By Nick Talbot

The Cove Herald

Coming off one of its most successful playoff runs in school history, Copperas Cove has a target on its back.

But, that is nothing new.

The Bulldawgs went 13-2 and advanced to the state semifinal last season, while the other three playoff teams - Shoemaker, Temple and A&M Consolidated - from District 12-5A went one and done.

This season, even with a revamped offensive line, the same is expected to happen.

David Campbell's Texas Football magazine picked Cove to once again bring home the district title. They also ranked them No.25 in the state.

But that does not mean they are going to run the table. Cove fell to Consolidated 31-27 in Week 9 and was forced into a must-win situation against Harker Heights in its final regular season game.

Of course, they won that game 38-6.

"A&M Consolidated and Cove are as tough as you're going find in the state. Everybody else is about even. The big sleeper is Ellison. They're going to be really good," said Shoemaker coach Ken Gray. "All these teams are going to fight it out on the field. Other than A&M and Cove, I think the rest of the district is going to come down whoever's the most ready to play and who's going to be stepping up and making a play."

That is a mantra every team lives by. Even the ones that finished in last place.

"You can be 2-8 or 8-2 and everybody's good, who knows?" Harker Heights defensive coordinator Keith Muhlstein said. "Everybody's got a chance, it just depends how the ball bounces."

A&M CONSOLIDATED TIGERS (6-5, overall, 5-2 in 12-5A) DI bi-district finalists - Behind a large offensive line, the Tigers wing-T offense could be special this season. Consolidated is large up front with Jacob Rae (315 pounds) and Weston Chenault (265). The big boys will be blocking for the little boys, though. The Tigers' offense will feature two undersized backs by 5A standards in Chris Nutall, (5'8", 170) and Quinton White (5'6", 160). Of course, both are burners, running the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds or less.

When they need size, the Tigers have a bruising fullback in Clinton Banks (5'10", 218). When they are not running the ball expect the Tigers quarterbacks to be looking for tight ends, Kyle Doll and Earl Burrell. On defense, Consolidated will be sting in the backfield with Xavier Nelson, who was all-district second-team pick as a junior, and cornerback Andrew Fletcher.

BELTON TIGERS (3-7, 3-4) - While most of the district will be trying to hammer the ball between the tackles, Belton will be trying to throw it past the safeties.

The Tigers were the only team to pass for more than 2,500 yards in the district. And if it were not for Shoemaker, which passed for 2,012, Belton would have been the only team to pass for more than 1,301. The passing attack was led by 12-5A Newcomer of the Year, David Ash.

Ash, now a junior, led 12-5A with 2,496 passing yards, while passing for 16 touchdowns and getting picked off only nine times. Kevin Thornton, his main target last season with 58 receptions for 589 yards, also returns. Belton scores a lot of points. And they have too. The Tigers were last in the district in scoring and total defense.

BRYAN VIKINGS (4-5, 2-5) - Last season, Bryan had the top rushing defense in the district. It just did not keep teams out of the end zone. A lot of that had to do with the Vikings' offense, which finished last in total offense with a meager passing game and little to no ground attack.

With only four offensive starters returning, it could be another difficult season for the Viking offense. The season will rest with their defense, which is led by safeties Johnnie Goosby and Jacob Sutherland and linebacker Byron Jackson.

COPPERAS COVE BULLDAWGS (13-2, 6-1) D-II State Semifinalists - No matter the classification, the Bulldawgs are a team to be reckoned with. After two years in 4A, Cove moved back up to 5A and won the District 12-5A title, almost running the table if not for a Week 9 loss to A&M Consolidated.

This season, the Bulldawgs will have an inexperienced offensive line, but will return the major its of its skill players. Brandin Byrd and Will Wright each ran for 1,000 yards last season, thanks to a lengthy playoff run. And they should again. They might be joined in the 1,000-yard club by slot receiver/tailback Brelan Chancellor, who ran for 715 yards in 2008. Chancellor should be Cove's top target now with the departure of Josh Boyce to TCU.

On defense, Cove's strength is in the middle of the field with linebackers Donnell Hawkins (153 tackles) and Brandon Durant. They also have a third Brock in the pipelines. Cooper Brock is expected to start on the defensive line for the Bulldawgs. His brothers, Tanner and Logan Brock, both suit up for TCU.

ELLISON EAGLES (5-5, 3-4) - If speed kills, Ellison should do better in district than its 3-4 performance last season. The Eagles track team finished second in state in 2009 and the football team now looks to reap in the benefits of those talents.

Cornerbacks/wide receivers Larry Brooks and Prezel Hardy provide afterburners few teams will be able to compete with. Hardy won the IAAF World Youth Championship title in the 100-meter dash in Italy over the summer. Also speeding into secondaries will be receivers Devonte Cloud and Michael Bryan.

Just do not forget the bulk of juniors Devon Hocutt (6'0", 256) and David Cobb (6'0", 190) both who are expected to bruise their through the trenches this season. Defensively, Ellison has to improve after surrendering 33.4 points per game last season. If they do it will be behind Hocutt, Dominique Hosea, who is a listed as a 3-star recruit at and Jovanny Perez.

HARKER HEIGHTS KNIGHTS (1-9, 1-6) - New coach, new system, but will it be the same result? Harker Heights struggled in 2008, but had a few bright spots. After another one-win season, the Knights replaced Todd McVey with Mike Mullins, who had a successful run at 3A Cameron Yoe.

The one that shone most brightly was running back Kerry Sloan, who finished third in the district in rushing with 1,273 yards and scored ten touchdowns. He should have a decent line to run behind with center Jacob Pierson (6'2", 290) leading the charge.

Mullins' up-tempo offense should help an the Knights' anemic scoring offense (19.9 ppg in '08), but the Knights will have to make the most strides on defense if they hope to get over the hump in district play. Heights gave up 37.7 ppg last season, as it struggled to stop both the pass and the rush. Linebacker Tyler Babb and corners Divante Goodsby and Brendan Campbell are expected to be the major contributors.

SHOEMAKER GREY WOLVES (4-7, 3-4), DII bi-district finalists - Last year's group finally broke through the postseason barrier that bordered Shoemaker's program since its inception. The bulk of that group, however, is now gone.

The Grey Wolves lost 42 lettermen to graduation and return just 10 from last year's team, including just five starters. Defensive end Eric Braswell (University of Houston) and tackle Elliot Hilliard will lead Shoemaker's defense from its fifth-ranked recent history.

Texas A&M-committed senior quarterback Jameill Showers returns as the only starter from last year's league-leading offense. Showers, who Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine placed on its preseason Super Team as an utility player, contributed more than 2,500 yards of the Grey Wolves' offense, which averaged almost 391 a game.

Incoming receivers Andre Franklin and Vincent Fuller look to replace Derrick Mays (Cisco Junior College) and M.J. Porter (Texas Tech).

TEMPLE WILDCATS (5-6, 5-2) DI bi-district finalists - Lache Seastrunk ran for 1,518 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He is expected to put up even gaudier numbers this season. One of the top running back recruits in the nation, Seastrunk will carry the Temple offense.

The Wildcats led the district in rushing averaging 289.5 yards per game. Temple made the playoffs last season by feasting on everyone not named Cove and A&M. With a beefed up district in 2009, that will be a lot tougher to accomplish.

Defensively, Temple struggled to stop the pass, giving up 1,354 yards through the air in a district where six-of-eight teams run the ball almost exclusively. Linebacker Stedman Moore (133 tackles) will be the team's major stopper.

The Wildcats are picked third in the district by Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine.

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