HOWE — The Bulldogs managed to move a step forward last season by picking up two district wins and climbing the standings to finish just a game out of a playoff spot. As head coach Bill Jehling enters his third season at the helm for Howe, he hopes to see that improvement continue.


"We will be a very young football team. Several sophomores and juniors will be starting this year and contributing," Jehling said. "We will need to grow each week and get used to the speed of the game on Friday nights."


The Bulldogs finished 3-7 overall for the second straight year but played better during the district portion of their schedule, carrying over that production while trying to replace some key seniors.


"The concept of team is brought into the program and the direction we are wanting to go," Jehling said. "Even though we are a young team, the kids are eager to improve, compete and win."


The Bulldogs lost four second-team all-district picks on offense— running back Brandon Williams, receivers Kolby Windon and Caden Harmon and tackle Jarron Ing— and three first-team all-district defenders in lineman Steven Waldrip and linebackers J.C. Helpenstell and Hunter Brussow. Ing and Harmon, along with Layton Elvington, were second-team all-district defensive picks.


Howe returns four starters on offense and four on defense. Three of these returning players should have a great impact on the Bulldogs success this season.


First is senior running back Jalen Thornton (5-8, 160) who rushed for 906 yards and eight touchdowns on 142 carries and also caught 36 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns to share the district’s All-Purpose Player of the Year award. His speed and diversity should help keep opponents at bay in any game situation.


Quarterback Austin Haley (5-10, 165) had a solid freshman debut, completing 88-of-155 passes for 1,476 yards and 16 touchdowns with only four interceptions and shared the district’s Newcomer of the Year award.


Senior Dakota Herrington (5-11, 240) is a strong player up front on both sides of the ball for Howe. Others expected to join Herrington on the line are senior Jackson Adkins (5-9, 220), junior Will Fleming (5-8, 275) and sophomore Matthew Bearden (6-2, 210) Also slated for offensive line work are seniors Johnny Meneses and Seth Key.


Running back Ethan Lopez (5-10, 175) will contribute in the backfield along with sophomore fullback Carson Daniels (5-10, 185).


The receiving corps will be led by wide receiver Jordan Jones (5-11, 150), who totaled eight receptions for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns, sophomore tight end/wide receiver Ryan Hough and sophomore Matt Hayes.


Defensively, the Bulldogs expect several of the same players to contribute this season. Herrington, Adkins (who was named first-team all-district), and Fleming will all play roles on the defensive line.


Daniels, sophomore Bryce Crosby and freshman Cooper Jones hold down the linebacker positions for the Bulldogs.


Thornton and Jones will both log time in the secondary at cornerback. The safeties for the Bulldogs will be sophomore Ryan Hough, Joey Hymel and senior Ethan Lopez.


Senior kicker Kevin Flores was named second-team all-district last year.


Not much changed for Howe when it came to the latest realignment; the Bulldogs remain in a tough district. Pottsboro was the 3A Division I state runner-up and enters the season third in the statewide rankings. Emory Rains, Commerce and Bonham stayed with those two in District 5-3A (I) while Winnsboro, Mineola and Mount Vernon were added to the group. In addition to Pottsboro, Commerce, Rains, Mount Vernon and Winnsboro were all playoff teams a year ago.


"(It’s a) very tough district. We are the smallest school in the district as far as enrollment," Jehling said. "We missed going to 3A Division II by six kids. Our district features several of the top teams in the region and state."