Coach: Nick Bryant (12-10 here and overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 5/7/0
Remember these names: As running back/defensive back Johnny Cook (Sr., 5-11, 195) goes, so go the Tigers. It should help new quarterback Hayden Holland (Soph., 5-11, 175) to have Cook, who topped the 1,000-yard mark last season, and third-year fullback Derrick Sanders (Sr., 5-11, 190). It doesn't hurt that Cook, Holland and Sanders will operate behind tackle Austin Fults (Sr., 6-3, 330). If the quicker Holland falters, look for Josh Rhea (Jr., 6-0, 205), who hopes to make up for an injury-plagued 2010 season at quarterback, running back, linebacker or a combination of all three.
Will be a memorable year if: The Yellow Jackets can beat Marion County, South Pittsburg and Sequatchie County, something they've failed to do in the same season since Greg Brewer's 2000 team pulled off the feat. Beating Marion might be enough for some. Bryant likely would settle for a return to, and a win or two in, the playoffs.
Aug. 19 Marion County
Aug. 26 at South Pittsburg
Sept. 2 at Sequatchie County*
Sept. 9 Whitwell
Sept. 16 at Signal Mountain*
Sept. 30 Chattanooga Christian*
Oct. 7 at Upperman
Oct. 14 Bledsoe County*
Oct. 21 Grace Academy
Oct. 28 Notre Dame*
* District 7-AA game
At almost every District 7-AA stop, one of the first questions was about Grundy County.
"Is that running back back?"
The back in question is Johnny Cook and, yes, the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder has returned and hopes to improve on a 1,100-yard rushing season and the team's second straight playoff season under coach Nick Bryant.
"It might be hard to beat the last two seasons, but I'd like for us to make a run deep into the playoffs and I'd like to have another 1,000-yard season," he said.
Cook also had a wake-up call for all those offensive coordinators smirking at their defensive counterparts' discomfort.
"I had 88 tackles last year, and I'd surely like to break 100 this year," he said.
Grundy County, coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2002-03, will try for a three-peat without Destin Nunley, Cook's backfield mate who graduated after accounting for 1,129 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"The linemen are always a key to a 1,000-yard season, but last year if teams began keying on me, Destin would take over," Cook said. "Destin's gone but we have Hayden Holland, who played a lot last year at receiver and at quarterback."
Holland can learn a lot from Cook, Bryant said.
"I remember our first year we were in a kicking practice and we had emphasized covering loose balls," the coach recalled. "The kick was 15 yards out of bounds and [Cook] runs out there and dives on it. That's the thing he brings to this team that fans don't get to see.
"He doesn't do anything halfway or halfheartedly. He has become a great leader. Our kids see how hard he runs and how hard he attacks everything he does."
Cook said it had been a process of maturing since his freshman season.
"So much of it is learning and becoming a leader," he said. "I wanted to be a game-changer rather than a game player."
While Bryant is placing much of the offensive load on Cook, he won't be able to keep him off the field defensively.
"We will have to use his versatility in a lot of places, but that versatility is one of the things we love about him," Bryant said.
Grundy is likely to run a spread offense early and then go to the I-formation late in games.
"He'll go to work behind that line, and then late most defenses are worn down," Bryant said.
Sewanee is the only college program thus far to take notice of Cook's prowess on the field and in the classroom (3.85 GPA, 24 ACT), but others are likely to get on the bandwagon. While he'd like to play college football, his primary interest is in political science.
"If I go to Sewanee, that's what I'd like to major in and then become a lawyer," he said.
In his final season as Grundy's quarterback, Bryant and his 2000 teammates pulled off two rare feats for Yellow Jackets teams. They beat Marion County for the second straight year after ending a 15-year drought against the Warriors and also beat South Pittsburg and Sequatchie County.
"It was a great year. We won all the [Sequatchie] Valley games," Bryant said. "We lost to Bledsoe. I was out for three games with a torn MCL. My brother [Justin] took over at quarterback, and with him being a freshman our offense was somewhat limited."
It was a talented team that included linebacker Josh Brown, running back Zach Jones and offensive lineman Derrick Byars. The group was coached by Greg Brewer, now an assistant at Franklin County, and one of his assistants was Willie Childers, the principal now at Palmer Elementary.