The Best of Preps high school football jamboree Friday and Saturday was one of the best I can recall in the past decade. A good estimate of the crowd each night would probably be around 7,000, and they got their money's worth.
As we head into the season - the first regular season games are Friday - here are some impressions from the scrimmages I have seen and from the jamboree.
First and foremost, a word of advice for defensive coordinators whose team will play Brainerd: If your ends are rushing upfield you might want to keep a linebacker or safety real close to the line of scrimmage as a second line of defense. Panthers quarterback Maleek Rooks has the giddy-up and the feet to leave any defensive end or linebacker grasping at his shadow. The kid has unbelievable quicks, and he appears to have matured greatly over the last season. That speed and quickness might earn him at least a glimpse from Division I schools.
You can probably ditto the above for diminutive East Ridge running back/receiver Shaquille Holland, a slighter physical version of Rooks. He'll play all over the field. He also has the speed and quickness to make people miss. Too, I saw him get nailed once running between the tackles and he bounced up almost before the referee could whistle the play dead.
While his bigger Central counterpart, tackle Zach Calhoun, may be getting the big-school recruiting letters and overshadowing him, offensive guard Cadarius Pope comes off the ball awfully hard and he isn't afraid of striking a lick on either side of the ball.
Everybody knows about Baylor's Barrett Gouger, the Vanderbilt-promised tackle, but the guy next to him is turning a few heads also. Mitch Payne, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound guard, started the last five games of the Red Raiders' run to the state title game, and has entrenched himself on Baylor's offensive line, that despite this being just his third year of organized football. Payne transferred to Baylor from Riverside Military Academy last fall.
And speaking of Baylor, put your fears aside about replacing quarterback Jacob Huesman. In a scrimmage and the jamboree, Matthew Oellerich didn't miss a pass. He also played the field general's role quite well, giving all the credit to his offensive line and his receivers.
Grace Academy junior quarterback Josh Smith is going to create some problems for District 5-A opponents. While he passes well, he might be an even better runner, and keep an eye on Ashton Niswonger, a senior linebacker/running back. He had a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery and a 50-yard touchdown run.
Boyd-Buchanan's backfield combo of Chase Reed and John Hale are going to present problems in 5-A, especially when the Buccaneers get to add quarterback Jim Cardwell gets back in the lineup. Cardwell, son of offensive coordinator Carter Caldwell, missed the jamboree with a slightly bruised shoulder.
While Hale had five carries for 83 yards against Cleveland and was impressive, what was turning other coaches' heads was the Buccaneers' offensive line.
"We lost a couple of guys but they're coming together pretty well," Bucs coach Grant Reynolds said.
Tyrell Smith (6-1, 215), a running back/linebacker that was supposed to be transferring to Tyner has shown up at Howard. Smith, who played football last year in South Carolina, looks like a welcome addition.
Bradley Central receiver James Stovall, among the TFP's Dandy Dozen prospects, is the real deal but no more than quarterback Bryce Copeland. The Bears pulled out a 14-13 win over Signal Mountain on a final-minute TD from Copeland to Logan Fetzner. Never mind that the Eagles had a busted coverage.
Signal unveiled transfer Tim McLendon and the big fullback averaged better than seven yards per carry on four attempts. He and quarterback Reese Phillips are the new additions to an offense that average more than 48 points per game a year ago.
Phillips, by the way, completed all four of his pass attempts for 92 yards. Keep an eye on this youngster. The 6-3, 215-pound junior will have invites to any number of SEC senior camps next summer, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him at the U.S. Army's national junior combine in January.
McCallie won against Red Bank and did it without returning starting quarterback Trent Lusk, who is supposed to get full medical clearance from his surgeon today. Lusk, who has been wearing a no-contact jersey in the Blue Tornado's practices, had shoulder surgery earlier this year.
If opponents are going to get Red Bank, they better do it this year. The vast majority of the Lions' starters are underclassmen and many are having to learn as they go. In case you missed it in last Thursday's TFP, the Lions have lost defensive end/tight end Keionta Davis. Unless something comes up, the 6-3, 225-pounder is having surgery today to repair a torn ACL today.
The kid's best days are hopefully ahead of him although the number of schools recruiting the Dandy Dozen member is likely to drop.
East Hamilton has a proven rusher in junior Logan Jackson, but look for Chas Hulsey to provide a backfield contrast. Jackson runs equally well inside and out, but Hulsey might give the Hurricanes a half-step advantage outside the tackles. Two names from their defense that you'll hear often are Francisco Rodriguez and Mason Galanto.
Tyner played well but couldn't get in the end zone and I don't know which steamed veteran coach Wayne Turner more, that or the fact that the Rams gave up a TD to Walker Valley.
After seeing most of the 6-AA teams in action either in scrimmages or at the jamboree, I'm beginning more and more to like the preseason assessment of Hixson coach Houston White, who said there appeared to be more balance in the district this season.
And one has to wonder, where was Cedrick Edwards, Soddy-Daisy's gifted running back, Saturday night? The Trojans got shut out in their 20-minute quarter by Franklin County.
Surprised? Yes, without question. I honestly figured Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland would be the biggest stumbling blocks in Bradley Central's drive toward a district 3-AAA championship.
And speaking of Soddy-Daisy, coach Kevin Orr is supposed to serve a one-game suspension levied by Trojans principal John Maynard this week.
I understand Maynard's send-a-message philosophy after the Trojans' part in a short but intense scuffle at a seven-on-seven scrimmage day at Signal Mountain. I don't know what more Orr could do than rush out on the field to try to separate combatants and keep a scuffle from escalating. That said, Soddy-Daisy has something of a reputation for scuffling and Maynard wanted to deliver a strong, athletics program-wide message.
As for Signal Mountain, look for some changes on the Eagles' sidelines - only folks who should be there - this fall during the game and most likely the postgame as well when field access may be limited at least until the visiting team has left the field.