Coach: Matt Land (7-3 here and overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 7/4/1
Remember these names: New offensive coordinator Bill Napier has several flashy toys to play with, most notably running back Tre Beck (Sr., 5-9, 170). Quarterback Cole Calfee (Jr., 5-10, 175) was impressive in camp and has a couple of nice options in the passing game with converted running back Tre Bonds (Sr., 5-10, 175) and McLean Davies (Sr., 6-4, 170). However, both lines were hit by heavy graduation losses and extended success this year will ride on those units’ development.
Will be a memorable year if: The Catamounts make some noise in the playoffs. Though they are riding what is believed to be a nation-leading streak of 51 consecutive winning seasons, they haven’t won a playoff game since 2005 and have missed the postseason two of the last three years.
Aug. 26 at Calhoun
Sept. 2 Murray County
Sept. 9 Gilmer County
Sept. 16 at Allatoona
Sept. 30 Ridgeland*
Oct. 7 Heritage*
Oct. 14 vs. Ringgold at Finley Stadium*
Oct. 21 LaFayette*
Oct. 28 at Southeast Whitfield*
Nov. 4 Region play-in game
* Region 7A-AAA game
The Dalton program has had many great moments during 51 consecutive seasons of winning football, including the 1967 state championship, but few games are as memorable as “The One That Got Away” on Dec. 9, 1988.
The Catamounts, 13-0 and featuring a physical team led by all-state linemen Bubba Winter and Steven Roberts and defenders Nathan Kirkman and Marc Evans, welcomed 13-0 and top-ranked Stephens County to a freezing and sold-out Harmon Field for the Class AAA semifinals.
The game was tied at 14 at the end of regulation, but Dalton took a lead in the second overtime period when future Georgia Bulldog Roberts intercepted a pass from his defensive tackle position and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. Stephens drove to the Dalton 20 but turned it over on downs with 1:09 and one timeout remaining. However, instead of taking a knee, Cats quarterback Tom Pendley ran a sneak, but the ball was stripped.
Stephens scored on the next play on a Jabbar Wiley 30-yard run to tie the game and would be declared the winner because of its farther penetration earlier in the overtime. It was, coach Bill Chappell admitted later, his most bitter defeat.
“In 36 years of coaching,” the Hall of Famer said following an emotional meeting with his team, “I’ve never been involved in a game like this one. It almost seemed like we weren’t supposed to win.”
The irony doesn't escape Bill Napier. Then again, very little does.
He may not have been public enemy No. 1 in Dalton for a quarter century, but the long-successful Murray County head coach wasn't on many Dalton High School fans' Christmas card lists. Though his teams only won eight of 25 meetings with the Catamounts, those games were almost always tight.
So he can't help but smile when asked how odd it feels to be the man entrusted to breathe life into what has been a rather dormant Dalton offense in recent seasons. A shocking week-10 defeat against Gilmer County kept the Cats out of the 2010 Georgia playoffs.
"These past few months, after coaching against them for 26 years, have been neat," Napier said. "I catch myself saying 'They' instead of 'We.' This has always been an outstanding program, and though there may not be the number of athletes that used to be here, the ones that are here work hard and care about the program."
Napier's Murray teams were known for strong running games and the ability to hit big pass plays when opportunities arose. In this year's preseason camp at Jacksonville, Ala., the Cats got a heavy dose of the veer with hopes of getting the most out of senior running backs Tre Beck and Trey Bonds.
Napier's work with returning starting quarterback Cole Calfee has drawn the most attention, however. The junior excelled in the summer's 7-on-7 passing-league competition, displaying an accurate arm and a newfound confidence in his ability to lead the team.
"He's worked literally every day since February 1st with Cole Calfee, and the confidence level in Cole has grown tremendously," head coach Matt Land said. "It's been exciting as a head coach to see. We're seeing the potential we saw in Cole last year, and having a quarterback coach like Bill Napier work with him, well, Cole is going to go down as a great quarterback at Dalton High School."
Bill Chappell remains very connected with Dalton football, and the legendary former coach took one look at Calfee in the spring game and immediately noticed a difference.
"After our spring scrimmage here, I couldn't even get out of the staff meeting and he had already called my cell phone three times," Napier said. "He was excited about how much better our quarterback had gotten. It was nice to hear that from Coach Chappell."
Calfee acknowledged the difference and showed an enthusiasm to take further steps forward.
"It's a lot more than on-the-field stuff; he's been a real mentor with me and he's given me much more confidence in my abilities," Calfee said. "This offense should be exciting. Folks are going to see a lot more yards off the option, and our passing game will be a lot more efficient. We're going to have a lot more play-action opportunities this year, and that should really help the passing game."
All of which brings a smile to Land's face following a disjointed effort offensively in his first year as head coach. Turning the reins over to Napier was, he said, the easiest decision he's had to make.
"A coach like Bill Napier brings, firstly, a trained eye as to what we can do and can't do," Land said. "The second part is the development of a lot of the players we have; we're still trying to find exactly where they fit. His eye to be able to look at kids and see where they can help us best will be very beneficial. I think the third thing he gives us, though, is that he brings a lot of trust to our offense. I'm excited to see what he brings to this offense."
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...