Marshall began last season ranked fifth in the Class 6A/5A Poll and definitely over delivered with a nearly flawless regular season, a share of the district crown and a trip three rounds deep into the Class 5A Division II playoffs.

What will the Mavericks do for an encore, ranked third in this year's first edition of the poll? We think there's a lot left in the tank with 12 starters back from a very successful 2015 team.

Head coach Clint Harper's 5A squad checks in ahead of No. 4 Longview, No. 5 Tyler Lee, No. 6 Texas High, No. 7 Nacogdoches, No. 8 Hallsville, No. 9 Lindale and No. 10 Whitehouse.

The Mavs will get the opportunity to play four currently ranked opponents this season. They'll face Tyler Lee later this week ahead of a rivalry showdown with Longview and then take on Texas High and Hallsville in District 16-5A action down the stretch.

There are some issues for the Mavericks to overcome, however.

Former defensive tackle Antonio Washington earned's Defensive Player of the Year award after a dominating season and is now part of Southern Arkansas' roster. Former safety Mikkah Smith got offered by Arkansas after the season and accepted the Razorbacks' scholarship opportunity.

Fortunately, eight defensive starters are back. The secondary and defensive line spots appear to be in particularly good condition despite the loss of one star player at both levels of the defense.

Tre Macon, Corteze Hurd and De'marcus Alexander are all return to the backfield. Marje Smith, at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, is a huge returning asset at the end position.

Harper is optimistic senior Jarius Washington can bolster the linebackers along with returning starter Christian Lovera, who is a junior.

Marshall spent the offseason retooling its offense after seven starters graduated, but the team's most valuable offensive player returns in the form of Cam Haller.

Haller, who is a Texas A&M baseball catcher commitment, ran for 1,815 yards and 26 touchdowns and threw for 765 yards and another 10 scores through 13 games last season. He started the year at running back and took over at quarterback when four-year starter Justin Hart was lost for the season due to injury.

This year, Haller is expected to play running back and receiver while junior Hunter Herrington takes over the quarterback role.

Marshall had to go to the city's talent fountain to overhaul the offensive line and receiver position groups, but each set of newcomers has been better than the last as Harper prepares for his fifth year at the school.

Expect a very complete team.

2016 Marshall Mavericks Football Schedule

Aug. 26at Tyler LeeL 34-7
Sept. 2LongviewL 56-7
Sept. 9at Monroe (La.) OuachitaL 34-14
Sept. 16CorsicanaW 40-0
Sept. 23*Texas HighL 36-18
Sept. 30*at Sulphur SpringsW 56-13
Oct. 7*Mount PleasantW 48-21
Oct. 14*at GreenvilleW 42-14
Oct. 21*HallsvilleW 46-17
Oct. 28*at Pine TreeW 49-7
Nov. 4OPEN
Nov. 11(BI-DISTRICT): vs. Wylie EastL 69-35 Preseason Class 6A/5A Poll


More From East Texas Sports Network