For the first time in quite a while, the Lufkin Panthers are on the short list of teams that will legitimately compete for a state championship in 2018.

Last season, Lufkin was 11-3 and reached the Class 6A Division II quarterfinals, its furthest advancement in the playoffs since 2005.

With Lufkin's drop down to Class 5A Division I, along with the amount of 2017 starters returning to the field, the Panthers have sky-high expectations this fall.

Lufkin is No. 2 in's Class 6A/5A Preseason Poll.

The Panthers will have to replace running back and Louisiana-Monroe signee Isaiah Phillips, who led the Lufkin offense with 2,012 yards and 27 touchdowns a season ago.

Lufkin also graduated receiver Malik Jackson, a ULM signee as well.

But the Panthers are solid otherwise. Kewone Thomas returns at quarterback as does dynamic junior receiver Ja'Lynn Pollk, while veterans Andrew Ehrlich and Bryson Wilson anchor the offensive line.

But defense is where Lufkin will shine this season.

The line features three Division I recruits -- ends Breylon Garcia (Nevada commit), Javasia Brunson, and tackle Carl Williams (Arkansas).

Linebacker De'Andre Bagley and defensive backs Jerrin Thompson and Demond McKelvey make Lufkin strong at the second and third levels as well.

Defending 5A Division II champion College Station shares Lufkin's new district, and Region II will be brutal in the playoffs. Frisco Lone Star, Highland Park, Mansfield Legacy, Lancaster, John Tyler, Texas High, and Mesquite Poteet are potential postseason opponents for Lufkin. Preseason Class 6A/5A Poll

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