If there's a "sleeper" team for 4A Division 2 football in 2019 it has to be the Silsbee Tigers. The Randy Smith led squad returns 18 total starters. Seven on an offense that returns pretty much every offensive weapon.
Silsbee will be tested early and often as they scheduled 5A teams Nederland, Port Neches-Groves and 3A powerhouse Newton.
"Playing those teams shows you where you're at right away," said Smith, entering his fourth year at Silsbee after being Gene Johnson's offensive coordinator from Cypress Ranch.
"Those are some really hard games and we'll have some growing pains, but it will make us better in the end. We'll see what our offense and defense looks like prior to our district schedule."
Silsbee will most likely meet intra-district rival West Orange-Stark and neighboring (#1 ranked) Jasper in any playoff scenario but the Tigers are primed after a 2018 state semi-final loss to Cuero 24-29.
"The kids are excited, we've moved on (from last season)," said Smith.
"We know we have a big "X" on our back heading into this season. No one cares where you're ranked or what you did last year. It doesn't matter where you're ranked at the start of the season it's where you're ranked at the end."
Returning is a trio of running backs who accounted for nearly 3,400 yards rushing last year in seniors Dralyn Taylor and Chris Martin along with junior Antonius Arline. Sophomore WR Jayden Briscoe (1,270 yards, 18 TDs receiving) will be a big factor in the passing game. Junior Raymod Foster will lead the assault from behind center.
"We've got three really good running backs, we're going to have to figure out how to get them on the field at the same time," said Smith.
"We'll do some rotating there, we like to have fresh legs in the fourth quarter where we can punish the defense."
On the defensive side the Tigers are not as loaded but still have the personnel to wreak havoc with returning senior starters LB Dillon Tarver and DL Samuel Roundtree. Both players combined for over 100 tackles and four sacks last season.
"We've got experience on the D-Line with Ayden Bell, Lawrence Williams, and Roundtree," said Smith, "we're expecting those guys to be big time leaders up front."
The game of the year will be Friday, October 11 when West Orange-Stark visits Tiger Stadium for the expected district title and the coveted top payoff seed. Last year the Mustangs won the contest 24-21.
Silsbee will be looking for redemption in 2019.
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