The Stephenville Yellow Jackets are picked to finish second in District 5-4A Division I behind defending state champion Waco La Vega in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine’s annual high school football preseason predictions.

La Vega holds the No. 1 spot in the magazine’s overall state 4A Division I top 25 rankings, and Stephenville is 20th. The Pirates are picked to repeat as the district champion coming off their 14-2 season in 2018 in which they defeated Liberty Hill 35-21 in the state title game. It was La Vega’s second state championship in four years.

Sterling Doty, who will begin his first season coaching the Yellow Jackets this fall, will have four offensive and four defensive starters returning from last year’s 7-4 squad. Thirty seniors were lost to graduation, and 12 varsity lettermen are expected to return from the 2018 squad that reached the second (area) round of the playoffs before being eliminated by Celina by a 31-21 score.

Doty was hired away from Class 5A Division I Magnolia to take over the reins after the resignation of Greg Winder.

“Dave Campbell’s is just a staple of Texas football,” Doty said Wednesday. “Everybody is looking forward to it coming out.”

Early editions of the magazine were received in the mail this week.

Doty said that, whatever the predictions show, it’s definitely not all about where you start in the June preseason rankings.

“We really just want to preach (to the players) that it’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish. You don’t want to be No. 1 until the end.”

Doty said that Stephenville’s reputation as being a perennially dangerous playoff team shows up any time when rankings are posted.

“Out of the 12 returning lettermen, I think they see value in those guys and the roles they played for us, and also the tradition of Stephenville and the weight that it holds across the state,” Doty said.

Stephenville’s five-school district once again could be one of the toughest in the state among Class 4A Division I.

“It’s just a tradition-rich district,” Doty said.

Doty noted that regardless of which team takes the district title, it will mean something special once the playoffs commence.

“You have accomplished a lot by doing that,” Doty said, adding that the competition helps to better prepare for the playoffs.

“It sure does, because you’ve been on the field with great teams, and you know what you’ve got to do to be successful.”

Following La Vega and Stephenville, China Spring (6-6 last year) is picked to finish third in the district, followed by Brownwood (4-6) and Gatesville (3-7). Dave Campbell’s has China Spring at No. 25 in the preseason 4A Division I rankings.

A somewhat surprising story broke earlier this week when it was announced that Kyle Cooper, the head coach of Gatesville, left that school to become an assistant coach at Mount Vernon under head coach Art Briles. Briles coached Stephenville to four state championships in the decade of the 90s.

In addition to playing No. 1 La Vega in district play on Oct. 18, the Yellow Jackets will also face the state's third-ranked team, Argyle, at home in a non-district game on Aug. 20 to open the regular season, and fifth-ranked Midlothian Heritage on the road for a non-district contest on Sept. 20.

Stephenville qualified for the state 7 on 7 football tournament, which began Thursday afternoon in College Station. Results were not available by press time.

“I think they are all hungry and ready to have a great year,” Doty said of the returning players. “They are working hard.”

Doty noted that the pool the Yellow Jackets were put in for the opening rounds of the 7 on 7 state tournament was referred to by one observer as the “pool of death.”

Stephenville’s Pool F includes Pleasant Grove, Dave Campbell’s top-ranked team in 4A Division Ii, along with two Class 3A heavyweights. Brock is ranked No. 6 in the preseason and Jourdanton is No. 23.

“It’s a tough pool,” Doty confirmed.

Dave Campbell’s Texas Football

2019 Preseason Predictions

District 5-4A Division I

1. Waco La Vega

2. Stephenville

3. China Spring

4. Brownwood

5. Gatesville