The Big Country has long been a power in the six-man football scene and this fall promises to be no different.
In the eastern part of the area, we have the defending Division II state champions with Strawn while to the west a rebuilding Trent returns almost everyone from last year’s 0-10 campaign which means one thing – the Gorillas are hungry and eager to prove last fall was an aberration, not the normal.
That duo will be joined by Bronte to the south which will be playing just its first season at the level after making the switch from 11-man football.
Other area teams that are poised to make some noise this fall include: Blackwell, Hermleigh, Ira, Jayton, Knox City, Lueders-Avoca, May, Throckmorton and Zephyr.
What can you expect from your favorite team this fall?
The Greyhounds of Knox City have the largest enrollment of anyone in the district and should be able to use that to their advantage after making it to the regional semifinals in 2017. Knox City returns 14 of 16 players from last fall and lost only three starters.
Leading the way for coach Caleb Callaway’s squad will be Abraham Nevarez who amassed over 3,000 yards of offense last season with 44 rushing touchdowns and 15 passing TDs.
Knox City should be able to run away with the district championship.
This district has the possibility of being one of the most complete and competitive districts in the area with all five times posting a minimum of five wins or a playoff berth last fall.
The early front-runners are Ira and Hermleigh which lost a combined four lettermen from last season and return a plethora of firepower on both sides of the ball.
Ira lost just one offensive starter from last season, while all six defensive starters are back from last year’s 6-4 squad. Karson Valentine and Anthony Coy are expected to lead the Bulldogs’ offense this season. The Cardinals have Devin Hildebrand and his 2,000 yards of offense back to help them stand toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs.
Looking to make it more than a two-team race will be Aspermont, Rotan and Spur.
The Hornets were a regional finalist in 2017 and have Rowdy Bradley back in the backfield after he ran for 2,265 yards and 41 touchdowns. Coach Mark Weaver’s squad has seven returning lettermen from a team that went 9-4 last fall.
Rotan will be led by Gabriel Daniel who threw for 800 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding six interceptions on defense. He will be joined in the backfield by Cameron Thornton who ran for 1,300 yards and 24 TDs.
Rounding out the district is Spur which has five returning starters on both sides of the ball – including quarterback Francisco Hernandez (11 TDs passing) and Ethan Parsons who ran for 1,099 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Heading out west, Highland and Westbrook will both be looking to shock the state and keep Garden City and Sterling City from earning playoff berths in yet another tough district.
Of the five teams in this league, Westbrook was the lone team not to make the postseason last fall, but Highland, Sterling City and Water Valley were all one-and-dones.
The Hornets went 7-4 last fall and have Eli Sauer and Richard Fomby back this fall in the backfield. The duo combined for 2,344 yards and 48 touchdowns last season.
The Wildcats are coming off a 6-4 year and will look to pound opponents into submission behind center Noah King on offense and defensive end Caleb Matos on defense.
Big Country fans will also see a familiar face on the sidelines at Water Valley as former Anson head coach and Cooper assistant Keith Woolf takes the reins of the largest school in the district, but one that is predicted by many to be the fifth-place finisher.
Robert Lee is expected to pace the district with an astonishing 14 lettermen returning from last year’s 4-6 team. Lane Fowler is coming off a sophomore campaign in which he threw for over 1,300 yards and 25 touchdowns. Daniel Mendoza will be the leader of a defense that returns five starters.
Chasing the Steers will be longtime rival Bronte which is dropping down to six-man this fall after going 1-9 in Class 2A, Division II in 2017. The Longhorns have three players who started on each side of the ball at the 11-man level last year that are projected to start this season.
This is easily May’s district to lose after the Tigers saw their undefeated season come to an end in the regional final, but the Tigers will be reloading after losing six seniors from the deep playoff run.
Defensive back Daniel Salinas is one of three returning starters and recorded 151 tackles last year. Meanwhile, coach Craig Steele’s offense will be led by Gage Keckler and Austin McAbee, who combined for 30 catches and 13 touchdowns last fall.
A showdown between Gorman and Lingleville should decide the second playoff spot in the district and the Panthers have the slight edge in the preseason with five defensive starters coming back compared to just a trio for the Cardinals. Both squads have four offensive starters returning.
The Santa Anna Mountaineers were dealt a tough hand by the UIL in realignment by being placed into this district after last year’s winless campaign.
Coach Brent Williamson comes to Zephyr after a one-year stint at Blanket and inherits a team that went 10-2 while making it to the regional semifinals last year.
Despite having 12 lettermen back, the Bulldogs return just five starters (three on offense, two on defense) and will look to the leadership of Devin Williams to help make a smooth transition for the young team.
Williams had 46 catches for nearly 1,100 yards and 26 touchdowns last year while playing both ways. On defense, he contributed 75 tackles and seven interceptions.
The Bulldogs will need Williams’ leadership in a showdown with defending state finalist Jonesboro in a game that should decide the district championship.
The first district in Division II with a team from the Big Country in it features four teams chock full of experience, but it could be the Trent Gorillas who wind up being the area’s biggest surprise this year.
The Gorillas are coming off an 0-10 season but lost only one letterman and return five starters on both sides of the ball. Trent will also benefit from the return of quarterback Floyd Yearian who is returning from injury.
It won’t be easy to nab one of the two playoff spots as Trent will have to upend at least two of: Blackwell, Loraine and Moran.
Blackwell is coming off an 11-1 season in which the Hornets made it all the way to the regional semifinals. Quarterback Brandon Brinkman accounted for 37 touchdowns as a sophomore while running back Cameron Coldiron was the all-state Newcomer of the Year as a freshman.
Moran was also a regional semifinalist in 2017, but like Loraine, only has two starters on both sides of the ball coming back. Defensive end Curry Pendleton and safety Kobee Lapp will be tasked with leading the defense as Moran seeks a third consecutive playoff berth.
Loraine rounds out the district looking to bounce back from a 4-6 campaign last fall. Giovanni Benivamondez was used all over the field last season and accounted for 10 touchdowns either rushing or passing. Benivamondez also added 58 tackles on defense where he will be joined this fall by Cadon Walthall who had three sacks a year ago.
Another district filled with Big Country flavor sees three of the five teams in it that are coming off playoff appearances in Guthrie, Jayton and Lueders-Avoca.
The Jaguars and Raiders were both knocked out in the bi-district round, while the Jaybirds made a surprising run to the regional semifinals.
Jayton has running backs Tye Scogin (1,901 yards, 48 TDs) and Pecos Smith (1,013 yards, 19 TDs), and quarterback Kaden Awe (1,177 yards, 20 TDs) back to lead a potent offense.
Daquan Brown turned heads across the state last year as he burst onto the scene for Lueders-Avoca and will continue to draw plenty of attention after the Raiders went 6-5 last fall.
Guthrie will be hard-pressed to make a repeat postseason appearance as a result of having low numbers in the school that forced the Jaguars to play primarily a JV schedule during non-district play.
Paint Creek is also in a bind entering the season as the Pirates have no upperclassmen returning from last year’s 4-6 team and one starter on each side of the ball.
Rule had to forfeit five games due to a lack of numbers last year and went 1-4 in games when the Bobcats were able to field a team. That could also be an issue this fall as the Bobcats have just four returning lettermen.
One thing is guaranteed in this district – two teams who missed the playoffs last fall will make the postseason this year.
All four teams (Benjamin, Harrold, Throckmorton and Woodson) were left out of the big dance last year, but the Greyhounds shouldn’t have a problem punching their ticket this season.
Throckmorton has five starters coming back on both sides of the ball running back Jarrett Wigington back leading the way.
The second playoff spot should come down to Woodson and Benjamin as Harrold didn’t have enough players to even field a squad last year and questions remain as to if the Cowboys will be able to this year.
Woodson should have the upper hand as the Cowboys have eight lettermen returning from a 3-7 team and junior running back Will Harris will be counted on to be the team’s offensive leader.
Benjamin, meanwhile, will lean on J.C. Espinal to play both ways and be a leader on and off the field.
This district is going to be a battle for the second playoff berth behind defending state champion Strawn.
The Greyhounds went 15-0 in 2017 and have four offensive and five defensive starters back led by state player of the year Tanner Hodgkins. In addition, all-state offensive MVP Carlos Villanueva and all-state defensive MVP Ivan Ruiz are back to lead Strawn to what could be potentially back-to-back championships.
Meanwhile, Bluff Dale, Gordon and Gustine had a combined four wins last year with no district wins. Bluff Dale is in its first varsity season after playing as a JV squad in 2017.
Gordon and Gustine were both 2-8 last year and have a wealth of experience returning. The Longhorns have four starters back on both sides of the ball led by quarterback Caleb Floyd. Gordon is also going to be bolstered by the arrival of new head coach Mike Reed – a legend in the six-man coaching ranks.
Gustine has two-way starters Andres Garcia and Ivan Tovar back as the Tigers return five starters on both sides of the ball. Gustine’s matchup with Gordon this fall is going to be massive and should decide the final playoff spot.
With the exception of Sidney, every team in the district is returning at least half of their starters from a year ago, led by Mullin’s five starters on both sides of the ball.
Bobby Salinas ran for over 600 yards with 15 touchdowns last season and is a preseason favorite to be the district’s defensive MVP this fall. Leading the Bulldogs offense this year will be junior quarterback Jaxon Wootton who threw 22 touchdown passes in 2017.
Blanket is set to feature Logan Wheeler after he ran for 915 yards on just 93 carries last year and will pace an offense for a team that went 5-5 in 2017 behind coach Tyler Tabor.
Mason Brummett ran for nearly 1,100 yards last year with 18 touchdowns for Brookesmith and will be joined in the backfield by fullback Johnathan Willoughby. The duo also combined for 136 tackles on defense as well.
Rising Star will be looking to end a two-year playoff drought and will be led by new head coach Adrian Greenfield. Youth will be a factor for the Wildcats as just three lettermen return from last year’s 2-8 squad.
Finally, Sidney has 10 lettermen back from last year’s 1-8 squad with athlete Joshua Kinnard set to return from injury. He will be joined as a key cog by Dennis Morales – a running back on offense and linebacker on defense.
In this five-team district, the only teams returning all six starters on both sides of the ball are the two squads who missed the 2017 postseason – Lohn and Rochelle.
Rochelle will be led by junior Denton Tinney and all-district running back Noah Flores this fall. Tinney is going to be looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued sophomore campaign.
Lohn is in a tougher predicament after having to forfeit multiple games in 2017 due to a lack of players.
Richland Springs will be looking to bounce back from last year’s regional semifinal loss with a young team that brings back just one offensive and two defensive starters. New coach Thomas Tipton will be looking toward Cameron Parham to take over as the signal caller this fall after Parham was a second-team all-state tight end in 2017.
Rounding out the district is Panther Creek which is having to replace five lettermen from last year’s bi-district finalist. The Panthers will turn to running back Matthew Morris to be an offensive leader after he had a combined 764 yards of offense and 23 touchdowns in 2017.