Lindale High School’s Eagles football team will play the part of David to the District 17-5A’s Goliaths once again in 2017, but new head coach Chris Cochran insists his club won’t shy away from the challenge.
To be sure, his club will have more than just a slingshot in its arsenal, but the fact remains Lindale remains the smallest school – enrollment-wise – within the group of Corsicana, Ennis, Jacksonville, Nacogdoches and Whitehouse.
“I firmly believe that every Friday night we will have a competitive game and we can compete with all the teams,’’ Cochran said recently. “One of the positives I take from this district is it has six teams.’’
Meaning if his Eagles can secure at least three or four league wins, his club would qualify for the playoffs.
Cochran, who was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach this season after longtime head coach Mike Meador resigned this past spring, is fully aware of how good this meat-grinder of a district shapes up to be but he’s excited about the group he’s putting on the field in 2017.
“All our kids are working hard and they know the hard work is an investment – the more you put into it, the more you get out of it,’’ he said.
On defense, the Eagles return seven starters but lost a couple of stars – Terrell Cooper and Kale Ridge – to graduation.
Cochran feels his linebackers will be strong and three of the four defensive backs from 2016 are also returning.
One of the top offensive returnees is running back Jordan Robinson, who was able to land a first team all district mention in 2016 despite not playing the full season.
At quarterback will be Kameron Wheeler, who led the junior varsity team last year and will take over for three-year starter Montana Meador.
In the trenches, Cochran likes what he’s seen from returning starters Conner Heller and James Sandiver.
Here’s a preview of District 17-5A, with schools listed in alphabetical order:
The Tigers, co-district champs with Ennis in 2016, return some firepower to a team that earned a bi-district final berth last year.
Junior quarterback Blake Hoffman gained valuable playing time as a sophomore in 2016, starting seven games. He scored 14 touchdowns last year and passed for 1,350 yards while running for 400 more.
Ike Hargrave will be a favored target of Hoffman, as the wide receiver snagged three touchdowns and had more than 500 yards receiving.
Defensively, the Tigers will be counting on defensive linemen Deonte Martin and Melvin Martin.
A 7-4 season record which also included a 4-1 district record, and a shared league championship with Corsicana, may not seem up the usual standards for the always tough Ennis Lions.
But veteran head coach Jack Alvarez, who directed his club to a bi-district finalist game in 2017, understands it’s not always about the season record but is about making the playoffs.
And as long as the Lions have Tycen Thompson (2016 Offensive Player of the Year), and a roster full of skill players returning, they could be the odds-on favorites to capture another district title.
Thompson rushed for 194 yards on 17 carries in last year’s 41-21 win over the Eagles and scored twice, including the clincher with just over four minutes left in the game.
Senior Kade Graff and junior Dylan Wright will battle it out for the quarterback spot, while linebacker/wide receiver K.D. Davis will be another talented player to keep an eye on.
The lone win of the district season last year for the Eagles came against Jacksonville in the Tomato Bowl, a convincing 45-7 thrashing of the eventual third place team in 17-5A.
Jacksonville will have to replace last year’s district most valuable player in quarterback Cameron High, who led the Indians to a bi-district final contest in 2016.
Coach Wayne Coleman is hoping four offensive and eight defensive starters will be able to provide the leadership to get back to the playoffs this season.
The Indians seem to be well stocked with defensive talent, as linebacker Scooter Baker had 110 tackles last season and defensive back Jaeshun Bush had five interceptions.
Running back Deahvion Spencer, who had five touchdowns and 410 yards rushing last year, is back as is wide out Cam Franklin, who had 310 yards receiving and four scores.
With the largest enrollment in the district (1,674 students), the Nacogdoches Dragons are also the longest road trip for the Eagles this season and you can bet Lindale’s Cochran is hoping the ride back is a happy one.
Nacogdoches coach Bobby Reyes will have just three offensive and six defensive holdovers from last year’s 4-6 and 1-4 team.
Daryan Williams will anchor the defense at linebacker and he’s capable of playing both inside and outside positions. Three-year starter at linebacker Adams Woodson is another key player while on offense, wide receiver Jed Morgan can be counted on for big plays and sophomore wide out Jatavious Deckard could open some eyes.
The Wildcats qualified for last year’s playoffs by beating the Eagles on the final Friday of the regular season and advanced to the Division II bi-district finals.
Returning nine offensive and eight defensive starters could have Whitehouse feeling good by the time district rolls around.
Running Javian Myles is looking to lead the way on offense, while wide receiver Cameron Cantrell is ready to make some big plays. Quarterback Jake Clemons will return as the starter after throwing for more than 1,100 yards last year, which included 10 touchdowns.