District Preview: 14-AAAA
District 14-4A should be one of the most competitive districts in East Texas in 2009. The six teams in the district proved last year that any team is capable of beating any other on any given Friday. With 16 returning starters, Whitehouse is the early favorite to win the district title. But in this district the gap between first place and fifth place in the district is minimal. Each week should bring a new surprise in district 14-4A and picking a favorite each week will be extremely difficult.
14-4A Pre-season Predictions:
Whitehouse Wildcats: Coach Randy McFarlin has transformed Whitehouse from a perennial homecoming opponent into a perennial playoff team. And in 2009 Coach McFarlin may field his most talented Wildcat team yet. An extremely talented junior class and a solid core of seniors has Whitehouse poised for a big year in 2009. The offense, which has been one of the most prolific scoring offenses in East Texas over the last couple of years, returns seven starters including talented wide receiver Trey Metoyer. Metoyer burst onto the scene last year as a sophomore and hauled in 72 receptions for more than 1100 yards and 14 scores. Preston Conder will take over the quarterback position for Brady Attaway who has moved on to the collegiate ranks. Conder is a good athlete whose running ability may add an extra element to the Wildcat's spread offense. But if the Wildcats are going to advance past the first round of the playoffs they are going to need significant improvement from a defense that gave up 30 points a game in 2008. The Wildcats held only one team under 20 points all season. Nine starters return on the defensive side of the ball so improvement should be in the cards. Joey Gautney and Danny Laastad will anchor the defensive front and Logan Taylor, Chad Lewis and Connor Cashion will form a solid linebacking unit. Quincy Aldridge and Jermaine Kennedy will lead the secondary. Whitehouse lost two close district games last year to Kilgore and Nacogdoches each on the road. This season the Wildcats get three of their five district games at home. Whitehouse has the talent to go undefeated in the district, but the defense will have to be more consistent.
Kilgore Bulldogs: Coach Mike Vallery's club won the district championship and advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2008. But graduation has hit the Bulldogs hard. Gone are runningback Frank Reddic and the entire offensive line. Also gone is defensive end Dominique Jones, who will play for Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns in 2009. In fact, Kilgore returns only five starters total. Coach Vallery will need to work some magic to get his team ready for what should be a very competitive district. He has some pieces to work with in linebacker Mishaud Austin and lineman Shadow Stokes. The job of replacing Reddic's rushing production will most likely fall to sophomore Ladarius Anthony. Despite the loss of the majority of last year's starters, Kilgore should be able to reload for another playoff run. Last year, Kilgore's only district loss came in week six when the Lindale Eagles surprised the Bulldogs 35-17 in the district opener. In week eight Kilgore used an incredible performance by Frank Reddic and a last second Ryan Bustin field goal to beat Whitehouse 34-31. In 2009, tough district road games against Whitehouse and Nacogdoches may determine whether the Bulldogs get back into the playoffs. Kilgore has made the playoffs 13 of the last 14 years.
Lindale Eagles: The Eagles had a good season last year going 8-3 including 3-2 in district and making it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The Eagles will have to replace most of their offensive skilled position players including their leading passer, leading rusher and leading receiver from a year ago. But the return of multi-talented athlete Matt Brousard will help. Brousard will take over the quarterback position after spending much of last year at wide receiver. An experienced offensive line should also help Broussard ease into his new role. With six players returning from an offense that scored nearly 33 points a game, the offense should be fine. Linebacker Jacob Merriman and safety John Reyzman will lead a solid defense that played well at times last year. Seven starters back on defense including experience in the defensive line could be enough for Lindale to be even better defensively in 2009. Lindale has the luxury of playing three of their five district games at home this year including hosting Whitehouse and Kilgore. But a tough road test at Nacogdoches in week eight and the district finale at Jacksonville could determine Lindale's playoff fate.
Nacogdoches Dragons: Despite going 6-4 in 2008 the Dragons failed to make the playoffs. In fact, Nacogdoches only has one playoff appearance in the last 16 years. But with a solid running game and a potential star in linebacker Alex Howard, the Dragons may be able to make some noise in district 14-4A in 2009. In order to improve upon an offense that produced 20 points a game in 2008, the Dragons will need to get more production from the quarterback position. Dragon quarterbacks combined to throw 17 interceptions and only seven touchdowns in 2008. Courtney Patton takes over as the Dragons' signal caller in 2009 after getting a few starts in 2008. Patton's main target will be tight end LaBryant Johnson who hauled in 16 passes a year ago. Senior wide receiver Jermichael Smith will try to provide a threat on the outside. Junior Jacolby Erwin should handle the bulk of the running duties for the Dragons. The defense, led by linebackers Howard and Javosky Ervin should be a strength. Nacogdoches will host three of their five district opponents in 2009 including Kilgore and Lindale whom the Dragons figure to be battling for playoff positioning.
Jacksonville Indians: The Indians only managed to win three games in 2008 and are 12-29 since 2005. But 2008 was not all bad. Two of those three wins came in district and those two wins were enough to get the Indians in the playoffs. Of Jacksonville's three district losses, two came by a combined seven points. The only district game that the Indians failed to keep close was the 35-7 loss to district champ Kilgore. If Jacksonville hopes to improve its record from a year ago, the Tribe will have to find a way to score more points after managing only 18 points a game in 2008. Runningback Kendrick Hatton should carry much of the load offensively after rushing for nearly 800 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago. The defense will be led by linebacker Justin Jones who has led the Indians in tackles each of the last two years. Defensive back Duke Hamilton may move to safety after starting last year at cornerback for the Tribe. Jacksonville returns only seven starters total from last year's team so help will need to come from a lot of new faces. Talent from an 8-2 JV team should help. The Tribe will face tough district road games against Whitehouse and Kilgore in 2009. But if Jacksonville can take care of business at home against Nacogdoches and Lindale, the Tribe could find themselves back in the playoffs.
Henderson Lions: In 2009, the Lions suffered through their second 1-9 season in the last three years. Henderson has not been to the postseason since 2003 and is 44-61 over the last decade. Veteran coach Dickey Meeks' club returns 12 starters including six on each side of the ball, none more important than quarterback Tyrell Jenkins. The 6'4" Jenkins threw for more than 1700 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2008 but must cut down on his 14 interceptions. Offensive linemen Justin Boose and Neco Jones, each over 300 pounds, should provide some protection for Jenkins. But the Lions need to find some playmakers if they want to improve an offense that managed only 16 points a game in 2008. Wide receiver Brandon Tatum could be that guy if Jenkins can get him the ball. On defense, Corey Fletcher will anchor the defensive line while Cord Fletcher will lead the linebackers. If the Lions are going to get to the playoffs they are going to have to beat some pretty good teams on the road as they will have to travel to Nacogdoches, Kilgore and Lindale. Henderson may actually be improved this year although it might not translate into more district wins because Nacogdoches and Jacksonville both look to be improved as well. Lion fans may have to wait another season or two before they see their first winning season since 2002.
Predicted Order of Finish for 14-4A:
1. Whitehouse Wildcats
2. Kilgore Bulldogs
3. Lindale Eagles
4. Nacogdoches Dragons
5. Jacksonville Indians
6. Henderson Lions