One of the universal feelings we share this time every year is the anticipation of infinite possibilities that might be in the months ahead. So as the 2012 high school sports year gets started, here are a half-dozen players, teams and issues that likely will steal many of the local sports headlines this year.
Rated the nation's No. 2 prep sprinter, Jackson has narrowed her college choices to Tennessee, Florida and San Diego State and has made no secret that her main goal is to represent the United States in the Olympics, aiming mainly for the 2016 games. She already owns nine individual or team state championships and will be extremely motivated coming off a disappointing end to her junior season. She set state records in the 100 and 200 meters as a sophomore and was looking to better those marks last year, but while she won her third straight 100-meter state title, she narrowly missed setting a record and dehydration prevented her from even running in the 200.
As she left Murfreesboro last spring, a visibly upset Jackson vowed to make her senior season memorable.
In his first season as the Eagles' starter, he threw for nearly 2,000 yards with 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions and already has scholarship offers from 15 programs. Among the teams most heavily recruiting him as of now are Notre Dame, Georgia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Duke.
It also will be interesting to see just how focused Signal Mountain's entire team is this year. After winning the Class 2A state title in 2010, the Eagles were ruled ineligible for the 2011 playoffs, a decision that likely will cause the returning players and coaches to enter the 2012 season with a mountainous chip on their shoulder and a point to prove every Friday night.
While fewer than five of this year's area seniors have offers from FBS programs, Phillips is one of about 10 juniors who likely will earn big-time offers by next year's signing day. That list includes Bradley Central offensive lineman Austin Sanders, a Tennessee commitment; Ridgeland safety Vonn Bell, who is expected to commit to Tennessee soon; North Jackson kicker Cesar Diaz, who already has an offer from Mississippi State; Howard lineman Brandon Walters; Calhoun quarterback Taylor Lamb; Bradley Central quarterback Bryce Copeland; and South Pittsburg athlete Demetric Johnson.
The 6-foot, 195-pound left-hander has a fastball that is routinely clocked at 94 mph, and he is expected to be a first-round pro draft pick this summer. He's a three-time All American who has pitched in three major league stadiums during all-star competition, was named Georgia's state player of the year and is about 140 strikeouts from setting the state's career record.
Baylor's Zach Watson. Before last year no wrestler in Tennessee history had won five state championships. But after McCallie's T.J. Duncan became the first to do so last year, Watson can become the second in as many years. Much like in softball, Chattanooga has such a rich history in wrestling that it is only fitting that two local wrestlers would take such an exalted place in state history. Watson came into the season with a career record of 147-3.
Will the city's softball dominance continue? At least one Chattanooga team has won a softball state championship in the state's toughest brackets - Class AAA and Division II - since 2002. Local teams have won a combined 14 state titles in those classifications during the last nine years, with Baylor, GPS and Soddy-Daisy each claiming four. Soddy-Daisy's Lady Trojans could enter the season nationally ranked.
Can local boys' basketball become relevant again at the big-time state level? While Chattanooga teams fare well in Class A boys' basketball - eight teams have played in title games in the last 10 years - it's a different story for schools with enrollments over 200. There hasn't been a boys' basketball team from Hamilton County win a state championship in Class AA or AAA since Brainerd did it 20 years ago. The Panthers also were the last team to reach a title game, finishing runners-up in 1997. Since then, only two local teams have even advanced to the semifinals in the state's two larger classifications.