MINEOLA -- The Yellowjackets took their second small step back toward the Class 3A Division I state championship game with a well-attended public practice Friday under the lights at Meredith Memorial Stadium.

They added shoulder pads to the helmets they wore through the first four days of practice and went through their first contact session since falling to Cameron Yoe in the 2014 title game.

"Everybody's got us in these polls, but, I'll tell you what, the best expectation we've got is out of our fans," Mineola head coach Joe Drennon said. "You can't hardly go around right now and not hear about how excited everyone is about what's going on. Then you walk into our locker room and the kids have the same expectations."

Junior dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Crawford is one of 16 returning starters from the Yellowjackets' 2014 Class 3A Division I state championship game team. (Mark Martin ETSN.fm)

Drennon could not have drawn up a better offseason. Circumstances met the players' self-desire to improve.

And, at this exact point in time, the Yellowjackets are East Texas' most complete Class 3A Division I team.

Mineola is about a 45-minute drive to Tyler one-way, but it didn't stop a large body of returning starters from working out at the Accelerated Performance Enhancement Center's summer courses on a regular basis. A place even current collegiate and NFLers utilize during the offseason.

Junior quarterback Jeremiah Crawford headlined the gains. He had a sharp night throwing the ball, flashing promise the Yellowjackets won't have to be as one-dimensional on offense this season.

But junior running back Chantz Perkins -- who rushed for more than 300 yards in last year's state semifinal game -- was noticeably at a higher level as well. He added another gear to go along with the elusiveness seen in the playoff run last season.

"They look like they walked off the field last week and came back on it this week," Drennon said. "They have a little more weight, a little more speed and a little more strength about them. Man, those kids, they could get the big head real easy and they don't. They stay pretty calm, great leaders for us, and they work hard. They worked hard in that weight room and then went to APEC as part of a group every day all summer long.

"They do the things that you're supposed to do to be good. It's showing for them."

Rounding out the team's strength in the running game are four returning offensive linemen. Including senior twin offensive tackles and Texas A&M commitments Austin Anderson and Riley Anderson.

The Yellowjackets did need to tweak the defensive front seven in the first few days of camp. Middle linebacker Juan Vargas and defensive tackle Trevor Keener led East Texas in sheer number of tackles with 214 and 196, respectively, and graduated.

Defensive end Casey Gilbreath was another graduation loss.

Michael Drennon, the head coach's sophomore son, inherits Vargas' spot from outside linebacker. The Anderson twins are going to be part of a platoon to replace Keener.

Former safety Kourtland Sinches will move to Michael Drennon's spot to round out proven starters shifting around.

"I'm definitely going to have to be a bigger part of it," Michael Drennon said. "Juan was calling the plays, being a leader and showing me what to do. This year, I have to step up and be the leader and show everyone what to do. We're looking really good right now. We've been focussed, coming out and doing our best. Going hard the whole time."

Yellowjackets junior cornerback Noah Sneed recorded eight interceptions last season. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)

Mineola's secondary is a strength despite Sinches' shift. Junior cornerback Noah Sneed and junior safety Aaron Stanford combined for 11 interceptions last season.

All that considered, things are looking very good.

The Yellowjackets are projected to reach the championship game again this season by Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine and TheOldCoach.com's Friday Night Football magazine. Yet both publications have Cameron Yoe winning a fourth straight title.

There's clearly an incentive to keep going.

"We want to be perfect every play in practice," Riley Anderson said. "Full effort every play. We want to focus on getting better as a team and playing as a team."

There are more pressing challenges than a potential title game rematch. The Yellowjackets opened 2014 with an 0-3 record and will rematch each regular season opponent.

Within District 8-3A Division I, always-strong White Oak is a team capable of stealing the league title with a road win against Mineola on Oct. 9. A Dain Duncan-led Sabine team also is a threatening proposition.

It is what it is, however, after pulling back the curtain.

This is the Yellowjackets' district, and perhaps season, to lose.

"We've got three goals," Joe Drennon said. "We want to play great in non-conference, we want to win our district and we want to win a state championship. But it's got to come in that order. You can't jump to the state championship and then play great in your non-conference."

Twin Texas A&M offensive linemen commitments Austin Anderson and Riley Anderson go head-to-head in Mineola's variation of the Oklahoma drill. (Mark Martin, ETSN.fm)