The 2016 season was a banner year for Tyler Grace Community.

Will the program keep on keeping on with semi-new quarterback Brayden Stone or are the Cougars going to slip back a bit without star quarterback Christopher Wilhelmi and a handful of other recognized players from last year's state quarterfinalist? That's the big question in Tyler and for TAPPS Division II, District 2 at large.

We think Grace has another opportunity to be pretty good. It will start the season ranked ninth in our Class 2A/Private Schools Poll.

Grace will be breaking in a new head coach in Norm Thompson, an assistant under former coach Mike Maddox, who left to become the athletics director at Lindale ISD.

The Cougars are situated within a league of standout quarterbacks, and Stone is projected to be one of the best. He already has a solid body of work.

Stone started the first half of Grace's big season in lieu of an injured Wilhelmi and guided the team to big wins against Waxahachie Life and Waskom as well as a one-point loss to Class 4A Division II playoff participant Canton and a close game with perennial District 2 frontrunner Dallas Christian. He ultimately threw for 943 yards and nine touchdowns while also surpassing 500 yards on the ground before transitioning to receiver.

Running back Uchenna Uduma is back as well for his senior year. He finished last year with 1,330 rushing yards and 15 scores.

The Cougars' early drawback will be experience. Twenty of 30 players from last season's team graduated and left the program with four returning starters on offense and two on defense.

Fortunately, one of the defensive starters is Luke Graham. He made 120 tackles as season ago as a 203-pound linebacker, and he might be lining up at more places as a a senior.

Bullard Brook Hill, Tyler Bishop Gorman and Dallas Christian seem like the biggest threats for the District 2 crown.

The Guard made it back to the postseason last year under first-year coach Scott Ryle and have 12 returning starters, including Hood Taylor at the quarterback spot.

Gorman underwent a coaching change, Coby Gipson took a college coaching job, but the team has a record-setting gunslinger in Jake Smith.

Dallas Christian, of course, has at least tied for the league title every season since joining Grace, Brook Hill and Gorman for the 2012 season.

The Cougars will get ready for that bunch again with another go-around against Canton and a big non-district game against a Malakoff squad that made it to the Class 3A Division I state semifinals a year ago. Preseason Class 2A/Private Schools Poll

More From East Texas Sports Network