Lorena has enjoyed a strong run of success with four district championships in the last six years, but that doesn’t mean Leopards coach Ray Biles is already counting on another one. In this district, there are no guarantees.

The Leopards have another superb team featuring 12 returning starters that helped fashion last year’s five-game sweep in District 9-4A Division II. But he sees competition coming from all five district teams that hope to knock off Lorena.

“It should be tough again, top to bottom, it could be anybody’s district,” Biles said. “You’ve got to be fortunate to stay healthy and have things happen at the right time. I think it will be very competitive with a lot of good athletes that are well coached.”

The Leopards are built around the versatile offensive talents of Thor Hoffmann and a tremendous defense that has plenty of veterans.

They’ll try to hold off a Robinson squad that seeks to reload following the graduation of Super Centex Athlete of the Year and record-setting quarterback Chase Allison. Sophomore Mason Cooper is expected to step into the Rockets’ quarterback role.

Salado has a shot to be playoff-bound again behind 1,200-yard rusher Trey Sheppard while Connally will come into the season full of confi dence after last year’s playoff appearance.

Fairfield hopes to bounce back following an uncharacteristic 2-8 season. Former Cedar Hill defensive line coach Frank Sandoval will try to get Mexia back on track as he takes over a team that went winless in district last season.

Lorena Leopards

  • LAST SEASON — 8-4 (5-0)
  • RETURNING STARTERS — 5 offensive, 7 defensive
  • COACH RAY BILES — 155-118 at Lorena

All-time: 379-442-32 since 1921

Playoff history: 27-16 in 15 trips, most recently 2016; 1 state championship (1987)

Returning: 21 lettermen; 5 offensive, 7 defensive starters

Base offense: Spread

Base defense: 3-4

Outlook: The Leopards are hoping to win their fifth district title in the past seven seasons but they’ll need to do it with a pair of new quarterbacks.

Cam Bryant was an all-district safety last season while Ben Johnston was an all-district wide receiver. Veteran coach Ray Biles needs both to come through at quarterback for the Leopards to enjoy another successful season.

“Cam understands the scheme and he’s calm and confident and a tough runner,” Biles said. “Ben is a speedy and shifty guy who can make plays. We’ve got packages for both of them, and it should be 50-50.”

Both quarterbacks will be happy to have Thor Hoffmann on their side after he rushed for 889 yards and accumulated 376 receiving yards while scoring 13 touchdowns last season. Hoffmann will run behind a line that features Carter Diserens.

Lorena’s defense should be strong once again with Hunter Isham leading the way at defensive end and Jacob Byrd also returning on the line. Colin Highfill is a returning all-district linebacker who made 99 tackles last season while Bryant is back at defensive back after making four interceptions.

Schedule

9/1 China Spring 7:30

9/8 at La Vega 7:30

9/15 at Franklin 7:30

9/22 Lampasas 7:30

9/29 at Madisonville 7:30

10/13 Mexia 7:30*

10/20 Salado 7:30*

10/27 at Robinson 7:30*

11/3 Connally 7:30*

11/10 at Fairfield 7:30*

Robinson Rockets

  • LAST SEASON — 9-3 (4-1)
  • RETURNING STARTERS — 5 offensive, 7 defensive
  • COACH TOMMY ALLISON — 37-30 at Robinson

All-time: 332-239-9 since 1963

Playoff history: 25-19 in 19 trips, most recently 2016; 0 state championships

Base offense: Spread

Base defense: Multiple

Outlook: Replacing Super Centex Athlete of the Year Chase Allison would be tough for any team. After all, he passed for 3,933 yards and 51 touchdowns while leading the Rockets to a 9-3 season as a senior last season.

But Robinson coach Tommy Allison has confidence that the Rockets can still put a highly productive offense on the field with sophomore Mason Cooper stepping in.

“Mason started as a freshman safety and has a tremendous arm and is a good athlete who can run as well,” Allison said.

The Rockets also must replace record-setting Braxton Ashcraft, who decided to bypass football and focus on his baseball career as a senior before heading to Baylor.

But the Rockets still have a talented group of receivers that include Jordan Rogers, Noah Richard and Isaiah Montgomery. Isaiah Houston should be one of the best running backs in the area and can help in the passing game. Will Losak and Andrew Toledo will lead the offensive line.

While the Rockets rang up tons of points last season, the defense often struggled. But Allison expects improvement in that area, with ends Reece Phillips and Kayne Sollender, safety Malik Ford and linebacker Blaine Waggoner leading the way.

“We’re going to have a lot of youth, so underclassmen will play key roles,” Allison said. “But I feel real good about how these kids are working.”

Schedule

9/1 at Taylor 7:30

9/8 Lampasas 7:30

9/15 at Troy 7:30

9/22 Athens 7:30

9/29 at Gatesville 7:30

10/13 Connally 7:30*

10/20 at Fairfield 7:30*

10/27 Lorena 7:30*

11/3 at Salado 7:30*

11/10 Mexia 7:30*

Connally Cadets

  • LAST SEASON — 5-6 (2-3)
  • RETURNING STARTERS — 5 offensive, 7 defensive
  • COACH SHANE ANDERSON — 7-14 at Connally

All-time: 329-342-15 since 1951

Playoff history: 15-14-1 in 15 trips, most recently 2016; 0 state championships

Base offense: Multiple spread

Base defense: 3-4

Outlook: After winning just two games two years ago, the Cadets broke through with a five-win season to reach the playoffs. Now Connally is hoping to get back to the postseason again and move past the first round.

Defense will likely be the key. Five starters return including a pair of talented linebackers in Devin Pullin and Joseph Crosby. Javion Dawkins is a 6-0, 245-pound defensive lineman who has been starting for the Cadets for three seasons and Korie Black is a good athlete in the secondary.

Dawkins will also double as a powerful running back who will join Chandler Anderson to lead the ground game. Kaine Holloway and Black will likely be the Cadets’ top receivers while Trent Pullen will anchor the offensive line.

“We’ll rely heavily on Javion (Dawkins) on both sides of the ball,” said Connally coach Shane Anderson. “He’s a big kid who has been starting since his sophomore year. Kaine is a little bitty kind of scatback who will play some inside receiver and we’ll try to get the ball to him in space.”

Quarterback has been a battle between junior Gaylon Glenn, who is coming up from the JV, and freshman Kavian Gaither.

“There’s no doubt we’re trying to build off our playoff team,” Anderson said. “We’ve got a lot of kids back that were part of that team. We’re going on the road for our first three games, so that will be a challenge.”

Schedule

9/1 at Gatesville 7:30

9/8 at Glen Rose 7:30

9/15 at Royse City 7:30

9/22 Franklin 7:30

9/29 La Vega 7:30

10/13 at Robinson 7:30*

10/20 at Mexia 7:30*

10/27 Fairfield 7:30*

11/3 at Lorena 7:30*

11/10 Salado 7:30*

Fairfield Eagles

  • LAST SEASON — 2-8 (1-4)
  • RETURNING STARTERS — 4 offensive, 5 defensive
  • COACH JOHN BACHTEL — 43-20 at Fairfield

All-time: 420-385-25

Playoff history: 19-21 in 22 trips, most recently 2015; 0 state championships

Base offense: Spread

Base defense: 3-4

Outlook: The Eagles had averaged nearly 10 wins per year since 2010 but took a big tumble with last season’s 2-8 record.

Though coach John Bachtel has four offensive starters and five defensive starters returning, he faces a huge task since he has to replace every starter on both sides of the line.

The Eagles need defensive linemen Sutton Bonner and Trevan McWilliams and offensive linemen Miller Smith and Tucker Davis to be leaders up front.

“We’re still looking for considerable improvement and we’ve got a lot of things that need to be worked out,” Bachtel said. “We’ve got a lot of skill kids back but we’ve got to have linemen who can make some holes on offense and plug things up on defense.”

Quarterback Kam Ransom brings good athleticism to the table and he’s got a pair of receiving threats in Kolbe Branch and Jaise Oliver.

Both Branch and Oliver will bring experience to the secondary and linebacker Ulises Ramirez is back after accumulating 132 tackles last season.

Schedule

9/1 La Vega 7:30

9/8 at Athens 7:30

9/15 Palestine 7:30

9/22 Rusk 7:30

9/29 at China Spring 7:30

10/13 at Salado 7:30*

10/20 Robinson 7:30*

10/27 at Connally 7:30*

11/3 at Mexia 7:30*

11/10 Lorena 7:30*

Mexia Blackcats

LAST SEASON — 2-8 (0-5)

RETURNING STARTERS — 3 offensive, 3 defensive

COACH FRANK SANDOVAL — 0-0 at Mexia

All-time: 539-437-36 since 1910

Playoff history: 24-27-1 in 29 trips, most recently 2015; 1 state championship (1989)

Base offense: Multiple spread

Base defense: 4-3

Outlook: Frank Sandoval will try to revive Mexia after coaching the defensive line for a highly successful Cedar Hill program for the last three years.

“The attraction was the history at Mexia,” Sandoval said. “I looked at it hard, stared at it over and over when the job came up. The further I looked, all I found was good stuff. I heard a lot of great things about our kids.”

The Blackcats finished 2-8 and lost all five district games last season, but Sandoval will have a few talented players to build around.

Sandoval likes the composure and arm strength of quarterback Travion Carter. Jadrian Smith gives the Blackcats a breakaway threat out of the backfield while Josh Beachum is a 5-7, 155-pound slot receiver with considerable skill.

Leading the defense is returning all-district safety Jaquay Martin, a 6-3, 205-pound talent who is fast and physical. Mexia’s defensive line will get a boost from ends Jekahre Hackett and Jaidon Ardister.

Schedule

9/1 at Athens 7:30

9/8 Teague 7:30

9/15 Groesbeck 7:30

9/22 at La Vega 7:30

9/29 Caldwell 7:30

10/13 at Lorena 7:30*

10/20 Connally 7:30*

10/27 at Salado 7:30*

11/3 Fairfield 7:30*

11/10 at Robinson 7:30*

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