By Will Johnson
EAST TEXAS – We have all seen the comic strip “Peanuts” at one time or another. There is one scene in particular where Lucy is holding a football as Charlie Brown prepares to kick. Just before his foot makes contact with the ball, Lucy jerks the pigskin away and Charlie Brown lands flat on his back.
Now close your eyes and imagine if Lucy has the word UIL scrawled across her dress and Charlie Brown has Texas High School Football etched on his sweater. You get the picture?
Because of COVID-19, the UIL may well yank football away from Texas high schools across the state just before the season kicks off.
Hopefully, that won’t happen and the march towards Arlington will begin on Aug. 3 with the first day of practice. Now if that happens, several teams will see quite a few new faces on both sides of the ball as well as a different slate of opponents.
The UIL realigned districts for the 2020 football season and in case you’ve forgotten who goes where, here’s a quick recap.
Starting with Class 1A, the Oakwood Panthers have been placed in Class 1A DII District 13. Their six-man district opponents will be: Apple Springs; Calvert; and Chester.
The Panthers are ranked at #11 in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football (DCTF) preseason poll but are picked to finish second in their district behind the Calvert Trojans. The Trojans are ranked at #3 heading into the season.
The Apple Springs Eagles are expected to finish third in the district while the Chester Yellow Jackets are picked as the fourth place team
Grapeland made the jump from Class 2A DII to the Class 2A DI level following the 2020 realignment and will have a somewhat tougher district schedule than they faced the last two years. The Sandies have been placed in District 11-2A DI and will be joined by: Alto; Centerville; Groveton; Leon and Normangee.
According to DCTF, Grapeland has eight offensive starters coming back along with seven defensive starters. The Sandies were Regional Semifinalists last year, falling to the eventual Class 2A DII State Champion Mart Panthers, and are ranked at #17 to open the season.
Surprisingly enough, there are two teams picked ahead of Grapeland in the race for the District 11 2A-DI crown – the Alto Yellow Jackets and the Groveton Indians. Alto is picked to win the district and is ranked #14. Groveton is predicted to finish second in league play and the Indians are slotted at #15 in the preseason poll.
Rounding out the district picks, the Centerville Tigers are picked to finish fourth, the Normangee Panthers are picked fifth and the Leon Cougars are picked sixth.
This district is wide open. The Sandies are strong enough to win the district and should compete for the title. Alto and Groveton, however, are longtime foes of Grapeland and always seem to give the Sandies fits. Fortunately, the Sandies get the Indians at home to open district play and close out the regular season in Alto against the Yellow Jackets.
Make no mistake, the Sandies will have to bring their “A” game throughout the district season. Centerville, Normangee and Leon all made the playoffs last year and will be waiting for a slip-up by someone so they can slide into the postseason.
Grapeland’s Cooper Sheridan was selected as a preseason All-State LB and also as the preseason District 11-2A DI Defensive MVP.
The Lovelady Lions remained as a DII school and have been placed in District 11-2A DII. They will be joined by: Colmesneil; Cushing; Mount Enterprise; Overton; Tenaha; and West Sabine.
The Lions are a young team, but they’re scrappy. While they are ranked #18 in DII, they are picked to finish second in District 11-2A DII behind the Tenaha Tigers. Don’t be surprised, however, if they take care of business against the Tigers, who finished 5-5 in 2019 and missed the playoffs.
The West Sabine Tigers are picked third, the Mount Enterprise Wildcats were selected fourth, the Cushing Bearkats were selected fifth, the Colmesneil Bulldogs come in at number six and the Overton Mustangs are projected to finish seventh.
Of note, the Lions’ Jaxson Reeves was selected as the district’s preseason Defensive MVP from his linebacker position.
Moving to the Class 3A DI level, it appears the UIL actually created a district which made sense. The Crockett Bulldogs, Elkhart Elks, Trinity Tigers and Westwood Panthers will all compete in District 9-3A DI.
They will be joined in the district by the Coldspring-Oakhurst Trojans, Diboll Lumberjacks and Huntington Red Devils.
The Lumberjacks are ranked at #16 in the DCTF preseason poll and they’re picked to win the district, but they lost a lot of talent to graduation. Crockett is slotted to finish second, but they also lost a lot to graduation.
The Coldspring-Oakhurst Trojans are picked third while the Elkhart Elks may slip into the playoffs for the first time in a while as they are picked to finish fourth in District 9-3A DI. The Elks also bring back RJ Moore who was selected as the DCTF preseason Offensive MVP.
Huntington, Westwood and Trinity may well be looking at another long season. While all three teams are young, they had a combined three wins in the 2019 season.
The Palestine Wildcats will finally be out of the “District of Doom,” but will stay face some stiff competition as they join Athens, Henderson, Kilgore, Lindale, Mabank and Tyler Chapel Hill in District 9-4A DI.
Lindale, Kilgore and Henderson are all ranked in the DCTF Preseason Top 25. The Wildcats are unranked but are coming off of a Regional Semifinalist appearance in 2019. They are picked fourth in their district and could move up if a team falters down the stretch.
These are all projections. Some may be right and some will (most likely) be wrong. The biggest thing we – as fans of Texas high school football – can hope for is when we tee it up for the kickoff, the UIL doesn’t yank the ball away.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.