published Sunday, May 6th, 2012

Chattanooga-area 2012 high school football overview

Polk County's Justin Green dodges Tyner defenders during a recent spring football scrimmage at Tyner Academy.
Polk County's Justin Green dodges Tyner defenders during a recent spring football scrimmage at Tyner Academy.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Baylor

• 2011 finish: 11-2, Division II-AA state runner-up

• Biggest change: Whoever takes over at quarterback.

• Spring outlook: As the Red Raiders began practice in pads last week, the focus was on finding replacements up front. Only one starter returns to the offensive line, and all three defensive line starters are gone. That lone returning O-line starter is tackle Derrick Green (6-foot-1, 315), and two candidates to start next to him are Ben Pettway (6-3, 240) and Trey Foshee (5-9, 210).

The quarterback race won’t be decided until summer camp, since two of the three candidates are involved in other spring sports. But whoever wins the job will be helped by the return of all-state receiver Reggie Upshaw (6-7, 210). Linebacker Colton Jumper (6-2, 223), who already has an offer from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and interest from Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Furman, is expected to be the leader on defense.

Bledsoe County

• 2011 finish: 10-2, won a second straight District 7-AA championship, lost in the second round of the 3A playoffs

• Biggest change: Replacing the entire offensive backfield that helped the Warriors win back-to-back District 7-AA titles.

• Spring outlook: The Warriors have also started, and the first priority is establishing a new quarterback from the two sophomores expected to battle for the position.

“It’s wide open, so whoever steps up and proves he can handle the position will be our guy,” coach Jason Reel said.

Senior Jeremiah Gilbert could step into the role if necessary, but Reel prefers to keep him at receiver, where his athletic ability has been a matchup problem for opponents.

Boyd-Buchanan

• 2011 finish: 10-2, won the District 5-A championship, lost by a point in the state quarterfinals

• Biggest change: Rather than convincing his players they can play with anyone, Buccaneers coach Grant Reynolds will be guarding against overconfidence with a team loaded with returning talent.

• Spring outlook: The Bucs will count on 12 of their 17 seniors to fill starting roles, and other than two offensive line spots and one defensive back, the starters return intact. That’s from a team that many felt was victimized by a controversial officials’ call in a quarterfinal loss in overtime. Quarterback Jim Cardwell, who threw for more than 1,700 yards, is back, as is John Hale, who ran for 600 yards and was solid in the secondary and the team’s best special teams player. Senior offensive tackle Maleek Brewer (6-4, 320) anchors the line and is being recruited by Clemson, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky.

“We typically have hard-nosed kids who are undersized. The difference for Maleek is he obviously has the size to be a big-time prospect,” Reynolds said. “We should be able to hit the ground running with so much experience back, and our guys are pretty focused after falling short of our goal of winning the state last year. That’s been pretty good motivation so far through the offseason. They want to leave no doubt they’re the best team.”

Bradley Central

• 2011 finish: 7-4, lost in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs

• Biggest change: Having lost their two fastest playmakers but returning offensive tackle Austin Sanders, a Tennessee commitment, the Bears likely will go to a more grind-it-out style this season.

• Spring outlook: Sanders is the only returning starter on the line, and quarterback Bryce Copeland is the only other returning starter on offense. Copeland will be a four-year starter, a rarity at the 6A level, while Sanders will tutor linemen Gabe Black (6-0, 240), D.J. King (6-3, 275) and Toddy Gray (5-11, 260).

“We may just run it behind Austin about every time,” Bears coach Damon Floyd joked. “We’re really young on that side, but we will have seven starters back on defense, including all three linebackers, and several of the young guys have been waiting their turn, so we’ll see what they do with their chance.”

Floyd added that junior defensive lineman Eduardo Trevino could be “a really special player.”

Brainerd

• 2011 finish: 6-6, lost in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs

• Biggest change: Unlike seasons past, lack of numbers is a problem for a second straight season. The Panthers finished last year with 21 on the roster and have about that many out this spring.

• Spring outlook: The passing game will be a focal point for the Panthers, who must replace the entire receiving corps. Immediate priorities are identifying who will play linebacker and who will handle the kicking duties.

William Womack (6-0, 190), who played safety last year, will be given a look at linebacker, and Panthers coach Stanley Jackson is especially interested in seeing DeAndre Bass (5-11, 180), who hasn’t played since middle school but who looks athletic and hasn’t missed a weight-room session. Jackson said he plans to give Bass a look at “every skill position we have.”

Calhoun

• 2011 finish: 15-0, Georgia Class AA state champion

• Biggest change: If it’s not broke ... The Yellow Jackets won’t change much, but this spring practice will differ in that a more detailed focus on fundamentals will be noticeable with only seven starters returning.

• Spring outlook: The Jackets are in good shape at quarterback, where all-state performer Taylor Lamb returns, and at running back, where several candidates to start will battle it out. The defense, where five all-stars graduated among the line and linebackers, will get most of the attention from coach Hal Lamb and his veteran staff.

Central

• 2011 finish: 3-7

• Biggest change: The Purple Pounders are making the switch from the wing-T to more shotgun and pistol sets on offense to take advantage of their backfield speed.

• Spring outlook: There will be a three-man competition to see who takes over at quarterback. If junior Terry Tiller wins the job, it will allow senior Robert Cobb and sophomore Drakkel Park to establish themselves as the running backs. Central also desperately is trying to find a solid kicker.

“We missed three extra points against Soddy-Daisy last year and wound up losing in overtime,” Pounders coach John Allen said. “We’ve got to fix that area.”

Chattanooga Christian

• 2011 finish: 3-7

• Biggest change: With 35 sophomores and freshmen on the roster, the Chargers can establish depth for the first time. They began spring practice with 55 players.

• Spring outlook: The Chargers planned to begin with three very physical days of practice to find out who likes to hit, then settle in to begin filling the depth chart for the fall. Seven starters are gone from the defense. The return of two-way senior lineman Drew Farlett (5-10, 240), who missed several games last year with a back injury, will help, as will Ethan Ibach’s return as steady presence in the secondary.

Cleveland

• 2011 finish: 5-5

• Biggest change: Ron Crawford, who averaged 10 wins in nine years at Brentwood High, has taken over as head coach.

• Spring outlook: Crawford has been busy since January trying to establish his program and get acquainted with the staff and players.

“Building that relationship with the kids and the community is very important for us to be successful,” Crawford said. “I’ve had to give some of the kids nicknames until I learn all of their real names.”

The Blue Raiders will remain a spread team on offense, and Crawford said he is excited about the overall athletic ability in the skill positions and with two underclassmen battling for the quarterback job.

“We’ve got to identify some offensive and defensive linemen,” Crawford said. “We think we have the skill kids, and we’ll see for sure if we do once the bullets start flying. But the key for us is to figure out our linemen rotation and put together a depth chart. We don’t want to be bouncing kids around a whole lot once the fall rolls around.”

Coahulla Creek

• 2011 finish: Did not play a varsity schedule

• Biggest change: As coach Jared Hamlin put it, “This is the first time in my coaching career where I can say everybody is returning.” After a full year of conditioning, the Colts will be noticeably bigger and stronger as they take the field this spring, he said.

• Spring outlook: The Colts will play their first varsity season this year, and Hamlin hopes to build on the vast improvement his team showed throughout last season’s junior varsity experience.

Dade County

• 2011 finish: 4-6

• Biggest change: With all but three starters returning, it’s a completely different world from a year ago in that coach Bradley Warren will be able to get right into developing his players instead of having to get them up to speed on the playbook.

• Spring outlook: With such a veteran group returning, Warren will concentrate on expanding the offensive and defensive play possibilities. The Wolverines, though, will need someone to step up at middle linebacker and center, two key leadership spots.

Dalton

• 2011 finish: 4-7, 3-2 in Georgia 7-AAA (includes forfeits)

• Biggest change: Coach Matt Land wants his team to be tougher this season, both physically and mentally, so he will put the Catamounts through varied game-type situations and scrimmage often during the two weeks. A full spring practice in offensive coordinator Bill Napier’s offense should greatly benefit the Catamounts, especially quarterback Cole Calfee.

• Spring outlook: Land hopes to fill several key positions, including the backfield — stars Tre Beck and Tre Bonds are graduating — and both lines. Finding depth at all positions is another major goal.

East Hamilton

• 2011 finish: 6-5, lost in first round of the 4A playoffs

• Biggest change: With nine starters back on both sides of the ball, the Hurricanes no longer can sneak up on anybody.

• Spring outlook: While several Hamilton County teams are struggling with low numbers because of players involved in other spring sports, the Hurricanes have 70 from the sophomore class through the senior class. With starters such as running back Logan Jackson (6-0, 195), who ran for 1,200-plus yards, quarterback Hunter Moore (6-0, 200) and offensive tackle Fielder Dennis (6-3, 260) returning, expectations are soaring. Defensively, end Francisco Rodriguez (6-1, 240), linebacker Austin Gatewood (6-1, 210) and cornerback Cody Knox (5-11, 180) lead another experienced group.

“We’ll use the spring to figure out who can give us depth,” coach Ted Gatewood said. “The kids know they will have to be ready every Friday night, because every team we play will be coming after us after we had a pretty good season last year. We have to learn to finish better than we did several games last year. That’s our next step.”

East Ridge

• 2011 finish: 5-5

• Biggest change: After preferring to use a running back committee, the Pioneers spent their February sessions preparing Torrey Hughes to become the featured back. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior likely will get 20-25 carries per game in the 2012 season.

• Spring outlook: Trying to avoid missing so many players involved in other spring sports, the Pioneers practiced in late winter. After graduating every experienced receiver and several offensive linemen, they worked on putting together an offensive front and prepared to become a more ground-oriented offense.

“We threw the ball more than I ever have as a coach last year, but we just don’t have the same personnel this year,” coach Mike Martin said.

Senior quarterback Eric McCurdy, who threw for more than 1,000 yards after taking over in the second half of last season, will be back. Aside from Hughes, he will have sophomore DeAngelo Johnson (6-0, 180) to hand off to, and junior C.J. Baker (6-3, 240) will anchor an inexperienced line.

Gordon Lee

• 2011 finish: 4-6, 2-5 in Georgia 6-A

• Biggest change: Former offensive coordinator Charlie Wiggins takes over for Kevin McElhaney as head coach and the switch should be smooth, so Wiggins won’t need much time for transitioning. He will continue with multiple schemes, so developing a quarterback is a must.

• Spring outlook: Though the Trojans return several starters, new players will have to step up at quarterback and both receiver spots. A quicker tempo in practice will be noticeable, and Wiggins wants to see if some of his returning players can help out at different positions.

Grace Academy

• 2011 finish: 6-5, lost in the first round of the 1A playoffs

• Biggest change: The amount of experience that will return. After a couple of seasons of having to fill starting holes with inexperience, Golden Eagles coach Bob Ateca welcomes back seven starters on both sides of the ball, including four of five linemen and the entire offensive backfield.

• Spring outlook: While the Golden Eagles’ focus will be on becoming more physical, especially on defense, they also hope the run of bad luck with injuries is over. Two years ago star receiver Corey Nelson suffered a season-ending knee injury early on, and last year Will Slack was lost for the rest of the season in week four, after averaging nearly 10 yards per carry. He is back healthy and along with fullback Dequan Hughes (5-8, 185) should give third-year starting quarterback Josh Smith plenty of help. Linebacker Austin Powell, last season’s District 5-A defensive player of the pear, also is back.

Grundy County

• 2011 finish: 6-5, lost in the first round of the 3A playoffs

• Biggest change: The confidence level of the program after three consecutive playoff appearances. After six straight losing seasons, the Yellow Jackets have enjoyed a resurgence under coach Nick Bryant.

• Spring outlook: While depth will be an issue, the Yellow Jackets have a bona fide two-way bellcow in junior Michael Nolan (6-0, 225), who will be the primary ball carrier and will move to strongside linebacker. A weight-room star, Nolan bench-presses 355 pounds, squats 455 and recently was timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Finding depth in the backfield and at least a couple of other linebackers is a practice priority.

Heritage

• 2011 finish: 7-3, 3-3 in Georgia 7-AAA

• Biggest change: The running game will be tweaked, according to coach Tim James, though the Generals will remain in the spread. How it will differ will depend on the personnel available, though it’s known the Generals would like to get faster in the backfield.

• Spring outlook: For the first time in a couple of years James has to replace more than a few starters. In fact, after graduating 30 seniors, the 2012 team will look decidedly different. One of the major position battles will be at quarterback, where three players will vie for the spot.

Hixson

• 2011 finish: 4-6

• Biggest change: Former Rhea County coach Jason Fitzgerald has taken over for Houston White, who became the offensive coordinator at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.

• Spring outlook: Fitzgerald had three points written on the dry erase board for his coaches to accomplish this spring — play hard all the time, play through adversity and evaluate talent.

The Wildcats are missing nine players who are involved in track and four others playing baseball, which makes up most of the skill positions and secondary.

“We’ll get a lot of work with our linemen and younger guys, but having a lot of fast, athletic kids involved in other sports right now is a good thing,” Fitzgerald said. “All these kids are new to me, so it’s kind of exciting to go out there with a clean slate and see what they can do.”

Howard

• 2011 finish: 0-9

• Biggest change: With a building block like Brandon Walters (6-8, 265), Howard’s offensive line is more settled than its backfield, which is different than most seasons when Hustlin’ Tigers coaches had plenty of skill-position players to work with.

• Spring outlook: After Howard’s first winless season in 12 years, Hustlin’ Tigers coaches hope the return of 11 experienced players will equal more wins this fall. Head coach Michael Calloway admitted he is frustrated by more than just the low numbers in spring workouts.

“I’m about ready to have a heart-to-heart with some of the kids and their parents,” Calloway said. “I’ve got to make sure they’re on board with our policy as far as weightlifting and conditioning. There’s always some excuse with some of them, and a few just seem to want to test us to see how much they can get away with. I keep preaching that if we’re going to be successful, we have to get stronger and have better endurance. The attitude for a few of them is our biggest obstacle to overcome by the fall.”

LaFayette

• 2011 finish: 5-5, 2-4 in Georgia 7-AAA

• Biggest change: The Ramblers no longer will have the cat-quick Devarus Porter in their backfield, so finding a lead back is a priority. Coach Tab Gable also will look long and hard at his linebacking corps, which is losing its top tacklers to graduation.

• Spring outlook: Gable long has made his mark on the defensive side of the ball, and that is where he wants to see the most improvement. As a result, he will put his players through more intense, quicker-paced practices. He hopes a full season of two-platoon football will start to reap benefits.

Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe

• 2011 finish: 4-6, 4-2 in Georgia 7-AA

• Biggest change: Coach Todd Windham is still finalizing his staff, one of the major reasons the Warriors are going out so late. Once they get on the field, several tweaks will be implemented on both sides of the ball.

• Spring outlook: Seven starters return on each side of the ball, led by fullback/linebacker Nate Long and tailback Pooh Harden. Shoring up the interior lines will be a priority of the spring period, as will teaching new terminology to the players.

Lookout Valley

• 2011 finish: 8-4, lost in the second round of the 1A playoffs

• Biggest change: After visiting Clemson University for a coaching clinic, coach Tony Webb plans to implement a pistol offense more.

• Spring outlook: The Yellow Jackets have to wait until the middle school’s softball season comes to an end since defensive coordinator David Dinger and quarterbacks coach Darren Crownover also coach softball. Running more plays from the pistol is just another way for the Yellow Jackets to use running back Jamal Jones in different ways. The 5-11, 190-pound senior, who carries a 3.6 grade point average and made a 24 on the ACT, ran for 1,400 yards last year and is drawing interest from Tennessee Tech and UTC.

Marion County

• 2011 finish: 1-9

• Biggest change: Mac McCurry, who has previous head coaching stops at Marshall County and Moore County and was Signal Mountain’s defensive coordinator last year, is the new coach.

• Spring outlook: The Warriors were scheduled to go out last week before the TSSAA mandated that their spring practice was over after it was learned they had worked on formations and plays for several weeks already. That is considered “practice” by the TSSAA, so the Warriors won’t be allowed to go out in pads.

The excitement of a new head coach brought numbers up, with 62 working out. The Warriors likely will move last year’s quarterback Matt Zeman to running back, joining brother Blake as primary ball carriers, and will determine who plays quarterback from four candidates.

McCallie

• 2011 finish: 5-6

• Biggest change: After five years away as Brentwood Academy’s coach and athletic director, Ralph Potter returned to his alma mater as head coach.

• Spring outlook: Looking to snap three straight losing seasons, the Blue Tornado will work with a lot of younger players during the spring to establish depth. Many of the starters are involved in other spring sports.

“We want to make sure they’re comfortable with our system and make sure they actually want to play,” Potter said. “We’ll get a lot of work in for the younger guys, and that will help them to be ready for the fall. It’s a matter of quantity to get back to the level we want to be. If we had more of what we already have, we would be fine, but for now we have too many going both ways.”

Two of the players who will get lots of time on both sides of the ball are linemen Jack Harris (6-0, 200) and Cameron Walker (6-4, 230). Among the upperclassmen expected to provide leadership are senior Eric Wolfe (6-3, 210), who can play running back, tight end and linebacker.

McMinn Central

• 2011 finish: 1-9

• Biggest change: A more positive outlook that the playoffs are a reachable goal.

• Spring outlook: Despite having gone a combined 1-19 the last two years, the Chargers have steady numbers, and with plenty of returning experience there is a positive vibe around the program. Coach Josh Goodin said he believes the team has the skill-position talent to challenge anyone on the schedule and the focus in spring practice will be identifying a depth chart on both lines. Only two starters return to the trenches, so that area ikely will determine whether the Chargers will challenge for postseason participation.

Meigs County

• 2011 finish: 5-6

• Biggest change: The upswing in numbers from two years ago. Coach Ricky Holliday helped rebuild the roster to around 60 players last year, and with 20 incoming freshmen, the Tigers likely will have more than 70 this fall.

• Spring outlook: With eight offensive starters back and seven returning on defense, Holliday and his staff will work on establishing depth. But one area where holes must be filled is along the line, with juniors Tanner Beaty (6-1, 260) and Austin Kennedy (6-3, 290) and sophomores Brandon Perry (5-11, 240) and Jacob Kyle (5-11, 240) all expected to get significant time.

Murray County

• 2011 finish: 2-8, 1-5 in Georgia 7-AAA

• Biggest change: Since the coaching staff returns intact, the biggest change has been getting the players to buy into how much work it will take to turn things around.

• Spring outlook: A relatively young team will spend the next few weeks getting players in the right positions and working on the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. Coaches hope the lumps taken by starting four freshmen and two sophomores last year will pay off more this fall.

North Jackson

• 2011 finish: 11-1, lost in the second round of Alabama’s Class 4A playoffs

• Biggest change: Switching to the 3-4 defense. Chiefs coach Shawn Peek always has run a 4-3 alignment, but with the popularity of the spread offense, he admits the need to get more speed onto the field to cover offensive players in open space.

• Spring outlook: Having lost six of the front seven starters on defense, that area will be the focus this spring as the Chiefs make the change in alignment as well. Peek said the team has plenty of numbers to work with, so it will just be a matter of getting the right players in place to make plays.

“It’s like putting a puzzle together every spring,” Peek said. “We’re looking for the best 22 to be on the field and work from there.”

Safety Austin Blevins (6-0, 194) has bulked up without losing his 4.5-second speed in the 40 and is drawing interest from NCAA bowl subdivision recruiters.

North Murray

• 2011 finish: 0-10, 0-6 in Georgia 7-AA

• Biggest change: New coach David Gann, previously the offensive coordinator at Ringgold, is still finalizing his staff, so it’s a good bet the players and coaches will use the spring to get to know one another in a hurry.

• Spring outlook: Most of the period will be used to install the team’s pro-I offensive and 4-3 defensive schemes. The Mountaineers have several good athletes returning, so one of Gann’s goals is to find the best way to use guys such as Brady Swilling.

Northwest Whitfield

• 2011 finish: 6-4, 6-4 in Georgia 7-AAAA

• Biggest change: The program’s biggest difference this coming season will be a return to a more localized region, where the Bruins join rivals Dalton and Southeast Whitfield in Region 7-AAAA after playing two seasons in an Atlanta-area region. That fact alone has coach Josh Robinson and his staff excited about the fall.

• Spring outlook: The Bruins will install a new offense this spring, so acclimating players to new positions and schemes is the priority. Robinson returns only a handful of starters, so finding new leaders among next year’s seniors is something he will be keeping an eye on.

Notre Dame

• 2011 finish: 5-6, lost in the first round of the 3A playoffs

• Biggest change: Former Boyd-Buchanan assistant Charles Fant takes over as head coach.

• Spring outlook: As with any coaching change, there will be lots of differences to cover in the coming weeks, beginning on the defensive side with new coordinator Bo Campbell, who comes over from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe and will incorporate the 3-4 scheme. Two sophomores could establish starting spots on offense with Tanner Webb being the most experienced quarterback and Austin Banks, who runs a 10.9 in the 100-meter dash, a likely running back candidate. Last year’s featured runner, Shaqualm McCoy, also returns.

Ooltewah

• 2011 finish: 8-4, lost in the second round of the 6A playoffs

• Biggest change: The drop-off in experience from last year’s team. Only five starters return total, and two of those will be at new positions.

• Spring outlook: The Owls went out early, wrapping up before baseball, track and soccer seasons began to avoid conflict. One key to the season will be how quickly junior Brody Binder takes on the role of team leader as quarterback. Known more for his baseball ability, the 6-2, 195-pound Binder played in five football games last season, starting in a win over East Ridge. He will have an entirely new receiving corps with all four of last year’s starters graduating.

“The sky’s the limit with Brody,” Owls coach Shannon Williams said. “He has good size and throws it well, but he’s still learning to play the position. We’re excited about him.”

Polk County

• 2011 finish: 8-4, lost in the second round of the 3A playoffs for the third straight year

• Biggest change: The lack of numbers to work with, particularly in the offensive line, where the Wildcats usually are very deep. Polk normally carries close to 70 on its roster, but after losing 17 seniors and cutting a few players he felt weren’t putting forth the effort he demands, coach Derrick Davis has the fewest he’s ever had out, just 30.

• Spring outlook: Davis said the only silver lining to having fewer players is that all will get into action and have plenty of individual coaching.

“We’re usually able to two-platoon on the line so nobody has to go both ways, but not this year,” Davis said. “I told some of the kids who think they’re going to be a slow fullback or tight end to eat all the doughnuts they want, because they’re going to be linemen come fall.”

Red Bank

• 2011 finish: 7-4, lost in the first round of the 4A playoffs

• Biggest change: Former offensive coordinator E.K. Slaughter, who left to coach at Soddy-Daisy and then Cleveland, has returned to take over as head coach.

• Spring outlook: With a new head coach, and at least three new assistants, as well as having so many players involved in other spring sports, Slaughter opted not to hold spring workouts beyond weightlifting and conditioning. Among the new assistants will be former Notre Dame assistant Steve Idol with the defense and former Beech High assistant Kerry Jackson as secondary coach.

Slaughter said he knows senior quarterback Hagen Wilkey and running back Demetrius Williams will continue in those roles, but many of the other positions will be determined after the staff gets to see them on the field. The defensive front seven likely will remain intact, as will four of the offensive line positions.

Ridgeland

• 2011 finish: 7-5, lost in second round of the Georgia Class AAA playoffs

• Biggest change: In the trenches, where just one starter returns to the line on either side of the ball.

• Spring outlook: Guard Dustin Davis is the lone returning lineman, so the Panthers will be busy filling holes there. Jermaine Conyers (6-4, 270) likely will claim one starting job on the line, and running back Noah Cooper needs just a brief opening to create big plays.

“We’ve got some young kids that we’re really anxious to see out there, because we think there’s talent,” Panthers coach Mark Mariakis said. “The class of rising juniors has some kids that could really help us. We’ve had a good offseason in the weight room. Now it’s time to see how that translates on the field.”

Ringgold

• 2011 finish: 6-4

• Biggest change: Two major changes await. The team will welcome in a new offensive coordinator after David Gann was hired to lead the North Murray program, and a new split-4 defense will be installed. Head coach Robert Akins said matching his personnel to the new positions will be key.

• Spring outlook: The Tigers will be busy this spring as they prepare for play in the school’s renovated stadium and its artificial playing surface. The biggest need is for people to step up in the skill positions, where only quarterback Slade Dale returns.

Sequatchie County

• 2011 finish: 7-4, lost in the first round of the 3A playoffs

• Biggest change: The lack of change on the staff. The Indians are one of the few teams that return all their coaches, and that stability, combined with the confidence from recent success, could make them one of the dark horse teams in their class.

• Spring outlook: With most of the starters returning to the offensive line, Indians coach Chad Barger wants to concentrate on getting new quarterback Dylan Harvey as many snaps as possible to help him gain confidence. Harvey, a 6-foot junior, is taller than recent Sequatchie quarterbacks and has a strong arm, so the Indians may throw more than in recent seasons.

Signal Mountain

• 2011 finish: 2-2 officially, after the TSSAA vacated eight wins for an ineligible player

• Biggest change: Bumper Reese takes over as defensive coordinator after Mac McCurry left to become Marion County’s head coach. Former Marion head coach Troy Boeck is now an assistant with the Eagles and will work with the linemen on both sides of the ball.

• Spring outlook: There are few places that can match the excitement level on the mountain. Still stinging from last year’s troubles, the Eagles have the talent to make a lot of opponents pay and will be among the state’s Class 4A favorites. Quarterback Reese Phillips (6-3, 225) already has offers from FBS programs, while defensive end Elijah Turnage, already a repeat all-state honoree, is back to lead that side of the ball. Although the Eagles return just four starters on both sides, there is plenty of young talent ready to step in, including tight end Harrison Moon (6-6, 245), running back/linebacker Diamenz Franklin (6-1, 190) and versatile defensive tackle/fullback James McClellan (6-2, 270). Another newcomer who could earn significant playing time is sophomore lineman Marcus Hardy (6-6, 325), who will be in his first year of varsity football.

“We know we’re OK at quarterback, but we’re trying to find a whole new backfield and four new offensive linemen, so we’ve got a ways to go,” said Eagles coach Bill Price, who expects about 73 on the roster. “We have athletes but not much experience.”

Silverdale Baptist

• 2011 finish: 4-6

• Spring outlook: Because the Seahawks would be missing at least 20 athletes who are involved in other sports, Coach Al Rogers opted not to conduct spring practice.

Soddy-Daisy

• 2011 finish: 4-6

• Biggest change: At running back, where Cedrick Edwards’ production will be hard to replace. Juniors C.J. Blue and Tyler Dickson, each about 5-10 and 170, will try to provide the Trojans with the running threat the team has had in Edwards.

• Spring outlook: The Trojans have only eight seniors on the roster, so getting younger kids extra play reps to prepare for the fall will be one area of focus. It will help having junior Brett Standifer (6-1, 210) back for his third year as the starting quarterback.

Sonoraville

• 2011 finish: 4-6, 2-4 in Georgia 7-AA

• Biggest change: The Phoenix are switching to a spread offense to take advantage of talented quarterback Tyler Harris and a more aggressive defense. Head coach Roger Gentry also welcomes new staff members.

• Spring outlook: Gentry has a pleasant problem in that several players who did not play a year ago are expected to be out for drills, adding much-needed depth.

South Pittsburg

• 2011 finish: 12-3, Class 1A state runner-up

• Biggest change: Danny Wilson has stepped down as defensive coordinator to spend more time with his family.

• Spring outlook: Before Wilson informed Pirates coach Vic Grider that he wanted to take the year off to watch his daughter’s athletic career more, the biggest change was the likely switch back to the wing-T offense. While the Pirates return quarterback Jake Stone and two running backs who surpassed 1,400 yards each — junior Jajuan Lankford and senior Demetric “Little Man” Johnson — they have just one offensive line starter back. Grider expects that lone experienced lineman, junior Ricky Fehr (6-2, 255), to be joined by fellow juniors Kyan Mitchell (6-2, 240) and Stephon Mitchell (6-0, 230), senior Alex Collier (5-11, 230) and sophomores Jesse Elledge (6-0, 195) and Josh Long (6-0, 210).

Southeast Whitfield

• 2011 finish: 1-9, 0-6 in Georgia 7-AAA

• Biggest change: New coach Sean Gray, who coached many of the current Raiders in middle school, first has to win over some of his players and the community after the school’s controversial decision to fire the popular David Crane.

• Spring outlook: Gray will use the period as an evaluation process. The Raiders have run the spread offense in recent seasons, though Gray may elect to go to a more I-based attack. Finding ways to incorporate returning star receivers Blake Foster and Rhett Harper into the new offense will be a key.

Trion

• 2011 finish: 2-8, 2-5 in Georgia 6-A

• Biggest change: Several new coaches will be joining first-year head coach Justin Brown, so the two weeks will be spent with coaches and players getting to know one another.

• Spring outlook: Brown is using the spring period to install new offensive and defensive schemes. Players are being cross-trained to see where they best fit. Several likely will be two-way starters in the fall.

Tyner

• 2011 finish: 5-6, lost in the first round of the 3A playoffs

• Biggest change: While several coaches complained about lack of numbers, Tyner and Polk County probably have seen the biggest drop overall. The Rams, perennial playoff contenders, began spring practice two weeks ago with 25 players, and several of those did not play last year.

• Spring outlook: The Rams do have about a dozen players currently involved in either baseball or track, but coach Wayne Turner said there are at least that many more that should be playing but either quit or were cut from the roster.

“Two of our better linemen stayed in trouble since last season ended, so I doubt we’ll have them back,” Turner said. “A few others just didn’t want to do what we asked them to, so they’re gone now. We’ve got good players, just not a lot of them, so we’ll make do and have a lot more going both ways.

“I actually thought about not even having spring practice this year, but then [Polk County coach] Derrick Davis called and talked me into it so we could scrimmage each other.”

Linemen David Powell and Arthur Coalfield will be counted on as offensive leaders, along with running back Joseph Sturkey.

Walker Valley

• 2011 finish: 0-10

• Biggest change: Former Soddy-Daisy coach Glen Ryan, who has been the Mustangs’ offensive coordinator, is now the head coach.

• Spring outlook: After the Mustangs went 3-27 the last three seasons, Ryan said he and the staff are concentrating on fundamentals of tackling and simply playing better defense.

“When you’re 0-10 you have to work on the fundamentals,” Ryan said. “We’ve scored enough points to win games the last few years, but we just haven’t stopped anybody.”

As is often the case with coaching changes, excitement has helped boost numbers, from 35 last season to 55 this spring.

Whitwell

• 2011 finish: 1-9

• Biggest change: Small-school programs such as Whitwell simply can’t afford much of a drop in numbers. Unfortunately, with several players involved in baseball currently and with recent struggles by the Tigers, they were left with about 13 players this spring.

• Spring outlook: Once preseason practice rolls around, the Tigers should have about 20 returning players with experience. Similar to Walker Valley, Whitwell is concentrating mainly on the defensive side this spring, after allowing 46 points per game last season.

“You just can’t give up that many points and expect to win,” Tigers coach Billy Barnhardt said. “We were so weak last year, but I’m really anxious to see the difference a year in the weight room will make.”

Senior two-way tackle Austin Grayson (6-0, 295) has been a weightlifting leader during the offseason. He will be responsible for opening running lanes for returning quarterback Justin Havis (5-11,190) and Dusty McHone (5-7, 175), the team’s fastest player.

about Stephen Hargis...

Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...

about Lindsey Young...

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 ...

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