757Teamz high school football Southeastern District preview: Oscar Smith still king, but the pack is gaining

Mike Caudill/The Virginian-Pilot/TNS

Has the gap closed in the Southeastern District?

Some may think so.

Oscar Smith won the regular-season title last season for a share of 17 of the past 18 championships. But Western Branch upset the Tigers in the Class 6 Region A playoffs to snap the Tigers’ string of consecutive region title-game appearances at 18.

The Bruins, who hadn’t beaten Oscar Smith since 2003, went on to win their first region title since 2002.

Others teams expected to contend are King’s Fork, which lost to Warwick in the Class 4 Region A final; Nansemond River, which lost in the Class 5 Region B final to Maury; and Indian River.

The playoff brackets will be different for some teams: Deep Creek, Great Bridge and King’s Fork all move from Class 4 to Class 5. King’s Fork joins Suffolk neighbor Nansemond River in Class 5, while Lakeland stays in Class 3.

A look at each team in predicted order of finish:

1. Oscar Smith Tigers

Classification: Class 6 Region A

Coach: Chris Scott, 44-5 in four seasons at Oscar Smith, 148-26 in 15 seasons overall

Last season: 9-2 overall, 8-0 district

On the field: The biggest question mark facing the Tigers last season was who would replace star QB Ethan Vasko. Quarterback again is a question mark, but for a different reason. The Tigers have three reliable candidates vying for the spot: holdover Jamar Wright, now a senior; Hickory transfer Owen Kelly, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior; and freshman Lonnie Andrews III, the son of the late star Oscar Smith running back. Though he has no high school experience, Andrews III has impressed the coaches. The Tigers have plenty of talent elsewhere, too. Junior DB Jahmari Deloatch already has eight scholarship offers, including those from Michigan and Wake Forest. Other key players are senior WR/DB Isaiah Acres, junior DE Jordan Rayner, sophomore WR Travis Johnson, WR Trey Jones, LB Malachi White and sophomore DB Jacoby Marshall, who already has offers from West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland and Duke. Senior Jerrod Wilson (6-1, 225) leads the defense, and the Tigers also have William & Mary commit Cam Heath (6-2, 265) and Elijah Blow (6-6, 285). Other key additions are running back Brandon Nesbit, who last season rushed for 1,151 yards and 20 TDs for Deep Creek, and lineman Jordan McDowell, a transfer from Grassfield. The Tigers are out to prove they aren’t ready to let go of the title anytime soon.

2. Western Branch Bruins

Classification: Class 6 Region A

Coach: Rashad Cook, 23-10 in three seasons

Last season: 11-3 overall, 6-2 district

On the field: The Bruins turned the corner last season with a win over Oscar Smith and their first region title in 20 years. Gone are stars Paul Billups Jr. (now at North Carolina), CJ Fraser (Richmond) and Shimique Blizzard (North Carolina A&T). But the Bruins have plenty of talent, led by Cook’s son Devin (5-11, 165). The Wake Forest commit will do a little bit of everything as a defensive back, wide receiver and kick returner. He is rated the No. 28 senior in the state by ESPN and Rivals. They also have a talented and big line led by Aiden Lorsong (6-3, 285) and Cam’Ron Warren (6-6, 290), who is rated the No. 7 senior in the state by ESPN. Other players to watch include senior WR/DB Christian Copeland, sophomore WR/DB Jaemarree Parker, K Riley Higgins, LB Joey Applewhite, FB/DT Tristan Schuler, WR/DB Damon McDaniel Jr., DB Aiden Water, DB/RB Gregory “Rico” Taylor III and RB/DB Christopher Frasier. Derrick Cook, also the coach’s son, will be a key component at quarterback. He saw a lot of varsity action last season, including his first varsity start against Franklin County in the region playoff win.

3. King’s Fork Bulldogs

Classification: Class 5 Region B

Coach: Anthony Joffrion, 21-5 in two seasons

Last season: 10-3 overall, 7-2 district

On the field: The Bulldogs, who lost to Warwick in the Class 4 Region A final last year, return all five starters on the offensive line and have 18 returning starters total. They are led by junior running back Javon Ford (6-0, 210), who has more than 2,000 career yards and more than 20 touchdowns. He is taking aim at Deshaun Wethington’s school record of 4,844 yards from 2012-15. He has nearly a dozen scholarship offers, including those from North Carolina, West Virginia, Duke and Virginia Tech. The Bulldogs also have OL Jaydin Dildy (6-3, 265), WR Jahmel Mackey, WR/DB Denosh Rodgers, WR Keyontae Bumpers, WR/CB Darryl Wilson, DL Jacolbe Leonard (40 tackles, 14 sacks), LB Nazman Gates, LB Joshua Pittman, LB Brandon Jeune and DB Malachi Nixon (50 tackles, three INTs). The Bulldogs also have two newcomers in Green Run transfer Kaevon Blanding (five INTs) and Norcom transfer Darryl Wilson (10 TDs, five INTs). The only question mark is at quarterback, where the Bulldogs have to replace Cameron Butler, who graduated. But Joffrion is high on sophomore D’andre Artis-Boone (6-1, 175), who started three games last season, including one playoff game. “He’s one of the most talented quarterbacks I’ve seen at his age,” Joffrion said. “He has a chance to be one of the best in the area at a very young age.”

4. Indian River Braves

Classification: Class 5 Region A

Coach: Brandon Carr, 7-4 in one season

Last season: 7-4 overall, 6-3 district

On the field: The Braves have high hopes for this season. The offense is led by senior quarterback Tyler Allison (6-4, 195), who threw for 10 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards a year ago. He’ll have plenty of help in the backfield with senior running backs Malachi Hinton and Kekoa Ray Aguon Benavente, who combined for more than 900 rushing yards. They also have wide receiver Anthony Morris. The defense is led by senior Jordan Harris (6-3, 245), who can play linebacker or defensive end. Last season he earned second-team All-Tidewater honors and was first-team all-region after he recorded 67 tackles — 26 for loss — and had nine sacks with four forced fumbles. Other key players include athlete Davion Turns, LB Kamil Mason (70 tackles, three INTs), CB Deontae Shedrick (12 pass breakups, four INTs) and DB Trey Voskayan, who led the Braves with six interceptions.

5. Nansemond River Warriors

Classification: Class 5 Region B

Coach: Alonzo Ricks Jr., 13-10 in two seasons

Last season: 8-4 overall, 6-3 district

On the field: The Warriors played all of their games on the road last season as their stadium was being renovated. They can’t wait to play at home this season, and they should have a good product on the field. It starts up front, where they have James Madison commit Immanuel Ezeogu (6-3, 200) and Roman Soriano (6-2, 300). Both were second-team all-state. They also have James Lemar (6-1, 220) and Elijah Boone (5-10, 230). Offensively, the Warriors have senior quarterback Alkendric Overton, who is dangerous with both his arm and legs. Last season he accounted for more than 1,800 yards and 24 touchdowns. They also have RB Melvin Brown, who rushed for more than 500 yards and was second-team all-region. Others to watch include WR/DB Josiah Johnson, RB/DB Damonte Bassett, LB Mart Harris and RB/DB/PR Nick Grier.

6. Deep Creek Hornets

Classification: Class 5 Region A

Coach: Andre Twine, 41-24 in six seasons

Last season: 5-6 overall, 4-5 district

On the field: The Hornets lost in the first round of the Class 4 Region A playoffs, and this season they move up to Class 5. They are looking forward to the challenge as they return many players who saw significant playing time last season. They are led by senior DE Rickey Foreman, who had 13 sacks during the regular season. The also have RB/DB Hunter Barnes, who rushed for 1,086 yards and 12 TDs in the regular season. Other key players are senior RB/LB Sam Diggs, senior RB/LB Zaire Payton, sophomore OL/DL Ricardo Foreman, junior OL/DL Antonio Mills, sophomore OL/DL Treyvon Litton, junior QB Brehon Cuffee, senior WR/DB Dareon Faircloth and senior WR/DB Alford Gill.

7. Grassfield Grizzlies

Classification: Class 6 Region A

Coach: Joe Jones, 1-9 in one season with Grassfield, 3-31 in four seasons overall

Last season: 1-9 overall, 1-7 district

On the field: Jones thinks the Grizzlies are ready to make their mark after a one-win season. “Program is growing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “Ready to take the next step and build on our momentum this offseason.” The Grizzlies will be led by junior QB Bryce Davis, senior RB/DB Khamari Wilson, junior Willie Moore, junior WR/DB RJ Sloan, junior OL/DL Sam Blount (6-2, 265), senior WR/DB Matthias Keiser, senior OL/LB Jacob Brown, sophomore OL/DL Chris Funchess, senior OL Hayeson Zieg, senior WR/DB Cam Joachim and senior OL/DL Tshombe Graham.

8. Hickory Hawks

Classification: Class 5 Region A

Coach: Donnell Brown, 9-27 in four seasons

Last season: 3-8 overall, 3-6 district

On the field: The Hawks have made back-to-back playoff appearances. They will be led on offense by senior Lance Watters, who will see time at quarterback and wide receiver. Last season he had 38 receptions for 700 yards and was named second-team all-region. They also have senior Mason Phelps, who will play running back and wide receiver on offense, and be the lead on defense at linebacker. Last season, Phelps (6-0, 185) had 108 tackles — 10 for loss — and three sacks and was second-team all-region. Other key players are senior lineman Jackson Allen (a four-year starter), senior TE/DE Reagan Inns, junior WR/DB Landon Labiak, junior RB/LB Javaun Walker, sophomore LB/RB Ikaika Leao and senior K/P Tyler Lobred.

9. Great Bridge Wildcats

Classification: Class 5 Region A

Coach: Curtis Campbell, 2-8 in one season

Last season: 2-8 overall, 1-8 district

On the field: The Wildcats will be led by a core group of seniors. Campbell calls DE Dorein Bryant (6-4, 230) “a diamond-in-the-rough prospect.” He’s received interest from Old Dominion, Temple, East Carolina and Norfolk State. DB Demiko Pitts (6-1, 175) recorded more than 40 tackles to go with four interceptions. Center Carson Blachford (6-1, 280) will anchor the line. Campbell considers him to be one of the best centers in Hampton Roads and was the team’s MVP last season. WR Marcus Reid will be a major factor on offense. Last season he had more than 1,000 all-purpose yards. WR Dontay Adams (6-6, 190) is playing football for the first time this season after playing basketball the past three seasons. He could be a threat with his height and jumping ability. Other key players: LB Elijah Gray, QB William Englert, LB Craig McNeil, WR Caiden Palmer, DL Grayson Groves and RB Tristan Balenger.

10. Lakeland Cavaliers

Classification: Class 3 Region A

Coach: Marcus Cutler, 1-9 in one season

Last season: 1-9 overall, 0-6 district

On the field: Last season got off to a great start for Cutler and the Cavaliers as they won their season opener. But they ended by losing their last nine games and were outscored 180-7 in the final four. They haven’t had a winning season since 2016 and are 9-45 over the past six seasons. Cutler hopes he can change things around in his second season.

Larry Rubama, 757-575-6449, Follow @LHRubama on Twitter