Countdown to kickoff: Mansfield Tigers

Posted Friday, Aug. 22, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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District: 8-6A

Last season: 5-6 (4-3 District 7-5A)

Key players: LB Justin Middleton (6-2, 230), RB Julius Lewis (5-11, 175), RB Emmanuel Esukpa (6-1, 210), DT/OL Greg Davis (6-2, 230), SS Sean Shanklin (6-1, 185), C Sean Gill (6-0, 250)

The big picture: The Tigers return far more experience than they did in 2013, a season in which, by some accounts, the team overachieved. Mansfield will have higher expectations this year. In a district filled with abundantly-skilled athletes, head coach Jeff Hulme is more than satisfied with his backfield. Julius Lewis returns after rushing for 12 TDs and more than 1,300 yards a year ago. Joining him is Emmanuel Esukpa, a bigger runner who will see his role expand after rushing for nearly 300 yards last year. Add exciting sophomore Kennedy Brooks and it’s no secret the Tigers will try to move it on the ground. Directing the offense will be Aaron Funk, who played some quarterback last year as a junior. The interior line returns center Sean Gill and guards Ju’Nathean McAllister and Greg Davis. A new pair of tackles will bookend the line, but Hulme said that group’s progress excites him as much as any unit. All-district linebacker Justin Middleton is the heart of the defense. He and fellow LB Alec Helburn each had almost 100 tackles in 2013. Davis will also anchor the center of the defensive line, along with Chandler Carter, giving the Tigers’ a solid backbone. A group of four candidates are battling to fill the defensive end vacancies. The secondary returns experience in safeties Sean Shanklin and junior Langston Evans. Hulme had concerns in the spring about his cornerbacks, but said he feels much better as the season approaches. Lewis is also likely to play at cornerback. Aside from Mansfield Timberview dropping a classification, last year’s District 7-5A returns this season as 8-6A, which means the Tigers still have to deal with Cedar Hill and DeSoto.

Quotable: “We don’t recruit, we don’t draft, so if little Johnny walks through the door, that’s who we’re playing with. That’s what makes high school athletics, not just football, really unique and fun. You’ve got to adjust. One year you may have really big, athletic kids come through and the next year you may not.” — coach Jeff Hulme

Notable: Before 2000, Mansfield had made the playoffs just six times in the school’s history. The Tigers have made the postseason six of the past seven seasons, the exception being 2009.

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