BLEDSOE COUNTY WARRIORS
Coach: Jason Reel (15-7 here and overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 10/8/2
Remember these names: Cody Holloway (Sr., 6-0, 180) returns at quarterback after passing for 2,098 yards in 2010, and running back Brandon Smith (Sr., 5-10, 175) averaged 108 rushing yards per game. Hunter Boynton (Jr., 6-0, 185) added another 584 yards. Jesse Sandell (Jr., 5-11, 275) and Ben Ritchie (Sr., 6-0, 215) anchor the defensive line.
Will be a memorable year if: The Warriors successfully defend their district championship, even with the addition of 2010 Class 2A state champion Signal Mountain, now in 4A.
Aug. 19 at Cumberland County
Aug. 26 at Marion County
Sept. 2 Signal Mountain*
Sept. 16 Notre Dame*
Sept. 23 McMinn Central
Sept. 30 at Sequatchie County*
Oct. 7 York Institute
Oct. 14 Grundy County*
Oct. 21 at Sweetwater
Oct. 28 at Chattanooga Christian*
* District 7-AA game
The Warriors beat Smith County 32-17 in the final regular-season game of the 1994 season to complete an 8-2 run with three touchdowns from running back Jason Smith. He rushed for 102 yards on 12 carries and caught four passes from Benny Cooley for 106 yards and two TDs. Bledsoe, which beat rival Sequatchie County 22-15 in the regular season, lost to the Indians in the first round of the playoffs, the same scenario the two teams had last season.
As he turned his attention to spring football, Jason Reel knew that many of the pieces were in place for Bledsoe County to defend its District 7-AA championship.
Quarterback Cody Holloway is coming off a 2,100-yard, 29-touchdown passing season. Brandon Smith averaged 7.6 yards per carry and 108 per game in exceeding 1,000 rushing yards and added 429 yards on 33 catches. Last year's offensive line returns intact.
What the coach sought in the spring and through the summer was a replacement for Michael Gibbons, who caught 72 passes for 972 yards and 10 TDs.
Enter Jeremiah Gilbert, a 5-foot-10 junior whose intense weight-training regimen has taken him from 159-pound sophomore starter to 195-pound weapon-to-be.
"He could be the missing piece to the puzzle, but he's a piece that can fit in so many places," Reel said. "He has to show me he can do it like he's been showing me the last few months."
Gilbert, a receiver last year, is penciled in there again, but it's likely he'll play cornerback on defense, long-snap for punts and placement kicks and return kickoffs.
"I'm confident in the guys I played with. I'm confident about my abilities," Gilbert said. "I'm excited, but I admit I have butterflies."
His confidence comes from a summer cycle of working on his uncle's farm -- everything from maintenance, mowing and tree-cutting to planting corn, beans, tomatoes and potatoes -- working out and eating.
The workouts were a constant, reflecting his feverish drive to be bigger, stronger and faster. Sometimes he would go through workouts at school, go home to a big supper and work out another two or three hours.
His parents, he said, often wondered aloud if his huge appetite and endless weight work were healthy.
"If I was on the run I might just grab some cereal for breakfast, but it was often scrambled eggs, biscuits and sausage," he said.
Lunch provided a variety, but there was always plenty of it, and dinner always consisted of chicken or steak with plenty of green beans, corn and potatoes.
"Sometimes it might be peas or turnip greens," he said of the side dishes.
And following a post-supper workout it was, without fail, a return to the refrigerator.
"I'd find something -- a couple of sandwiches or I'd reheat leftovers," he said.
His effort and the nine-month transition shocked the usually stoic Reel, but he's hoping that his new link helps the Warriors to a second straight district title.
"Everybody has gotten better and for sure nobody has regressed," he said. "I think each Friday will be very competitive."
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 ...