District 8-3A Division I Preview: Survival of the Fittest
The new District 8-3A Division I is home to five legitimate playoff contenders. And that means at least one really good team will be left at home after the regular season.
West Rusk has 14 starters back from last year's 3A Division II regional semifinalist, Tatum and Gladewater are hoping to re-establish themselves as area powers after a drop down from 4A, while White Oak and Mineola round out a ferocious top five.
Winnsboro is looking to get back to the playoffs after missing out for the first time in six seasons in 2017, while Sabine hopes its district-best 16 returning starters will lead to more than just a couple wins this year.
Whatever transpires over the next three months, this district shouldn't be short on drama.
District 8-3A Division I Preview
- FB Landry Deaton, Jr., Winnsboro
- QB Shaw Franklin, Sr., Mineola
- WR/DB DJ Hart, Sr., West Rusk
- CB/RB Christian Holmes, Sr., Gladewater
- RB/ATH Jachais Jenkins, Sr., Tatum
- LB/FB Rashaud Johnson, Sr., Gladewater
- QB OB Jones, Sr., Tatum
- QB Landon McKinney, Jr., Sabine
- DL Brandon Noll, Jr., Winnsboro
- RB/OLB Bo Reddic, Jr., White Oak
- LB Kobe Renfro, Sr., Sabine
- DT Darius Richardson, Sr., West Rusk
- RB Trevion Sneed, Soph., Mineola
- QB Dalton Sumrow, Sr., White Oak
- West Rusk at Waskom, Sept. 7
- Tatum at Daingerfield, Sept. 7
- Mineola at White Oak, Oct. 19
- Tatum at West Rusk, Oct. 26
1. West Rusk Raiders
- Coach: John Frazier
- 2017 finish: 10-2 (3A Division II regional semifinalist)
- Returning starters: 8 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- DT Darius Richardson, Sr., 6-3, 303
- WR/DB DJ Hart, Sr., 6-0, 185
- RB/S Jaylon Garland, Sr., 5-8, 172
- LB/OL Diego Molina, Sr., 6-0, 200
- QB/S Lajavius Harper, Sr., 5-10, 158
- LB/OL Orlando Cortez, Sr., 5-10, 190
- WR/DE Jordan White, Sr., 6-2, 200
- WR/OLB Koure Johnson, Sr., 6-1, 210
Offense: West Rusk should feel good about its chances of replicating its offensive production from 2017. Head coach John Frazier welcomes back eight of his offense's 11 starters from a season ago, a year in which the Raiders averaged a little more than 36 points per game. The key returner is senior running back Jaylon Garland, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. Quarterback Lajavius Harper returns as well after he put together a junior campaign that included 2,000 total yards and 28 touchdowns. West Rusk graduated its top receiver, but returns DJ Hart, Koure Johnson, and Talon Winings out wide. The Raiders are expecting big things from Jordan White on offense.
Defense: West Rusk had one of East Texas' top defenses last season, holding opponents to just nine points per game. The Raiders shut out six teams, and limited eventual state champion Newton to a season low in points in their regional semifinal playoff game. West Rusk graduated defensive end Tyree Wilson, who signed with Texas A&M, and sacks leader Darrien Johnson. But the Raiders do bring back the combo of defensive tackle Darius Richardson, who has committed to Texas State, and linebacker Diego Molina, who made 33 tackles for loss and had six sacks in 2017. The secondary should be in good shape as well with Hart and Winings, who combined for 11 interceptions a season ago.
2018 outlook: Not only did West Rusk move up from 3A Division II, it was placed in a district among teams with a proven track record. Mineola and White Oak are playoff regulars at the 3A D-I level, while Tatum and Gladewater each dropped down from Class 4A. Despite a few key losses on defense, the Raiders figure to be in great position to challenge for the district championship, and even make a run at a regional title. Standing in the Raiders' way of getting through Region II are perennial contenders like Kemp, Malakoff, Atlanta, Mount Vernon, Jefferson, and Hughes Springs.
2. Tatum Eagles
- Coach: Darren Hylander
- 2017 finish: 3-8 (4A Division II bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 4 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- QB OB Jones, Sr., 6-2, 190
- RB/ATH Jachais Jenkins, Sr., 5-10, 182
- OLB Cavion White, Sr., 5-6, 150
- WR/DB Dakarai Bush, Sr., 6-2, 162
- WR/ATH Ja'Kobe Mitchell, Sr., 5-6, 175
- OL/LB Lane Haden, Sr.
- DT/OG Timothy Fagan Jr., Sr.
- DE Wardell Glaspie, Sr., 6-1, 224
Offense: Tatum had difficulty at times moving the ball last season, finishing with a points-per-game average of only 20.4. And with just four returning starters back, new head coach Darren Hylander has a challenge in front of him. The good news is that talented quarterback OB Jones is back for his senior season, and Tatum will need to lean on his experience and playmaking ability to get the offense going in the right direction. Jachais Jenkins was another bright spot for the Eagles' offense in 2017, and he'll touch the ball from just about anywhere on the field. He'll line up in the backfield and take handoffs, and he can also split wide and make plays in the passing game. Lane Haden and Timothy Fagan Jr. will anchor the offensive line.
Defense: There were times the Tatum defense was exceptional. The Eagles shutout Arp in the season opener, limited 4A Division I state quarterfinalist Henderson to just 21 points, and did the same against eventual 4A Division II state champion Pleasant Grove in the playoffs. However, there were games in which the Tatum defense was simply overmatched. In losses to Chapel Hill, Pittsburg, Diboll, and Jasper, the Eagles allowed an average of almost 45 points per game. Coach Hylander is hoping his defensive unit exhibits more consistency in 2018. Defensive end Wardell Glaspie and linebacker Cavion White are two of Tatum's five returning defensive starters.
2018 outlook: Even though Tatum has a total of only nine starters returning from a three-win team, the Eagles should be on a much more even playing field at the 3A level. In the previous four seasons in 4A, Tatum's record was 17-28. Meanwhile, when Tatum was at its current classification, its overall record was 44-7 from 2010-13. With a new head coach and a drop in class, it's almost as if Tatum is starting over. Tatum might not have the horses to challenge a proven West Rusk squad for district supremacy, but reaching the playoffs and earning a win or two when there could easily be accomplished.
3. Gladewater Bears
- Coach: John Berry
- 2017 finish: 2-8
- Returning starters: 5 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- LB/FB Rashaud Johnson, Sr., 5-8, 190
- CB/RB Christian Holmes, Sr., 5-8, 150
- QB/OLB Danny Badger, Sr., 6-0, 200
- OT/TE David Bohanon, Sr., 6-2, 265
- WR/CB Derrick Green, Sr.
- LB/TE Jace Adkinson, Sr.
- DE/FB Keston Wilson, Sr., 5-10, 220
- OL/DL Tristian Seahorn, Sr., 6-0, 240
Offense: It was a rough 2017 season for the Gladewater offense, which averaged a little more than 18 points per game. And with less than half of those starters returning, there will need to be a few new playmakers emerge if things are going to improve. The offense will be looking for the trio of running back Christian Holmes and fullbacks Rashaud Johnson and Keston Wilson to carry the load out of the backfield. Quarterback Danny Badger will also figure into the running game, while a strong offensive line anchored by David Bohanon and Tristian Seahorn should be a strength for the Bears' offense.
Defense: There will also need to be improvement on the defensive side of the ball for Gladewater, which allowed opponents an average of more than 32 points per game last season. The Bears have five defensive starters back, and they'll be counted on mightily by the coaching staff and newcomers to lead the way. Johnson is a standout linebacker, while defensive end Wilson and linebacker Jace Adkinson make Gladewater's defensive front a potential strength in 2018. Holmes and Derrick Green will headline the secondary.
2018 outlook: Like Tatum, Gladewater is hoping for better days at the 3A level. Following a four-year run of reaching the playoffs, the Bears slipped to 2-8 in 2017, their lowest win total since 2003. Part of the challenge Gladewater faced last year was its schedule, which included games against two 4A state champions in Carthage and Pleasant Grove, and other brutal contests against Kilgore and Gilmer. Gladewater still has Spring Hill, Atlanta, Pleasant Grove on the schedule but none of those teams are on the district schedule anymore. The Bears should naturally see better results playing down a classification.
4. White Oak Roughnecks
- Coach: Kris Iske
- 2017 finish: 7-4 (3A Division I bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 3 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- RB/OLB Bo Reddic, Jr., 5-11, 185
- QB Dalton Sumrow, Sr., 5-11, 160
- DL/OL Johnny Kelley, Sr., 6-2, 225
- OL/DL Braden Clark, Sr.
- WR/DB Cade Wheat, Sr., 6-2, 180
- WR/S Colton Cobb, Soph.
- LB Jalen Barr, Sr., 5-9, 168
- WR/DB John Thomsett, Sr., 5-11, 175
Offense: White Oak will need to replace three-year starting quarterback Heath Hood and seven other offensive starters from 2017. The Roughnecks averaged almost 40 points per game last season, so that is a lot of production that is missing. Fortunately for head coach Kris Iske and Co., running back Bo Reddic returns after a stellar sophomore season that included more than 1,400 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. The Roughnecks will have Dalton Sumrow step in at quarterback, while Cade Wheat, Colton Cobb, and John Thomsett hope to provide explosiveness from the receiving corps. White Oak has routinely been among East Texas' best offenses in recent years, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the newcomers deliver right away in 2018.
Defense: The Roughnecks were hit hard by graduation on defense as well, as just five starters return. Among the departed impact players was defensive end Elijah Trest, an all-state performer who led White Oak in sacks in 2017. However, one of the team's top defenders is back in senior defensive end Johnny Kelley, who recorded eight sacks and forced two fumbles as a junior. Much of the early part of the season will be devoted to finding new playmakers at both linebacker and in the secondary.
2018 outlook: White Oak has been one of East Texas' most consistent programs over the last half-decade. Since 2012, the Roughnecks have posted an overall record of 56-18. But the lack of experience returning and a new district that includes a regional semifinalist from a year ago, two drop-downs from 4A, and a Mineola team just two years removed from a state championship could put White Oak's six-year streak of postseason appearances in jeopardy. Three of the Roughnecks' four non-district games are on the road, coming against Elysian Fields, New Diana, and Spring Hill. Perhaps the challenging start to the season will get White Oak prepared for a tough new district slate.
5. Mineola Yellowjackets
- Coach: Luke Blackwell
- 2017 finish: 5-6 (3A Division I bi-district finalist)
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 6 defensive
Players to watch
- QB Shaw Franklin, Sr., 6-3, 170
- RB Trevion Sneed, Soph., 6-0, 200
- OL/DL Cameron Wise, Sr., 6-0, 285
- FS/WR Dalton Rogers, Jr.
- OL/DL Seth Kirk, Sr., 6-2, 285
- SS/WR Wylie Franks, Jr., 6-2, 180
- WR/DB Cole Castleberry, Jr., 5-10, 160
- DL Alex Evans, Sr., 5-9, 155
Offense: With the amount of losses Mineola experienced following its 2016 state championship season, the Yellowjackets' offense did well to average more than 28 points per game last year. And with most of those starters coming back, second-year head coach Luke Blackwell is expecting even more success in 2018. Quarterback Shaw Franklin was a legitimate dual-threat to opposing defenses last year, and running back Trevion Sneed opened a lot of eyes as a freshman. Those two should keep Mineola's offense from being shut down for extended periods of time. A physical offensive line, led by seniors Cameron Wise and Seth Kirk, give the 'Jackets a great foundation.
Defense: Opponents averaged more than 27 points per game in 2017 against Mineola, which returns a half-dozen of its starters on defense. Defensive lineman Alex Evans is undersized but extremely quick coming off the edge, while Dalton Rogers and Wylie Franks will lead a secondary that has a high ceiling this season. Depth could be an issue, especially up front, so maintaining health on the defensive side of the ball will be a high priority for Mineola.
2018 outlook: Mineola had the advantage of facing a couple of pushovers last season in its district as it pummeled Quitman and Grand Saline (who were a combined 1-20 in 2017) by a total of 97 points. The only holdover from the 'Jackets old district is Winnsboro, which Mineola managed to defeat to secure a playoff berth. There won't be any gimmes this time around on Mineola's district schedule, so more consistency on both sides of the ball will be key to the 'Jackets' chances of reaching the playoffs a sixth consecutive season.
6. Winnsboro Red Raiders
- Coach: Steve Pinnell
- 2017 finish: 4-6
- Returning starters: 6 offensive, 5 defensive
Players to watch
- DL Brandon Noll, Sr., 6-2, 215
- FB Landry Deaton, Jr., 5-11, 180
- LB Logan Minnck, Sr.
- DL TyLik Simon, Sr., 6-3, 225
- OL John McCurdy, Jr., 6-4, 280
- OL Fernando Garcia, Sr., 6-0, 215
Offense: Winnsboro struggled at times on offense in 2017. The Red Raiders managed an average of a little more than 20 points per game on opposing defenses last year. Head coach Steve Pinnell has the benefit of six returning starters on that side of the ball, including a pair of all-district caliber lineman in John McCurdy and Fernando Garcia. Junior fullback Landry Deaton is the most accomplished skill player, and will most likely be the featured back on offense. Other playmakers will need to be found if Winnsboro's offense is to keep up with some of the district's top defenses.
Defense: Last season was a mixed bag of sorts for the Winnsboro defense. For the year opponents averaged a little less than 27 points per game. The Red Raiders limited three teams to seven points or less, but there were also times the defense had issues. Five teams put 35 points or more on Winnsboro last year, so more consistency will be a requirement in 2018. Defensive linemen Brandon Noll and TyLik Simon are enforcers up front, while linebacker Logan Minick can be counted on for stops.
2018 outlook: Winnsboro had its streak of consecutive playoff appearances stopped at six last year, so the goal for this fall is to make a return. But it won't be easy as the Red Raiders are now part of a district that features the likes of West Rusk, Tatum, Gladewater, White Oak, and Mineola. It's hard to see Winnsboro having enough firepower on a weekly basis to keep up with its league competitors.
7. Sabine Cardinals
- Coach: Rex Sharp
- 2017 finish: 2-8
- Returning starters: 7 offensive, 9 defensive
Players to watch
- LB Kobe Renfro, Sr., 5-11, 195
- QB Landon McKinney, Jr., 6-0, 180
- DE Chadwick Foster, Sr., 6-3, 215
- DB/WR Bre'Den Ford, Jr., 5-8, 120
- OL LJ Mitchell, Jr.
- DL/OL Tristan Green, Jr., 5-11, 265
- LB Daniel Wood, Sr., 5-7, 155
Offense: Sabine had its difficulties moving the ball in 2017 as its offense averaged less than 20 points per game. Head coach Rex Sharp believes that with most of the starters coming back, more success will be found this season. It all starts with quarterback Landon McKinney, who got off to a great start last year but was lost to injury midway through the year. He'll have a solid offensive line, led by LJ Mitchell and Tristan Green, protecting him. The big key will be if the Cardinals can find enough offensive playmakers for McKinney to utilize.
Defense: The Cardinals surrendered almost 40 points per game last season, so much improvement is needed for things to turn around this fall. Kobe Renfro, who amassed almost 200 tackles in only 10 games last year, returns to headline a defense that is bringing back all but two starters. Fellow senior Daniel Wood will give Sabine the potential for a formidable linebacking corps. Senior defensive Chadwick Foster is the Cardinals' best pass-rusher. Sabine needs much better play from its secondary to make a significant jump forward in 2018.
2018 outlook: With 16 starters returning, Sabine has the most experienced team in the district. On the other hand, those players only netted one win, and the team was overmatched almost every week of the 2017 season. Better all-around play on both sides of the ball could lend itself to a few more victories this season, but it will take an awful lot for Sabine to realistically challenge for a playoff spot.