• Team on the rise: With nine starters back on both sides of the ball and Travis McHone still handling the kicking and punting chores, Meigs County's Tigers not only are looking to improve on last year's 2-8 record but believe they have the experience to gain a state-playoff berth.
• Nightmare schedule: Polk County may be the favorite again after winning all of its district games the last two seasons, but it would be difficult to believe any area team has three more rugged opponents outside its league than Class 6A Bradley Central (a second-round playoff team in 2010) and Class 2A and 1A state champions Signal Mountain (now in 4A) and South Pittsburg.
• Dream schedule: Sweetwater's schedule toughens as the season goes on, but the Wildcats have four nondistrict games to sharpen their skills before playing their first league game. Their first three opponents were a combined 7-23 last season.
• Best game: Both teams hope to at least be jockeying for state-playoff positioning when Meigs County hosts Sweetwater on Sept. 30. The Wildcats won 26-23 at home last year.
• Biggest shoes to fill: It may take four players to fulfill all Jared Allen did on offense, defense and special teams for Polk County last season. His most meaningful duty was that of quarterback, where Al Akins is set to step in.
• Playoff bound: Polk County, Sweetwater, Meigs County.
There are four high school football teams in District 5-AA that have their sights set on trying to beat Polk County and win the league title. Those tasks could be one and the same.
The last two years the Wildcats have compiled a 21-3 record, including 8-0 in district play. Their last league loss was to McMinn Central on Oct. 24, 2008, when they were in the nine-team Region 3-3A.
"They're not going to let down for anybody," said Josh Goodin, head coach at McMinn Central since 2009. "When you play them on Friday, win, lose or draw you're going to know you've been hit. Right now they're the kings of the hill until somebody knocks them off."
Depth is one area where Polk County has held an advantage over its league rivals recently. Coach Derrick Davis said player turnout is down slightly from the more than 70 the Wildcats are accustomed to having. Some of that has to do with the freshman class not being big.
"We're down in numbers," Davis said, "but we feel good about the 60 that are with us."
Al Akins, a former wide receiver and one of Polk County's 18 seniors, will be under center this season. He'll be backed by a collection of running backs, including classmate Chase Mull.
The sentiment among the district coaches is that Sweetwater, which had a .500 regular season a year ago before drawing eventual state champion Alcoa in the opening round of the Class 3A playoffs, could be a dark horse candidate. The WIldcats have a dual-threat quarterback returning, Gavyn Davis.
Meigs County hasn't had a winning season since 2007, but with some seasoned players returning across the offensive line, the Tigers feel they have some promise. Under first-year coach Ricky Holiday, they plan to run a lot from an I-formation, although Holiday said teams shouldn't underestimate the throwing ability of junior quarterback Elliot Aikman.
"We're run-first, but our passing game will keep them honest," Holiday said. "We'll keep teams from putting nine, 10 in the box on us."
Sequoyah, a Class 4A state-playoff team a year ago, albeit for one game, will be looking to develop some consistency offensively. The Chiefs scored 26 or more points in each of their four victoriesbut were held to 14 or fewer in each of their seven losses.
After going 0-10 in 2010, McMinn Central has gone away from an option-based offense to something more multiple and is changing defenses, too. Senior two-way lineman Tony Preskitt (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) draws praise from Goodin for his leadership and reliability. More production will be expected this year from junior wide receiver and safety Darecio Borden.
"We're just trying to fit to our personnel," Goodin said. "We don't think we have enough defensive linemen to run a 4-3, so we're trying to fit to a 3-4. Offensively it's basically the same thing. We think down the line we may stick with this offense, even if the personnel changes a little bit."
Polk County gave up 25 points in its four district games last season, and 19 of those were against Sweetwater. Among Polk's returnees on that side is stout defensive tackle Justin Weaver, a 6-1, 275-pound senior.
Meigs County's defense will need a good year from senior linebacker Travis Savage, when he's not busy helping the offense by rushing the ball. Holiday calls the Tigers' senior safety Travis McHone a leader in the secondary, and their kicking game is solid with him again handling punting and place-kicking chores.
Not only did the graduated Jared Allen leave holes at quarterback and safety for Polk County, he also handled the kicking chores. Senior Christian Passmore (6-5, 195), a tight end and defensive end, is at least expected to step in and give the Wildcats a formidable punting game.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653.