Joaquin started last season ranked 10th in the Preason Class 2A/Private School Poll and largely fell flat with injuries and a young team.

We have decided to double down on the Rams this year. We're placing them ninth as we count down the area's best 2A and TAPPS programs.

Joaquin's entrance, ahead of Big Sandy in the 10th spot, means all four local TAPPS schools are potentially still to come in the poll. It also could mean the Rams rank better than ninth among area 2A teams, but you'll just have to wait and see.

Nineteen starters are back for sophomore, junior and senior seasons under head coach Wade Lawson. He's coaching one of East Texas' most experienced teams in 2016.

Running back Nate Belrose is back for a curtain call, and it's expected to be one heck of a senior year. He ran for 807 yards before a season-ending injury and recorded about 1,500 yards as a sophomore.

The Rams' defenders do a really good job together with evenly distributed tackles. Senior linebacker Hunter Harper is back after leading the team with 90 takedowns a season ago.

District 11-2A Division I is no joke, however.

Alto, and its endless supply of athletes, joined the league off a flawless regular season in 2015 plus a trip to the third round of the Division I playoffs.

Joaquin's reigning district champion, Shelbyville, is still in the group. Shelbyville reached the third round of the postseason as well, and it brings back a respectable 10 starters.

Carlisle and San Augustine are still part of the league and are expected to be competitive.

To get ready for the gauntlet, the Rams have a season-opening game lined up with Tenaha, which reached the 2A Division II regional championship round with its own group of young players. That game will help reveal how good Joaquin really is.

Other non-district games against Maud, Lovelady and Huntington should help Joaquin be as ready as it can be for the league.

2016 Joaquin Rams Schedule

Aug. 26TenahaL 14-0
Sept. 2at MaudW 54-19
Sept. 9at LoveladyL 21-20
Sept. 16HuntingtonW 42-0
Sept. 23at HawkinsW 52-20
Sept. 30OPEN
Oct. 7*AltoW 24-7
Oct. 14*ShelbyvilleW 29-18
Oct. 21*at CarlisleL 27-14
Oct. 28*San AugustineW 49-27
Nov. 4*at CushingW 57-6
Nov. 11(BI-DISTRICT): vs. LoveladyL 33-16 Preseason Class 2A/Private Schools Poll