2017 Football Preview: Jefferson + White Oak Headline 8-3A D-I
There's one game on everyone's mind in District 8-3A Division I, and that's the Nov. 3 clash between Jefferson and White Oak.
Those two met with the district championship on the line last season, and Jefferson came out on top. But both teams feel as though they have something to prove.
White Oak was without its outstanding quarterback Heath Hood, who broke his collarbone the week before, that night.
The Roughnecks want to prove that when healthy the league title still goes through them, while Jefferson is eager to show last year's victory was no fluke.
Meanwhile, Hughes Springs, Redwater, Sabine, and New Boston will jockey for the last two postseason spots.
Scroll down to see how we think the 8-3A Division I race will unfold.
District 8-3A Division I Preview
- LB Stancio Battles, Sr., New Boston
- OL/DL Hunter Brabham, Sr., Hughes Springs
- RB/LB Tra Craver, Sr., Hughes Springs
- RB Peyton Davis, Jr., Redwater
- QB Trey Hodge, Jr., Jefferson
- QB Heath Hood, Sr., White Oak
- WR/DB T.Q. Jackson, Jr., Jefferson
- WR/DB Kason Kienzle, Sr., White Oak
- WR/DB Dee Mitchell, Sr., Jefferson
- RB/LB Eli Morris, Sr., Sabine
- ATH Kyler Murphy, Sr., New Boston
- RB/LB Kobe Renfro, Jr., Sabine
- WR/DL Elijah Trest, Sr., White Oak
- DB Lavaundrick Vaughn, Sr., Redwater
- Aug. 31 -- Daingerfield at Hughes Springs
- Sept. 15 -- Jefferson at Elysian Fields
- Sept. 29 -- Harmony at White Oak
- Oct. 13 -- Redwater at Sabine
- Nov. 3 -- Jefferson at White Oak
1. Jefferson Bulldogs
- Coach: Antwain Jimmerson
- 2016 finish: 9-3 (3A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- WR/DB T.Q. Jackson, Jr., 6-2, 175 (41 catches, 1,099 yards, 11 TDs)
- QB Trey Hodge, Jr., 6-1, 205 (63 of 103, 1,262 yards, 14 TDs, 3 INTs; 59 carries, 416 yards, 6 TDs)
- WR/DB Dee Mitchell, Sr., 6-2, 180 (97 tackles, 6 INTs, 3 PBUs, 1 forced fumble, 3 recoveries, 1 blocked kick)
- LB Jordan Randle, Sr., 5-9, 185 (165 tackles, 11 for loss, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery)
- RB/DL Taylor Smith, Sr., 6-1, 174 (33 carries, 175 yards, 2 TDs; 154 tackles, 27 for loss, 7 sacks, 5 forced fumble, 4 recoveries, 4 PBUs, 2 blocked punts)
- WR/DB Trace Smith, Jr., 6-4, 175 (61 tackles, 10 for loss, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles, 2 recoveries)
- OL/DL Dylan Polver, Jr., 6-3, 278
- RB Tyron Williams, Jr., 5-8, 165 (49 carries, 580 yards, 7 TDs)
Offense: Jefferson turned a few heads on the offensive side of the ball last season, finishing the year with an average of more than 35 points per game.
Fortunately for third-year coach Antwain Jimmerson, most of last year's key contributors were underclassmen, including a pair of sophomores.
The dynamic duo of quarterback Trey Hodge and receiver T.Q. Jackson return to the field in 2017 after torching opposing defenses a season ago.
Hodge only threw for 1,262 yards, but 87 percent of that went to Jackson, who finished with 1,099 yards and 11 touchdowns on only 41 receptions -- an average of a staggering 26.8 yards per catch.
Running back Tyron Williams is also back following a strong sophomore campaign, while an experienced offensive line will be anchored by junior Dylan Polver.
Defense: Jefferson has a little more work to do on defense, which is in need of six new starters.
The Bulldogs were better than average in 2016, limiting teams to just a tad over 21 points per game.
Jefferson will have standouts at all three levels of the unit, with the return of lineman Taylor Smith, linebacker Jordan Randle, and defensive back Dee Mitchell.
2017 outlook: Jefferson won nine games last season for the first time since 2007, and all signs point to even bigger things in the near future.
The Bulldogs' 13 total returning starters are tied for most in the district, and the eight returners on offense are easily the most in 8-3A.
Jefferson took advantage of a short-handed White Oak team at the end of league play last season. Roughnecks quarterback Heath Hood, who led his team to an 8-0 start to the year, injured his collarbone and missed not only the Jefferson game but the remainder of the season.
The Bulldogs defeated White Oak, 35-20, to wrap up the district championship. But with Hood returning this year, Jefferson still might feel as though it has something to prove.
2. White Oak Roughnecks
- Coach: Kris Iske
- 2016 finish: 10-2 (3A Division I area finalist)
- Returning starters: 6 offensive, 4 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Heath Hood, Sr., 5-11, 175 (193 of 321, 2,990 yards, 32 TDs; 118 carries, 657 yards, 13 TDs)
- WR/DL Elijah Trest, Sr., 6-2, 190 (101 tackles, 24 for loss, 12 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery, 1 PBU)
- WR/DB Kason Kienzle, Sr., 5-10, 150
- WR/DB Colby Siegley, Sr., 5-11, 168
- DL Zach Maly, Sr., 5-8, 200
- OL/DL Johnny Kelley, Jr., 6-2, 200
- WR/LB Jacob Young, Jr., 5-7, 160
- OL/DL Kyle Berry, Sr., 5-11, 235
Offense: Through the first eight games of last season, it appeared there was no stopping the White Oak offense. The Roughnecks' 8-0 start was keyed by an offense that was averaging 50.4 points per game.
However, in the four games following junior quarterback Heath Hood's season-ending collarbone injury, White Oak's offense took a step back. The 'Necks managed 33.3 per contest.
Hood and five other starters return to the White Oak offense this season, which should be cause for celebration among Roughnecks fans and dread for everyone else in the district.
White Oak did lose its top two receivers -- Brandon Cook and Max Kutch -- from last year's team, so expect to see increased roles for seniors Kason Kienzle, Elijah Trest, and Colby Siegley.
Defense: The defense was definitely a strong suit for White Oak a season ago, as it yielded less than 20 points per game on average.
However, fourth-year head coach Kris Iske must replace seven defensive starters lost to graduation.
One spot he doesn't have to worry as much about is defensive end where Trest, who racked up 12 sacks as a junior, returns for his senior season.
The rest of the group might be a work in progress.
2017 outlook: White Oak has turned into one of East Texas' elite 3A programs in recent years. Since 2012, the Roughnecks have posted a cumulative record of 49-14, and been at least three rounds deep in the playoffs twice.
Iske has produced back-to-back 10-win seasons, something the White Oak program hasn't accomplished since 1970-71.
All of East Texas would've wanted to see White Oak meet Jefferson at full strength last season, but we might get our chance this time around. No matter which team comes on top Nov. 3, both should be serious players once the postseason begins.
3. Hughes Springs Mustangs
- Coach: Chris Edwards
- 2016 finish: 4-6
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- OL/DL Hunter Brabham, Sr., 6-3, 235 (committed to Army)
- RB/LB Tra Craver, Sr., 6-2, 194
- OL/LB Zach Pilgrim, Sr., 5-10, 215
- OL/DL Harrison Reagan, Sr., 5-10, 180
- ATH Ty Menefee, Sr., 5-9, 155
- RB/LB Bryce Johnston, Jr., 5-10, 170
- WR/DB Chandler King, Jr., 6-3, 165
- QB/DB Andrew Gaul, Soph.
Offense: Hughes Springs didn't set the world on fire as an offense last year, but the Mustangs still managed to finish third in the district at 24 points per game.
Losses to White Oak and Jefferson to begin league play carried over into the Mustangs' next game, a a 42-26 loss to New Boston. The offense sputtered in a 14-6 win the following week against Redwater, but a closely contested loss to Sabine, 38-34, ended any hopes Hughes Springs had of reaching the playoffs.
Luckily for the Mustangs, they have a majority of offensive starters returning.
Look for the line play to be a real strength for this group as seniors Hunter Brabham, Zach Pilgrim, and Harrison Reagan are back.
Defense: The Mustangs played decent defense through the first half of their 2016 schedule, but once district play begin, it was a much different story.
Hughes Springs allowed at least 38 points in four of its five games against league competition. Couple that with an underperforming and inconsistent offense, and you have a formula for disaster.
Seven starters also return on the defensive side of the ball, including Brabham, who has already given his college football commitment to Army.
2017 outlook: The 2016 season was a disappointing one for Hughes Springs. The Mustangs missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Chris Edwards, who is entering his 11th year as head coach, believes last year's shortcomings will eventually pay dividends. The core of the squad returns, hoping to take the lessons it learned and apply solutions moving forward.
Last year, Hughes Springs was trounced by 49 points against White Oak, but managed to play much better the following week against Jefferson.
It might be asking too much for the Mustangs to challenge for a district title, but there's no reason why they shouldn't return to the playoffs in 2017.
4. Redwater Dragons
- Coach: Tommy Graf
- 2016 finish: 5-6 (3A Division I bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- RB Peyton Davis, Jr., 6-3, 200
- WR/DB Lavaundrick Vaughn, Sr., 5-10, 170
- OL/LB Dylan Roberts, Jr., 5-8, 185
- FB/LB Austin Warlick, Sr., 5-7, 200
- QB/DB Seth Lathrop, Sr., 5-10, 150
- OL/DL Colt Bradford, Sr., 6-2, 220
- TE/LB Grant Hickerson, Sr., 6-3, 190
- WR/DB Mason Robertson, Jr., 5-10, 150
Offense: Redwater experienced its fair share of issues on the offensive side of the ball in 2016, despite winning five games and earning a trip to the playoffs.
The Dragons averaged less than 18 points per game, and with less than half of last year's starters coming back, head coach Tommy Graf must locate some new playmakers.
Redwater should be set in the backfield with the return of running back Peyton Davis and fullback Austin Warlick. That duo rushed for more than 1,500 yards a season ago.
Seth Lathrop, Garrett Johnson, and Jonah Ketchum might all see time at quarterback, and all three of them can run.
Defense: The Dragons' defense kept them in most games last year, as opponents managed a modest average of 25.4 points per game.
Five starting defenders are returning, including lineman Colt Bradford, linebacker Dylan Roberts, and defensive back Lavaundrick Vaughn.
There will obviously be a few new faces on defense, but that trio is certainly a good core of players to build around.
2017 outlook: All Graf has done since arriving at Redwater is get the Dragons to the playoffs. Redwater has reached the postseason in all five of Graf's years at the helm.
However, Redwater hasn't advanced past the second round or won more than six games in those five seasons.
The Dragons got off to a strong start with non-district wins over Hooks, Harleton, and Winona, but a three-game losing streak to end the regular season left a bad taste with Redwater.
The goal for this year's team will be to finish stronger.
5. Sabine Cardinals
- Coach: Rex Sharp
- 2016 finish: 2-9 (3A Division I bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 6 offensive, 7 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/LB Eli Morris, Sr.
- RB/LB Kobe Renfro, Jr., 5-9, 195
- DL Cheyenne Compton, Sr., 5-9, 195
- OL/DL Jon-Michael McKinney, Sr., 6-1, 270
- RB/LB Mauro Gallegos, Sr., 5-7, 145
- OL/DL Taylor Williams, Jr., 6-5, 260
- QB/DB Scottie Taylor, Jr., 5-8, 165
- FB/LB Glenn George, Sr., 5-8, 171
Offense: Sabine didn't do much scoring, or winning for that matter, in 2016. But the Cardinals did just enough to qualify for the playoffs for the third-straight season.
In order to extend that streak into 2017, Sabine must be much better on offense.
The Cardinals return six starters to an unit that averaged a little less than 18 points per game.
Expect big things from running backs Eli Morris and Kobe Renfro.
Defense: The defense was a problem area for Sabine as well last season, as the Cardinals yielded an average of 37.8 points to opponents.
The good news is that Sabine returns a majority of starters on the defensive side of the ball, including Renfro -- a tackling machine at linebacker -- and disruptive defensive lineman Cheyenne Compton.
Five others returning starters should put Sabine in a much better position to succeed moving forward.
2017 outlook: Mark Comfort, who led Sabine to three consecutive playoff berths, retired in the offseason, and the Cardinals brought in Rex Sharp to keep the momentum rolling.
Jefferson and White Oak are clearly in front of everyone else in the district, but the remaining two postseason slots appear to be wide open.
If Sabine can make meaningful strides on both offense and defense, the Cardinals should definitely be in the playoff race until the end.
6. New Boston Lions
- Coach: Craig Fant
- 2016 finish: 3-7
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- ATH Kyler Murphy, Sr., 5-11, 160
- OL/LB Stancio Battles, Sr., 5-11, 170
- WR/DB Deaundre Robinson, Jr., 6-2, 174
- RB/DL Cade Fant, Soph., 6-0, 210
- QB/WR Jacob Bobbitt, Sr., 5-10, 170
- WR/DB Samuel Sanchez, Sr., 6-2, 175
- OL/DL Victor Sanchez, Sr., 6-2, 280
Offense: Scoring wasn't New Boston's strong suit in 2016, as the Lions managed a pedestrian 18.3 points per game.
Improvement must come in waves if New Boston is to snap a two-year playoff drought.
First-year head coach Craig Fant will have five returning offensive starters at his disposal. He's hoping big seasons are coming from a handful of skill-position players, including Kyler Murphy, Deaundre Robinson, and Jacob Bobbitt.
Senior Victor Sanchez will anchor what should be both a big and athletic offensive line.
Defense: Opponents put up more than 30 points per game on New Boston a season ago, so there is work to be done on the defensive side of the ball.
Cade Fant, Stancio Battles, and Samuel Sanchez figure to have a significant impact on defense. Those three are the keys to a turnaround.
2017 outlook: Following a remarkable five-year stretch from 2010-14, when New Boston posted a 56-11 record and reached the state semifinals in 2013, the Lions have fallen on hard times.
New Boston has just four wins the last two seasons, its lowest two-year win total since 1999-2000.
The path back to relativity won't be an easy one with perennial area powers like Jefferson, White Oak, and Hughes Springs standing in the way.
But everyone is anxious to see what the Coach Fant era will look like.