2017 Football Preview: District 9-3A D-II As Deep As It Gets
District 9-3A Division II is a microcosm of Region III at large -- very deep and very talented.
This district is home to two major Division I commits -- Arp's DeMarvion Overshown (Texas) and West Rusk's Tyree Wilson (Texas A&M).
The league has also produced the last four regional champs -- Waskom from 2013-15 and Arp in 2016.
West Rusk, Elysian Fields, Arp, and Waskom were the four teams that qualified for last year's playoffs, but Beckville was beating down the door with its six-win regular season.
So are we in for more of the same in 2017? Scroll down for our district predictions.
District 9-3A Division II Preview
- OL Jade Ashalintubbi, Jr., Elysian Fields
- LB Ben Bridges, Sr., Beckville
- QB Ty Carter, Sr., Waskom
- RB/DB Jaylon Garland, Jr., West Rusk
- RB/DB T.K. Hamilton, Jr., Waskom
- QB/DB LaJavius Harper, Jr., West Rusk
- OL/DL Blake Hays, Jr., Arp
- OL/DL Malik Johnson, Sr., Elysian Fields
- RB/LB Nathan Johnson, Sr., Elysian Fields
- QB Trey Lindsay, Sr., Beckville
- RB/LB Ramiro Martinez, Sr., Troup
- OL/DL Austyn Oney, Sr., Harleton
- WR/DB DeMarvion Overshown, Sr., Arp
- OL/DL Shane Thomas, Sr., Troup
- RB/LB Demontrae Wade, Sr., Arp
- RB/LB Hunter Wallace, Soph., Harleton
- DL/LB Tyree Wilson, Sr., West Rusk
- Sept. 1 -- Tatum at Arp
- Oct. 6 -- Elysian Fields at Arp
- Oct. 20 -- Beckville at Waskom
- Oct. 20 -- West Rusk at Arp
- Nov. 3 -- West Rusk at Elysian Fields
1. West Rusk Raiders
- Coach: John Frazier
- 2016 finish: 7-4 (3A Division II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- DL/LB Tyree Wilson, Sr., 6-5, 235 (68 tackles, 17 for loss, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries; committed to Texas A&M)
- RB/DB Jaylon Garland, Jr., 5-8, 167 (95 carries, 1,252 yards, 16 TDs; 27 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBUs, 2 forced fumbles)
- QB/DB LaJavius Harper, Jr., 5-8, 145 (95 of 157, 1,520 yards, 15 TDs, 9 INTs; 57 carries, 516 yards, 6 TDs; 21 tackles, 2 INTs, 6 PBUs, 1 forced fumble)
- WR/DB DJ Hart, Jr., 6-0, 180 (10 catches, 284 yards, 3 TDs; 15 carries, 133 yards, 3 TDs; 38 tackles, 1 INT, 4 PBUs, 1 fumble recovery)
- OL/LB Diego Molina, Jr., 5-11, 180 (97 tackles, 7 for loss, 1 sack, 5 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries)
- TE/DL Darius Richardson, Jr., 6-3, 268 (28 tackles, 6 for loss, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovery)
- DL Darrien Johnson, Sr., 5-10, 191 (30 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 forced fumble)
- WR/DB Levi Hughes, Sr., 5-10, 170 (18 catches, 249 yards, 1 TD; 56 tackles, 2 PBUs)
Offense: There's a lot to like about West Rusk's offense in 2017. Not only do the Raiders return eight offensive starters, most of them had starring roles last season.
Leading the way is quarterback LaJavius Harper, who emerged as a true dual-threat option behind center as a sophomore a year ago. Add running back Jaylon Garland, a 1,200-yard rusher, and receivers DJ Hart and Levi Hughes, and West Rusk has the potential to be explosive.
The Raiders averaged 36 points per game in 2016, and that number could on the rise moving forward with so much experienced talent coming back.
Defense: Just like the offense, West Rusk's defense returns eight starters. And none of them more dynamic than senior defensive lineman/linebacker Tyree Wilson.
Last season, Wilson, a Texas A&M pledge, did a little bit of everything. He made 17 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including four sacks, forced a pair of fumbles, and even came away with an interception.
Wilson will be joined with seasoned defensive playmakers like Garland, Hart, Diego Molina, Darius Richardson, and Darrien Johnson.
West Rusk should be more than capable of bringing down its opponents' scoring average of 26.2 points per game from a season ago.
2017 outlook: Elysian Fields and Arp each finished ahead of West Rusk in the district standings last season, but graduation has affected them at a higher rate than the Raiders.
West Rusk has the pieces necessary for a district championship, but it will come down to road games at Arp and EF when league plays rolls around.
It is vitally important to finish in the top two in 9-3A to avoid a potential first-round playoff matchup against either Newton or Crockett, who are both primed for long playoff runs this season.
2. Elysian Fields Yellowjackets
- Coach: Scott Ford
- 2016 finish: 12-1 (3A Division II regional semifinalist)
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- OL Jade Ashalintubbi, Jr., 6-6, 315
- OL/DL Malik Johnson, Sr., 6-4, 275
- RB/LB Nathan Johnson, Sr., 5-11, 200 (92 carries, 778 yards, 12 TDs; 5 catches, 44 yards)
- RB/DB Christavian Smith, Soph., 5-9, 160 (112 carries, 805 yards, 13 TDs; 5 catches, 73 yards; 20 tackles, 1 forced fumble)
- WR/DB Cole Myers, Sr., 6-2, 165 (6 catches, 69 yards, 2 TDs; 40 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 fumble recovery)
- LB Stone Crisp, Sr., 5-8, 165 (124 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery)
- LB Jeb Dickson, Sr., 5-8, 160 (87 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble)
- WR/DB Caleb Mosley, Sr., 6-1, 175 (7 catches, 73 yards; 34 tackles)
Offense: Ordinarily, seven returning starters on offense won't be a cause for immediate concern. But in the case of Elysian Fields, it's more about which players are gone.
Graduation left massive voids at quarterback and receiver.
Logan Hughes, who posted almost 4,500 yards of offense and accounted for 44 touchdowns, was one of the most productive quarterbacks at the 3A level in 2016. Losing Stephen F. Austin signee Dylan Parker, who finished with 1,512 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns, is a big blow as well.
While EF is getting its passing game on track, expect to see quite a bit from the running back tandem of Christavian Smith and Nathan Johnson, who combined to rush for almost 1,600 yards and 25 TD's a season ago.
They'll be running behind one of the biggest offensive lines in 3A, anchored by Jade Ashalintubbi and Malik Johnson.
Defense: Work will need to be on defense, where the 'Jackets are replacing seven starters.
Johnson will likely get reps on the defensive line as well, while the linebacking duo of Slone Crisp and Jeb Dickson gives head coach Scott Ford some semblance of continuity in the middle of his defense.
The Elysian Fields offense received most of the headlines in 2016. But the defensive, however, more than held its own, limiting opponents to a little more than 16 points per game.
2017 outlook: At 12-1, Elysian Fields had its best season of the Coach Ford era, and the program's best run since 2012's team made it to the state semifinals.
Key losses on both offense and defense will make a repeat performance more challenging, but there are certainly enough pieces in place for EF to make a run at a second consecutive district championship.
Back-to-back non-district games against Winona and Jefferson should provide a glimpse of what we can expect from EF once district play begins.
3. Arp Tigers
- Coach: Dale Irwin
- 2016 finish: 12-3 (3A Division II semifinalist)
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 2 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB DeMarvion Overshown, Sr., 6-4, 200 (173 tackles, 7 for loss, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery; committed to Texas)
- RB/LB Demontrae Wade, Sr., 6-0, 206
- OL/DL Blake Hays, Jr., 6-2, 285 (35 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)
- WR/DB Tren Jones, Soph., 6-2, 160
- QB/LB Dakota Shores, Sr., 6-0, 180 (43 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 fumble recovery)
- OL/DL Kennard Williams, Sr., 5-8, 215 (20 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 forced fumble)
- QB/LB Logan Shuttlesworth, Jr., 6-0, 170 (16 tackles, 1 INT)
- RB/DB Caleb Wright, Jr., 5-9, 175 (18 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)
Offense: Arp lost six starters from last year's offense that helped carry it to the state semifinals for the first time since 2000, including standout running back and SMU signee Kayce Medlock.
Dale Irwin, who is entering his 15th season as head coach, will need to rely on some new faces if Arp is to make another long playoff run.
Senior running back Demontrae Wade returns after rushing for more than 1,200 yards as a junior, while Blake Hays and Kennard Williams will highlight the offensive line.
Arp will be looking for a new quarterback, and a few new options at receiver. Expect defensive standout DeMarvion Overshown and his younger brother, sophomore Tren Jones, to emerge in the passing game.
Defense: The defense was hit even harder by graduation as only two starters return from last year's unit that held opponents to less than 17 points per game.
Overshown, a Texas commit, is arguably the best defender in all of East Texas, and he'll need a big season as newcomers aim to emerge around him.
He played safety a season ago, but Overshown also has experience playing on the defensive line and at linebacker. His versatility could be vitally important to a young Tigers defense.
2017 outlook: Arp, despite finished second in 9-3A a season ago, turned a lot of heads in the playoffs with back-to-back wins over Crockett and Newton.
The upset win over previously unbeaten Newton in the regional title game made Arp the favorite going into its semifinal against Boling. A disappointing performance on offense ultimately derailed Arp's chances of reaching the state championship game.
There's an expectation that Arp should and will challenge for the district title this season, but some new faces will need to step up by the time league play beings in order for the Tigers to make good on those expectations.
A challenging non-district slate featuring Tatum, Hughes Springs, and Alto should get Arp prepared for the rigors of 9-3A.
4. Waskom Wildcats
- Coach: Whitney Keeling
- 2016 finish: 4-7 (3A Division II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 9 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Ty Carter, Sr., 6-0, 185
- RB T.K. Hamilton, Jr., 5-11, 155
- OL Jack Smith, Sr., 6-3, 325
- RB/LB Chris Stafford, Jr., 5-8, 155
- WR/DB K.T. Ceaser, Sr.
- RB/DB Da'lyn Hill, Jr., 5-8, 155
- OL/DL Isaac Irving, Jr., 6-0, 180
- OL Christian Smith, Sr., 5-11, 299
Offense: No team in the district returns more offensive starters than Waskom, which brings back nine.
The Wildcats are just about set at every position.
Quarterback Ty Carter returns after a solid debut season under center, while running backs T.K. Hamilton, Chris Stafford, and Da'lyn Hill are primed for big seasons after getting their feet wet as sophomores a year ago.
The offensive line is seasoned as well with the return of Jack Smith, Christian Smith, and Isaac Irving.
Defense: Waskom lost a few weapons on the defensive side of the ball, but the five it returns should give head coach Whitney Keeling plenty to work with.
Several Wildcats players go both ways, and Stafford, Hill, and Irving should all have big roles on defense.
Defense wasn't Waskom's strong suit last year as it allowed an average of almost 40 points per game.
2017 outlook: Following back-to-back state championships in 2014 and 2015, there was nowhere for Waskom to go but down last season.
A rough beginning to the year ultimately gave way to the Wildcats coming of age during district play, just in time to keep Waskom's streak of playoff appearances alive at four seasons.
Now, armed with 14 players who have starting experience, Waskom appears ready to get back in the business of district championships and success in the postseason.
5. Beckville Bearcats
- Coach: Mike Bickham
- 2016 finish: 6-4
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 8 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Trey Lindsay, Sr., 6-1, 160
- LB Ben Bridges, Sr., 6-0, 220
- RB/DB Ethan Harris, Sr.
- WR/DB Morey Morrison, Jr., 5-9, 180
- ATH Stephen Darden, Jr., 5-11, 160
- OL/LB Ty Jones, Sr., Sr.
- DL/LB Cooper Morris, Jr., 6-0, 170
- OL/DL CJ Robinson, Jr., 5-11, 253
Offense: When constructing an ideal offense, the quarterback position is a good place to start. And luckily for Beckville, the Bearcats are set in that regard.
Senior Trey Lindsay, in just 10 games, put up monster numbers as a junior. He passed for 2,317 yards and 30 touchdowns, while running for an additional 903 yards and 11 scores.
His play has already earned him a Division I scholarship offer from Houston Baptist.
Six other offensive starters return to a unit that averaged 38.2 points per game in 2016.
Defense: One of the biggest reasons for the Bearcats missing out on the playoffs last season was the play of their defense, especially during district.
Beckville allowed opponents to average almost 40 points per game overall, and in district, the Bearcats yielded an average of 45.7.
Eight defensive starters return, including the linebacking trio of Ben Bridges, Ty Jones, and Cooper Morris.
C.J. Robinson anchors what should be a much-improved defensive line.
2017 outlook: Most six-win regular seasons result in playoff berths, but that's not necessarily the case in stacked districts like 9-3A, as Beckville discovered last season.
As it turned out, a 48-41 loss to Waskom in the third week of district play ultimately kept Beckville out of the playoffs in its first year at the 3A level following an 11-2 season in 2A.
Fortunately for head coach Mike Bickham, most of last year's impact players were around to learn the lesson firsthand. Nothing can be taken for granted in a district as tough as this one.
6. Troup Tigers
- Coach: John Eastman
- 2016 finish: 4-6
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- OL/DL Shane Thomas, Sr., 6-4, 229
- RB/LB Ramiro Martinez, Sr., 5-8, 175
- TE/DL Tristan Clark, Sr., 6-0, 185
- WR Colton Whitsell, Sr., 6-1, 165
- DB Josh Williams, Sr.
- WR/LB Michael Zuniga, Sr.
- QB Weslee Ross, Jr., 6-0, 145
- OL/DL Malik Gilliam, Jr., 6-2, 340
Offense: Troup was inconsistent at best on the offensive side of the ball in 2016, averaging a little more than 23 points per game.
With seven starters on offense returning, those numbers stand to rise this season.
Senior running back Ramiro Martinez is probably Troup's most important player offensively. A good season from him could go a long way in turning things in a positive direction.
Defense: The Tigers' defense had its moments last season, holding teams to respectable scoring average of 28 points per game.
And with only four starters gone from that group, expect an even bigger season for the Troup defense.
Defensive linemen Shane Thomas, Tristan Clark, and Malik Gilliam give the Tigers a distinct size of advantage over most teams.
2017 outlook: It's difficult to know what to expect in the case of Troup. The Tigers do return 14 starters, but it remains to be seen how much of the gap has shrunk between Troup and everyone else in the district.
Troup probably needs to win at least two of its first three district games against Beckville, West Rusk, and Harleton. If not, the Tigers have to deal with Arp, Waskom, and Elysian Fields in consecutive weeks to end the regular season.
7. Harleton Wildcats
- Coach: Terry Ward
- 2016 finish: 2-8
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 3 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/LB Hunter Wallace, Soph., 5-10, 195 (114 carries, 563 yards, 4 TDs; 76 tackles, 8 for loss, 1 forced fumble, 2 recoveries)
- OL/DL Austyn Oney, Sr., 6-3, 270
- ATH Gunnar Smith, Sr., 6-0, 175 (37 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBUs, 1 forced fumble)
- LB Matthew Finklea, Sr.
- QB/DB Garrett Handlin, Jr., 5-9, 150 (43 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 INT, 2 PBUs, 1 forced fumble)
- LB Cagan Slone, Jr.
- DB J.T. Goynes, Sr., 6-0, 160
- DL Justice Grandberry, Sr.
Offense: It was a struggle on the offensive side of the ball for Harleton in 2016, as the Wildcats mustered just a little more than 17 points per game.
Graduation took away seven of those starters, so third-year head coach Terry Ward and his staff have some obvious work to do.
One bright spot last season was Hunter Wallace, a freshman who ended up running for 563 yards and four touchdowns. He'll be a big focal point moving forward.
Defense: It wasn't all bad on defense for the Wildcats. They did allow about 30 points per game, but there were some good performances as well.
Harleton is banking on the experience of Wallace, Gunnar Smith, and Garrett Handlin to pay dividends on that side of the ball this season.
2017 outlook: The transition to Class 3A was a tough one for Harleton last season. After reaching the second round of the playoffs in its final season on the 2A level, the Wildcats fell on hard times.
An eight-game losing streak sandwiched between its only two wins of the year sunk Harleton's chances.
And with just seven total starters coming back, a team mostly comprised of newcomers must come together quickly.