2017 Football Preview: Can Tatum Make Move on 8-4A D-II?
District 8-4A Division II, which Jasper won with ease last season, did feature a pair of redemption stories in 2016.
Tatum, under a new head coach for the first time since 2004, put its surprising winless 2015 season behind it by winning seven games and earning a trip back to the playoffs.
And Rusk, led by another first-year coach, returned to the postseason for the first time sine 2011.
Jasper has 13 starters back from last year's regional semifinalist, while Tatum aims for even more progress in year two under coach Craig Barker.
Rusk figures to be a shoe-in for the playoffs again, leaving Diboll and Huntington to fight it out for the league's final postseason spot.
Our District 8-4A Division II predictions are just a scroll away.
District 8-4A Division II Preview
- LB Dakota Asbury, Sr., Huntington
- OL Drake Centers, Sr., Tatum
- OL/DL Jovanni Concha, Sr., Diboll
- DB Reese Durand, Sr., Jasper
- QB OB Jones, Jr., Tatum
- QB/DB Darrian McDuff, Sr., Rusk
- RB/LB Lucio Monrroy, Sr., Diboll
- RB Paul Reyes, Sr., Huntington
- RB/DB Jerkerion Simmons, Sr., Jasper
- TE Lawrence Smith, Sr., Jasper
- RB/LB Sam Thomas, Sr., Rusk
- RB Cedric White, Sr., Tatum
- Sept. 1 -- Tatum at Arp
- Sept. 8 -- Tatum at Henderson
- Sept. 15 -- Silsbee at Jasper
- Oct. 20 -- Huntington at Diboll
- Oct. 27 -- Jasper at Tatum
1. Jasper Bulldogs
- Coach: Darrell Barbay
- 2016 finish: 10-3 (4A Division II regional semifinalist)
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/DB Jerkerion Simmons, Sr., 5-8, 180
- DB Reese Durand, Sr., 6-1, 175
- TE Lawrence Smith, Sr., 6-4, 210
- OL Ryan Jones, Jr., 6-2, 315
- LB Kolt Thomas, Sr., 5-11, 190
- WR/DB Charlie Burnett, Jr., 5-10, 145
- LB Will Bluitt, Jr., 5-9, 180
- WR/DB Camryn Adams, Jr., 6-2, 162
Offense: Jasper wasn't the most explosive team on offense, but it did more than enough to outscore its opponents by 162 points in 2016.
And with seven returning offensive starters, the Bulldogs have a chance to build on last year's scoring average of 33.8 points per game.
Senior running back Jerkerion Simmons is back after rushing for more than 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns as junior, while a big offensive line anchored by junior Ryan Jones should provide plenty of space.
Jasper coach Darrell Barbay also likes the potential of a couple of his junior receivers, Charlie Burnett and Camryn Adams.
Defense: The defensive side of the ball was a strength for Jasper last season, as the Bulldogs limited opponents to an average of a little more than 21 points per game.
Six starters come back to the defense, including standout senior defensive back Reese Durand, who is the Bulldogs' best and most experienced defender.
Linebackers Kolt Thomas and Will Bluitt should also make the middle of Jasper's defense quite formidable.
2017 outlook: Jasper didn't have much trouble in district a season ago, outscoring its four league competitors by an average score of 46-22.
The 13 total returning starters from 2016's 10-win regional semifinalist squad definitely makes Jasper the favorite again to win 8-4A Division II.
A difficult road ahead in the playoffs await as Region II features heavy hitters like Celina, Gilmer, Pleasant Grove, and Gladewater.
2. Tatum Eagles
- Coach: Craig Barker
- 2016 finish: 7-4 (4A Division II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- OL Drake Centers, Sr., 6-4, 295 (committed to Texas State)
- RB Cedric White, Sr., 5-9, 160 (1,345 rushing yards, 16 TDs)
- QB OB Jones, Jr., 6-2, 178
- OL Bryan Jackson, Sr., 6-3, 280
- WR/DB C.J. Biggs, Sr., 5-8, 150
- DL James Jakubowski, Sr., 6-5, 230
- WR/DB Jachais Jenkins, Jr., 5-9, 175
- FB/LB Jaden Marcott, Sr., 6-2, 204
Offense: The offense for Tatum was a work in progress during the 2016 season. The Eagles finished the year averaging a little more than 28 points per game.
That number is expected to rise on the strength of five returning offensive starters, including 1,300-yard rusher Cedric White and quarterback OB Jones, who showed real potential as a sophomore.
The offensive line should be in good shape as well with seniors Drake Centers (Texas State commit) and Bryan Jackson coming back to lead the way.
Expect C.J. Biggs and Jachais Jenkins, mainly defensive standouts last year, to have much bigger roles in the passing game this season.
Defense: The Eagles' defense performed well at times last season, yielding an average of a respectable 23 points per game.
Tatum also welcomes back five defensive starters from last year's district runner-up, and don't be surprised to see the Eagles' "D" come to the forefront even more in 2017.
Seniors James Jakubowski and Jaden Marcott give Tatum size and strength in the front, while Biggs and Jenkins are playmakers out of the secondary.
2017 outlook: In head coach Craig Barker's first year on the job, he took Tatum from an 0-10 team to a playoff participant.
If the improvement curve is just as sharp going into year two, then the Eagles could get back to winning and winning big at the state level.
There's not a weak opponent on Tatum's non-district schedule. Games against Arp, Henderson, Chapel Hill, Wills Point, and Pittsburg should easily get Tatum ready for an Oct. 27 showdown with Jasper. That game should decide the district title.
3. Rusk Eagles
- Coach: Jowell Hancock
- 2016 finish: 4-7 (4A Division II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 6 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- QB/DB Darrian McDuff, Sr., 6-1, 185
- RB/LB Sam Thomas, Sr., 5-10, 190
- OL/DL Travis Pepin, Sr., 6-2, 275
- OL/DL Jermaine Lewis, Jr., 6-3, 230
- RB Damion Freeney, Sr., 6-0, 170
Offense: Rusk had its moments on the offensive side of the ball last season, as it averaged a little more than 28 points per game.
Six offensive starters return, including the one-two punch of quarterback Darrian McDuff and running back Sam Thomas. If both players can improve upon solid junior campaigns, Rusk's offense could develop into a real force in 2017.
The offensive line is expected to be a strength as well, as senior Travis Pepin returns.
Defense: The Eagles will need to shore things up on the defensive side of the ball after allowing almost 30 points per contest in 2016.
There are also six returning starters on defense, which should make life easier on Rusk's improving offense.
Junior defensive lineman Jermaine Lewis and Thomas, who doubles as a linebacker, will be important players if the Eagles are to show real improvement.
2017 outlook: In head coach Jowell Hancock's first year at Rusk, he led the Eagles back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Couple Rusk's 12 returning starters with Diboll and Huntington combining for four wins overall and one district victory, and it's safe to assume the Eagles will be making it back to the postseason.
Rusk hasn't had a winning season since 2006, so that's something the Eagles can shoot for this fall. But it won't be easy with non-district contests against Center, Malakoff, Crockett, Fairfield, and Alto.
4. Diboll Lumberjacks
- Coach: Blake Morrison
- 2016 finish: 2-9 (4A Division II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/LB Lucio Monrroy, Sr., 5-9, 210
- Ol/DL Jovanni Concha, Sr., 6-1, 285
- RB Ty Hamilton, Sr., 5-11, 180
- WR Jemarcus White, Sr., 6-2, 180
- LB Brady Jordan, Jr., 5-11, 195
- OL Cameron Cheshire, Jr., 6-4, 270
- ATH Jeremiah Settler, Soph., 5-9, 155
- RB/LB Herbert Gums, Soph., 6-2, 215
Offense: It was a struggle for Diboll to score points, as it averaged less than 18 points per game in 2016.
Head coach Blake Morrison is hoping that with eight returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, scoring will be at much less of a premium moving forward.
Big seasons from Ty Hamilton, Jemarcus White, and Jeremiah Settler would go a long way in improving the Lumberjacks' production this season.
Defense: Diboll wasn't horrible on defense last year, but then again it wasn't very good, either. The Lumberjacks surrendered almost 30 points per game to opponents in 2016.
Five starters come back to the defense, including standout lineman Jovanni Concha and linebacker Lucio Monrroy, who both had exceptional individual seasons last year.
2017 outlook: It doesn't take much to reach the playoffs out of a five-team district. In fact, it requires only one win, which is exactly what Diboll achieved last season.
Obviously, the Lumberjacks would like to be more than just a fourth-place finisher in the league this season. Several pieces have to fall in place for Diboll to avoid that scenario in 2017, but experience is a good place to start.
Tough games in non-district against Crockett, Newton, and Center should at least provide Diboll a glimpse of what life in 8-4A Division II will be like.
5. Huntington Red Devils
- Coach: Jim Kerbow
- 2016 finish: 2-8
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- LB Dakota Asbury, Sr., 6-0, 200
- RB Paul Reyes, Sr., 5-10, 175
- OL/DL Jay Ellis, Sr., 6-2, 275
- OL/DL Hunter Poldrack, Jr., 6-1, 245
- LB Preston Loggins, Sr.
- OL/DL Andrew Culpepper, Soph.
- OL/DL Robby Hughes, Jr., 6-0, 240
- WR/DB Tee Lane, Soph., 6-1, 145
Offense: Huntington scored 91 points all last year, which won't and didn't win many football games.
Eight players with starting experience return to the offensive side of the ball, which is at least encouraging.
Senior running back Paul Reyes is probably the unit's most accomplished player, and he'll be running behind a decent offensive line that features Jay Ellis, Hunter Poldrack, Andrew Culpepper, and Robby Hughes.
Defense: Opponents averaged more than 36 points against Huntington last season, so obviously there is work that needs to be done on defense.
The defense also returns eight starters, including standout linebacker Dakota Asbury, who might be one of the district's most underrated defenders.
2017 outlook: Huntington has never made the playoffs in its program's history, but at the same time, it's probably never been an easy to make it as it is in 2017.
The Red Devils simply need one win, which would most likely come against a Diboll team that went 2-9 last season.
Huntington needs to make up a 34-point gap after last year's loss to Diboll, but first-year coach Jim Kerbow believes he has enough quality players coming back to do it.