District 7-AA at a Glance
• Team on the rise: McCallie. It goes beyond returning QB Trent Lusk. The Blue Tornado has some size this year that could make it much easier for them to compete with those "bigger, faster, stronger" mid-state teams.
• Nightmare schedule: Baylor gets Ensworth at home in region play but also must travel to Brentwood Academy and Montgomery Bell Academy. The Red Raiders also beefed up their schedule, adding Soddy-Daisy and Bradley Central to open the season and then playing defending Class 5A champion Columbia on Oct. 14.
• Dream schedule: Ensworth opens at Memphis University School and then comes home for three straight weeks against Knox Webb, McCallie and Raleigh-Egypt. They play at Baylor but then get BGA and PJP II at home. They also have an open date the week before playing title-contender Brentwood Academy.
• Best game: Locally, it has to be Baylor-McCallie on Sept. 23 at Baylor. In the midstate area it might be Ensworth-Brentwood on Oct. 21, Brentwood-MBA on Sept. 2 or Ensworth-MBA on Oct. 7.
• Biggest shoes to fill: Without question it is those of Baylor QB Jacob Huesman. He was a very capable passer but he is likely the most fleet-footed quarterback the Red Raiders have had in decades, if ever. He knew the offense inside and out, he had the vision to find the holes and that extra gear once in the open.
In a league where most every team seems to reload, defending Division Ii-AA state champion Ensworth seems to do it better than most.
"They graduated some guys but they seem to reload and I think they'll be the team to beat along with Brentwood Academy," said Baylor coach Phil Massey, whose Red Raiders came up short against Ensworth in that state title game last December.
Yet there are those who would utter "Not so fast, my friend" to Massey.
"You have to think that Baylor is going to be good. They lost their playmaker but most everybody is back on offense and defense," offered Bubba Simmons, who'll be in his first season as McCallie's head coach. "When you bring back eight on defense you have to think you have a chance to be pretty good."
Linebacker David Helton has gone to Duke and defensive tackle John Mackey has bulked up and taken a 255-pound frame to Furman. The biggest offensive replacement is quarterback Jacob Huesman. The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga freshman provided a solid majority of the Red Raiders' yardage.
"But his replacement [Matthew Oellerich] has been involved in their offense and there are at least a couple of pretty good running backs," Simmons said.
Oellerich (5-11, 190) has played receiver but also started a handful of games under center in his freshman season. He is a guy who, as Massey said, "has been patiently waiting to be the quarterback for two years."
George Porter (5-8, 165), who just missed a thousand-yard season last year as a freshman, represents the bulk of Baylor's returning offense but he'll have help in the backfield from McCallie junior transfer Houston Clements (5-9, 180), junior Mike Davis (5-6, 153) and junior Connor Davidson (5-10, 169).
Among McCallie's key losses was wide receiver Keenan Hale, who took his catching abilities to the Big East and Syracuse with hopes of starting this fall.
The Blue Tornado's cupboard isn't exactly empty. While they'll go to a triple-option style of offense, that won't preclude strong-armed quarterback Trent Lusk (6-2, 215) from throwing "when we want to," Simmons said.
A key on both sides of the ball will be senior tackle Tye Youngblood (6-4, 278). He, Lusk and running back Daniel McClure (5-8, 170) will be three-year starters. McCallie also has a competent kicker in senior Arturo Rocha (5-11, 160).
"Bubba will do a good job. I think they will be physical," Massey said.
Injuries always play a major role and Massey indicated that the Baylor-McCallie winner may come down to which team best survives early banging.
"Where we play them on the schedule (Sept. 23), it may be who has best gotten through the pounding in the first half of the season. A lot of teams, us included, are two or three injuries away from not being the same team," he said.
Ensworth wears the favorite's cap if for no other reason that running back Corn Elder (5-10, 160), who rushed for 1,893 yards and 24 TDs.
"He was basically the runner-up to Jacob for Mr. Football last year," Massey said. "Brentwood has a good nucleus coming back and it will be interesting to see what [new coach] Marty [Euverard] does at MBA. [Battle Ground Academy] has very little depth, but their first group is strong. Their quarterback [C.J. Beathard, 6-2, 175] has already committed to Ole Miss. I don't know a lot about Pope John Paul II or Father Ryan but in this league you better be ready to play every Friday night."
Baylor must play at MBA, Brentwood and BGA but does get Ensworth at home.
"Everybody knows about Elder but they have some really good defensive people coming back," Simmons said. "MBA is MBA. Even when they're down they may not be flashy but they play hard. PJP II is still trying to establish its program. I don't know what to expect from BGA. What I do know is that we open with McMinn County and then Tyner before we play Ensworth. Those first three games could set the tone for us."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...