2017 Region Outlooks: 3A DII Region II — Gunter now has a target on its back
AS WE LOOK AHEAD TO THE 2017 TEXAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SEASON, DCTF'S BRADY KEANE TAKES A LOOK AT HOW EACH REGION SHOULD SHAKE OUT WHEN FALL ROLLS AROUND.
The 2017 Texas high school football season will be here before you know it, and in a year without UIL realignment, we have a grasp on who should challenge for region — and state — titles across the state. We’ll take a closer look at the frontrunners in each region throughout the spring doldrums.
Class 6A: Region I / Region II / Region III / Region IV
Class 5A: Region I / Region II / Region III / Region IV
Class 4A DI: Region I / Region II / Region III / Region IV
Class 4A DII: Region I / Region II / Region III / Region IV
Class 3A DI: Region I / Region II / Region III / Region IV
Class 3A DII: Region I
Today’s spotlight: Class 3A DII Region II
At first glance, Class 3A DII Region II appeared to take a step backwards after realignment last year when competitive teams like Waskom, West Rusk and Howe were moved out of the region. But Gunter’s unique twist of the pistol offense quickly took the state by storm as the Tigers and coach Jake Fieszel dominated their way to the program’s first state title.
Gunter won’t be quite as powerful in 2017, but the Tigers will be back to compete for another regional championship along with up-and-coming teams like Harmony, Nocona, Winona and Leonard, and more established threats like Henrietta.
The Tigers lose an extremely talented senior class that played a big role in the state championship run, but its clear that the 12 returning starters will be motivated for another big season. Pilot Point gave Gunter its only scare early in the season last year and the Tigers went on to outscore their district opponents 273-33 – an average score of 45-5.
The defense was stifling all year and held opponents to less than 13 points per game. Behind seven returning starters, that unit will be tough again this season. All-state LB Zach Lowe leads the way along with all-state DB Braiden Clopton and S Peyton Lowe, who was the Defensive MVP of the state championship game as a sophomore. ATH Dylan Jantz will be a key part of the offense while Daylan Bower takes over at QB after earning all-district honors as a two-way starter at WR and DL a year ago. Gunter has some holes to fill and Leonard will provide a stiff challenge in district play, but the Tigers will almost certainly be back as a force in Region II.
The Eagles have steadily improved in each of the last three seasons, going from three wins in 2014 to nine last year. Harmony tied atop the leaderboard in District 8 but entered the playoffs as the second seed because of a head-to-head loss to Edgewood, and advanced to the second round before falling to a tough Henrietta squad.
Looking ahead to this season, Harmony hopes its experience will pay off in an extremely tough district. The Eagles return 16 starters from last season’s team, including senior QB Spencer Seahorn (1,242 yards, 10 TDs), who will be in his fourth year as the starter. RB Barrett Hill (819 yards, 11 TDs) is back and will have a lot of room to run behind four-year starters on the offensive line in Conner Henson and Noah Taylor. ATH Konrad Eichelman (123 tackles, 3 INTs) can make an impact anywhere on the field, while LB D.J. Click (123 tackles) and LB Easton Blackstone (85 tackles) will anchor the middle of the defense. The district race is a gauntlet, but that’s where Harmony’s experience might pay off this season.
Like Harmony, Nocona has gradually improved since a dismal year back in 2014. Coach Brad Keck led the team to a third-place finish in District 5 behind Henrietta and Holliday, and the Indians managed to knock off Millsap before falling to Leonard in the second round of the playoffs.
Now, Nocona returns 17 starters and loses just five lettermen from last season’s team. The Indians look poised for a big year behind an experienced senior class. QB Jeremy James (2,751 total yards, 29 TDs) is back to lead the offense, but it’s the defensive unit that looks scary good on paper. All-state LB Tanner Cable (171 tackles), first-team all-district DT Fletcher Six, LB Charles Evans (71 tackles, 16 TFL), DB Joan Gomez (4 INTs) and DB Jose Ogeda are just the headliners of nine returning starters. The district race won’t be easy, but the Indians have what it takes to make a run.
The Kincade family has worked wonders in Winona, and coach Keylon Kincade led the Wildcats to an eight-win season and an appearance in the regional championship just three years removed from a 1-9 season in 2014. The team finished fourth in District 8, but went on a magical playoff run before falling to the eventual state champion in Gunter.
The Wildcats lose all-state ATH Braxton Kincade, but have some big time weapons back heading into 2017. ATH Keylon Kincade Jr. was as an all-state selection as a sophomore and will play an even bigger role in 2017. RB/DB Quindarius Johnson took home all-state honors for his play in the secondary and rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns as a freshman. First-team all-district LB Zach Francis is back to the lead defense, and Winona appears to have the pieces to make some more noise this season.
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Brady Keane is a Contributing Writer for Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. Follow him on Twitter: @BradyKeane.