Lions again projected to finish second in district behind Abilene Wylie

The 7-on-7 season concluded this weekend and the first preseason practice is five weeks away, still the yearning for high school football is gradually intensifying. Adding to the anticipation is the recent release of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine, which previews more than 1,400 high school football teams and offers its predictions on how the coming season will unfold.

For the Brownwood Lions, fresh off a round of 16 effort at the 7-on-7 Division II State Tournament in College Station, a third consecutive runner-up finish to the Abilene Wylie Bulldogs in District 3-4A Division I is the fate the magazine projects.

Brownwood second-year head coach Kyle Maxfield will return seven offensive and four defensive starters from last season’s 6-4 playoff squad that reach the area round.

Wylie, ranked No. 6 in Class 4A Division I by the writers of the magazine and tabbed as No. 3 in the coaches poll, is again the 3-4A Division I favorite. The Bulldogs, coming off a 12-2 campaign in 2016, reached the championship game of the 7-on-7 Division II state tournament, falling to Graham, 27-20.

Following the second-place Lions, according to DCTF, will be third-place Stephenville — which reached the consolation finals of the 7-on-7 Division II state tournament — fourth-place Snyder and fifth-place Big Spring. For the fourth consecutive year, all but one of the teams in the district will advance to the playoffs.

Wylie defensive tackle Ryan Hamar was named preseason defensive player of the year while Stephenville quarterback Easton Jones — who will miss the entire season after recently undergoing Tommy John surgery for a torn UCL — was listed as offensive MVP.

In pre-district action, the Lions will face 4A Division II No. 5 Giddings, which Brownwood defeated by a point in the closing moments a year ago, and Division II No. 17 Graham, which features one of two “money players” listed by DCTF — quarterback Tucker Horn.

Class 3A

Following a 2016 season in which the Early Longhorns and Bangs Dragons combined for a total of two victories, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football isn’t expecting either team to make a lot of noise this fall.

In District 3-3A Division I, the Longhorns — who will be receiving an influx of talent from a successful JV squad in head coach Blake Sandford’s third season — are picked to finish last after an 0-10 season.

Four of the six teams in the district will advance to the postseason with defending district champion Comanche as the favorite, trailed by Clyde, Merkel, Brady, Jim Ned and Early.

Clyde running back Payton Burton is the preseason offensive player of the year, while preseason defensive player of the year honors go to Comanche linebacker Colton Roberts.

District 4-3A Division II is ranked as one of the top three districts in the state in the classification, as the Bangs Dragons will attempt to continue to ascend in head coach Jim Bird’s third season.

Coming off a 2-7 campaign, the Dragons are picked at the bottom of the 4-3A Division II race behind No. 10 Cisco, No. 14 Eastland, Coleman, Tolar and Dublin. Four of the district’s six teams will move on to the postseason.

Cisco running back Dathan Harding has been selected the preseason offensive player of the year, while the defensive player is Eastland linebacker Sam Barker.

Class 2A

Uncharacteristically, Goldthwaite is missing from the Class 2A Division I Top 20 in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, but the Eagles are still projected to make a postseason run.

Arch-rival San Saba, under the direction of new head coach Jerod Fikac, is expected to be in a rebuilding mode and not forecast to reach the playoffs, according to the publication.

Goldthwaite is coming off a 7-4 year with six starters back on each side of the ball, while San Saba was 0-10 last year and brings six offensive and three defensive starters.

Like District 4-3A Division II, District 7-2A Division I is listed as one of the three toughest districts in its classification. No. 3 Crawford is the league favorite trailed by No. 6 De Leon, Goldthwaite, Hico, Hamilton, Valley Mills and San Saba.

DeLeon quarterback Kevin Yeager is the preseason offensive player of the year and Crawford linebacker Koby Smith takes the defensive accolade.

Class A Division I

Following a run to the state quarterfinals, the Zephyr Bulldogs are ranked No. 5 heading into the season and are projected to capture the District 10-A Division I championship over reigning state finalist Jonesboro.

The Bulldogs return four starters on each side of the ball from last year’s 10-3 squad, which fell to Jonesboro twice and Richland Spring once.

Blanket, under the guidance of new head coach Brent Williamson, is looking to leapfrog Jonesboro in the district race and work itself into the playoff mix. The Tigers also bring back four starters on each side of the ball from a 6-4 squad a year ago.

Zephyr’s Devin Williams is the preseason offensive player of the year in the district, while Jonesboro’s Wyatt Young is the pick on defense.

The official DCTF projections list Zephyr as the favorite followed by Jonesboro, Blanket and Evant.

In District 11-A Division I, May began its season with 11 consecutive victories before being upended by Zephyr in the playoffs. With four offensive and three defensive starters back, the Tigers are picked to repeat as district champions ahead of Gordon, Gorman and Lingleville.

May’s Wyatt Mote in the district’s preseason offensive player of the year, while Gorman’s Trent Padron is the defensive player of the year.

Over in Region II, reigning District 8-A Division I champion Santa Anna is tabbed to place second behind Water Valley this season. Veribest, in third place, and Paint Rock, in fourth, round out the district selections.

Santa Anna is coming off a 7-4 campaign and welcomes back three offensive and two defensive starters.

Mountaineer D.J. Mattes is the preseason defensive player of the year in the district, while preseason offensive player of the year honors go to Water Valley’s Jeremy Jackson.

Class A Division II

The defending Class A Division II state Richland Springs Coyotes will start the season ranked No. 1 again, and are favorites to capture their third state championship in a row and ninth overall — all since 2004.

Richland Springs — which enters the season with 29 consecutive victories — is the overwhelming District 13-A Division II favorite ahead of Cherokee, Rochelle and Lohn.

The Coyotes return four starters on each side of the ball from last year’s 14-0 squad, including preseason district offensive player of the year Walker Tippie and preseason district defensive player of the year Hutton Lusty.

After reaching the playoffs for the first time in a decade in 2016, the Brookesmith Mustangs are not expected to make a return out of District 12-A Division II. Reigning league champion Panther Creek is the favorite followed by Sidney — which did not win a game last season — Mullin, Brookesmith and Gustine.

Brookesmith returns four offensive and three defensive starters from a 5-6 playoff team; Sidney brings back five offensive and five defensive starters from an 0-9 squad; and Mullin also welcomes back five starters on each side of the ball after going 6-3.

Mason Brummett of Brookesmith has been selected preseason defensive player of the year while Panther Creek’s J.C. McDonald is preseason offensive player of the year.

Rounding out the list of local schools, Rising Star — coming off a 1-9 campaign — is picked to repeat its fourth-place performance in District 11-A Division II. The Wildcats, who return three starters on each side of the ball, are expected to finish behind district favorite Strawn, Moran and Woodson.

Preseason practice for teams across the state begins Aug. 7, with opening weekend of the regular season for area schools slated for Sept. 1-2.