Kris McCune, Sr., 6-2, 195 (600 yards, 53 tackles, 3 INTs)
- RB/LB Palmer Nix, Jr., 6-0, 215 (100 tackles)
- QB Garrett Cody, Jr., 5-11, 180 (1,639 yards, 22 TDs)
- RB/DB Jaire Moore, Sr., 5-11, 187 (1,241 yards, 15 TDs)
- RB/LB Reggie Peck, Jr., 6-0, 220
2016 outlook: Dallas Christian has had its way in districts involving East Texas teams for four straight seasons and returns 11 starters from a team that reach last season's Division II state championship game. In fact, some of its players also were parts of a second state runner-up team in 2014.
The 2016 team features a loaded backfield. Junior quarterback Garrett Cody leads the charge for a second consecutive year on the heels of a 1,600-yard, 22-touchdown sophomore campaign. Jaire Moore rushed for 1,241 and 15 scores last season.
Kris McCune, an Oklahoma State commitment who was part of Brook Hill's team two years ago, might be Dallas Christian's most valuable player. He made three interceptions and 53 stops on defense to 600 yards on offense as an auxiliary back. At 220 pounds, Reggie Peck is another physical back that will be a size mismatch for most of the other District II teams.
Dallas Christian will split its four games against local teams right down the middle. It hosts All Saints and Bishop Gorman while facing Tyler Grace and Brook Hill on the road.
2. Tyler Grace Community Cougars
Coach: Mike Maddox
2015 finish: 10-2 (TAPPS Division II state quarterfinalist)
Returning starters: 9 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Christopher Wilhelmi, Sr., 5-10, 155 (2,260 passing yards, 1,300 rushing yards, 30 total TDs)
- WR/DB Parker Ary, Sr., 6-0, 160 (40 catches, 510 yards)
- LB/RB Josh Spitzer, Sr., 6-0, 200
- DL Ndukwe Uduma, Sr., 6-0, 220 (56 tackles)
- OL Ronnie Baker, Sr., 6-1, 250
Offense: As a unit, Grace's offense is the absolute strength of the team. Nine players return from a 2015 squad that finished second in the league behind Dallas Christian and reached the second round of TAPPS Division II's four-round circuit.
The group effectively started the season earlier this summer with a semifinals appearance in the TAPPS State 7-on-7 Tournament and then won the overall state's 7-on-7 tournament's consolation bracket.
Christopher Wilhelmi was a very pleasant surprise at quarterback last season after succeeding another dual-threat. He threw for 2,260 yards and ran for 1,300 yards en route to 30 total touchdowns. A handful of academically elite colleges have taken notice, so Wilhelmi's senior season is definitely a big one personally.
Parker Ary, who had his numbers brought down by a deep receiving corps last year, should be a big target for Wilhelmi as a senior. Grace's offensive line also is intact and should be capable of creating holes for Wilhelmi as well as a handful of bigger utility backs.
Defense: Grace's defense is the X-factor between a competitive season and a truly great one. Eight new players will supplement three returning starters from a unit that averaged about 15 points against through its 12 games.
Fortunately, two heavy hitters are back.
Defensive tackle Ndukwe Uduma is back after generating 58 tackles as a junior. That's a huge number for someone primarily responsible for plugging running lanes and collapsing the interior of the offensive line as a pass rusher.
Josh Spitzer returns at linebacker. He's a 6-foot, 200-pound senior that has contested well against other big players around the district. Spitzer also will be an offensive utility.
Parker Ary gives Grace some experience in the secondary.
2016 outlook: Defense wins championships, but offense wins a lot of games.
The Cougars have an offensive unit that just might be the best in the district, and TAPPS football games very often develop into shootouts.
Grace scored 28 points or more in 10 of its 12 games last season. The only two times it failed to hit the mark, it lost the games. The experience factor should go a long way and make the squad very tough.
But, if Grace wants to compete for the state championship, the defense will need to mature quickly. Pre-district games against solid Canton, Malakoff and Waskom teams should help.
3. Cedar Hill Trinity Christian
Coach: Chris Wesley
2015 finish: 10-4 (TAPPS Division III state finalist)
Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- DL/TE Dylan Riley, Sr., 6-2, 205 (125 tackles, 28 TFL, 13 sacks)
- OL/DL Derrick Johnson, 6-2, 296
- OL/DL Cameron Belk, Sr., 6-2, 300
- WR/DB Trenton Chambers, Sr., 5-11, 165
- OL/DL Adonnis Butler, Sr., 6-3, 230
2015 outlook: Trinity Christian made a great run to the TAPPS Division III championship game last year before falling to Shiner St. Paul by a field goal in a shootout, but can it make a similar run after realignment into Division II?
One thing is for sure. Trinity Christian will have great match ups against the district's six other teams in the trenches. Linemen Derrick Johnson and Cameron Belk are both around 300 pounds and will play both ways.
Dylan Riley is another bright spot as a returner with 41 tackles for negative yardage and 125 tackles in total.
However, District II is an offensive league. Trinity Christian doesn't have much experience at its skill positions.
All that said, 11 players started in last season's Division III title game. That's not a bad place to start a run in Division II.
4. Bullard Brook Hill Guard
Coach: Scott Ryle
2016 finish: 4-6
Returning starters: N/A
Players to watch
- RB/LB Jordon McGowen, Sr., 6-0, 210
- LB/RB Brooks Parham, Sr., 6-0, 200
- WR/DB Parker Galbraith, Sr., 6-1, 182
- OL/DL Joseph Ardi, Sr., 6-0, 220
- QB Hood Taylor, Jr., 5-11, 175
Offense: The Guard's offense should be more evenly distributed in 2016 with the loss of former receiver Seth Brasher to Louisiana Tech baseball. Eureka (Calif.) St. Bernard's head coach Matthew Tomlin called Brasher the best receiver his team had ever faced minutes after a surprising 43-40, bi-state win at Brook Hill last season.
As a senior, Brasher caught for 1,288 yards in just 10 games. Off a torn ACL as a junior.
Brook Hill has the athletes though and possibly an upgrade at quarterback in junior Hood Taylor, a Bullard transfer.
This also could be a big season for running back Jordon McGowen. He already owns a Division II scholarship opportunity from Northeastern State in Oklahoma and is an imposing back.
Parker Galbraith and Brooks Parham have similar size to McGowen at the receiver spots and could be dynamic pair.
Win or lose, the Guard has a long history of explosive offenses. Its best players should benefit from the system.
Defense: Brook Hill struggled defensively through a grueling non-district schedule highlighted by Tenaha and Alto last season. Then, it drew the top half of District II in its first four games and dropped three of them before settling in.
The Guard do have athletes on the defensive side of the ball. Jordon McGowen and Brooks Parham at linebacker plus Parker Galbraith in the secondary is a nice place to start the 2016 campaign.
2016 outlook: The Guard program has been the local private school standard. It reached the playoffs every year from 2006 to 2014 and only started in 2005.
New head coach Scott Ryle has been tasked with starting another playoff streak after four successful seasons at North Cobb Christian in Georgia. He additionally got two years of Texas experience as an assistant at Fort Worth Southwest Christian earlier in the decade.
Ryle has promised an aggressive team, particularly on special teams, and starts the season with an athletic group.
5. Tyler Bishop Gorman Crusaders
Coach: Coby Gipson
2014 finish: 8-3 (TAPPS Division II bi-district finalist)
Returning starters: 2 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB Judah Bell, Sr., 6-3, 180 (68 catches, 1,350 yards, 16 TDs)
- LB/WR Reed Navara, Sr., 6-0, 190 (79 tackles, 8 TFL)
- LB/WR Sean Riley Cunningham, Sr., 5-11, 185
- WR Hunter Pilgrim, Sr., 5-9, 157
- WR/LB Daniel Schmitt, Jr., 6-3, 200
Offense: Bishop Gorman has been the district's premiere offensive team the past two seasons, but it will only enjoy two returning starters this season.
Fortunately, one of those is Judah Bell. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound receiver owns 13 Division I FBS offers following a 1,350-yard junior campaign and is considered one of the two best prospects within District II ahead of the season.
Losing quarterback Michael Goodwin is a tough pill to swallow, though.
Goodwin threw for more than 2,000 yards and ran for at least 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. He was offered a preferred walk-on spot with Tulsa before accepting an invitation to play college ball at Trinity.
Offensive experience at large is the biggest question Gorman faces. Nine newcomers will be tested by White Oak and Waskom in non-district play before facing Carrollton Prince of Peace on opening night of the league schedule.
Defense: The Crusaders' most productive returning starters stand at linebacker and defensive back. That's a great place for them to be, considering the offensive nature of District II.
Linebacker Reed Navara recorded 78 tackles last season, and eight takedowns were for negative yardage. Sean Riley Cunningham scored 77 tackles and seven tackles for loss.
Like on the offensive side on the ball, the Crusaders are short on defensive experience. Seven new faces will be in the lineup.
2016 outlook: Have we mentioned experience questions? Gorman returns six of 22 starters from last season's playoff team, and the most dynamic player from the squad is now a college player.
Incidentally, Grace drew the fifth spot last year with similar experience issues. Grace finished the 2015 season as East Texas' best private school team by a considerable margin.
Games against Brook Hill, Grace and Trinity Christian are the big ones for the Crusaders.
6. Carrollton Prince of Peace Eagles
Coach: Larry Thexton
2015 finish: 4-6
Returning starters: 9 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- OL/DL Max Huff, Sr., 6-9, 275
- OL/DL Hayden Mark, Sr., 6-3, 270
- FB Parker Strong, Jr., 5-10, 205
- QB/DB Jackson Garrett, Jr., 5-10, 175
2016 outlook: Prince of Peace returns a district-best 17 players from last season's team and showed signs of improvement.
Unfortunately, this district is tougher than it was the two prior years. Dallas Shelton, a historically low-performing team, accounted for one of the program's two District II victories last year was removed. Shelton was replaced by Trinity Christian, which was a power in Division III last season.
Prince of Peace should have advantages on the offensive and defensive lines with Max Huff and Hayden Mark. Huff, at 6-foot-9 and 275 pounds, is the tallest player in the district.
Defense is the biggest key to a successful season. The unit gave up 38 or more points five times last season.
7. Tyler All Saints Trojans
Coach: Drew Starnes
2015 record: 2-8
Returning starters: 6 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/DB Jace Evans, Sr., 5-10, 184 (580 yards, 8 TDs)
- OL/DL Smith Vickery, Sr., 5-10, 285
- WR/DB Dalton Hayes, Sr., 6-2, 170 (30 catches, 492 yards)
- RB/DB Nathan Jasper, Sr., 6-2, 185
Offense: All Saints returns half of last year's starters, and most are at skill positions. Running back Jace Evans and receiver Dalton Hayes should lead the charge under new head coach Drew Starnes.
The Trojans need to improve offensively within the league. They never scored more than 21 points last season against district competition on the way to an 0-7 record.
Defense: The real strength of the Trojans team is on the defensive side.
All Saints' defense was respectable last season and returns nearly intact off of averaging 40 points against per game -- skewed by a 70-0 loss to Dallas Christian and 51-0 loss to Grace. In fairer fights against other teams hoping to make the playoffs, the team averaged 32 points against.
2016 Outlook: Drew Starnes inherited the program from Mike Hall earlier this spring. Starnes spent the past three seasons as a co-offensive coordinator at Bullard High School and might be able to give All Saints' offense a little more bite.
Starnes and company will be going for the Trojans' first playoff appearance since 2011.