Coach: Bubba Simmons (1st year here; 15-55 overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 7/5/2
Remember these names: Lineman Tye Youngblood (Sr., 6-4, 278) is a three-year starter on offense and has begun to attract SEC-type recruiters. He'll play almost as much on defense as offense this season. Returning quarterback Trent Lusk (Sr., 6-3, 215) has dropped 10-15 pounds and will have quicker feet to go with an already strong passing arm, and linebacker Hayden Cronan (Jr., 6-2, 210) returns to anchor the defense.
Will be a memorable year if: The Tornado have a winning season after consecutive 4-7 years, especially if one of the wins is against Baylor after back-to-back losses to the Red Raiders. Simmons feels his team has the stuff to be the division's surprise team despite midstate trips to defending state champion Ensworth and frequent finalist Brentwood Acadmey.
Aug. 26 McMinn County
Sept. 2 at Ensworth*
Sept. 9 at Tyner
Sept. 16 Father Ryan*
Sept. 23 at Baylor*
Sept. 30 at BGA*
Oct. 14 Pope John Paul II*
Oct. 21 Montgomery Bell Academy*
Oct. 28 at Brentwood Academy*
* Division II-AA game
The fall of 2001 was a wonderful time as coach Ralph Potter used the talents of quarterback Ryan Moore, receiver Hadden Kirk, defensive end Jason Hall and linebacker Keppy Baucom to lead McCallie to a state championship. Trey Meyer kicked a 22-yard field goal with 11 seconds left in the 17-16 final win over Brentwood Academy.
"It was an amazing season. We had four come-from-behind victories and a lot of last-second heroics," said Tornado assistant Chris Richardson. "It was a great team, and I mean team. There were no egos, just a great group of young men with a single goal."
That team will gather for a 10-year reunion at the 2011 opener against McMinn County and will be recognized at halftime and in a postgame reception at the school.
There is an air of suspense around McCallie these days, and for some a sense of having passed this way before, with Bubba Simmons in command of the Blue Tornado football program.
A Tornado assistant in the late 1970s under Pete Potter, the winningest coach ever to serve the school, Simmons was hired first as athletic director and then as football coach when Rick Whitt decided to step aside.
The director of McCallie's upper school, longtime football assistant Kenny Sholl, recently confided that "training camp is the closest to Coach Potter's that we've had."
He was delighted because Potter's camps were physical and intense yet educational and fun. How the retro approach translates will be seen the next couple of months, but there appears to be camaraderie and eagerness among staff and players.
"It's a more modern era, but football is football. Everybody makes a commitment," Simmons said. "I have seen our seniors taking ownership of the program, and I have seen our kids take advantage daily of the opportunity to get better."
As Division II-AA's second-leading tackler a year ago, junior Hayden Cronan also has been among the team's leaders.
"There was a time when older players might take some days off because of an injury," he said. "This year's seniors feel they owe it to the team to be there, and they're pushing through and toughing it out no matter what. Coach Simmons challenged us: 'Don't be content with being average. Put your heart and soul into it.' I think we have accepted the challenge, and I think we're happy about it."
Back-to-back losing seasons and losses to crosstown rival Baylor have fueled rather than doused enthusiasm. It doesn't hurt having such returning starters as linemen Tye Youngblood (6-4, 275), Russ Robinson (6-3, 250) and Josh Bandy (6-0, 245), kicker Arturo Rocha (5-11, 160) and quarterback Trent Lusk (6-3, 215).
"I don't know that you could say there's a best player," Cronan said. "There are several."
That list also would include Cronan, who's known for his explosion and his uncanny ability to sniff out ball carriers.
"Hayden is so consistent, and the kids around him feed off that," Simmons said. "He's a young man who understands what it means to be a leader, which is a lot more than just making noise. He is a good example and is good at encouraging others."
The team will feature more of a triple-option look this season, beginning with senior Daniel McClure, but that doesn't mean Simmons is going to ignore Lusk's proven arm.
"Most throw when they have to. We'll try to strike a balance," he said.
McCallie must challenge not only Baylor but also midstate bullies Ensworth, Montgomery Bell Academy and Brentwood Academy.
"Our kids believe we can be a really good football team, and I think we can be the team in the league that will surprise some people," Simmons said. "The kids believe in and are working for each other. Everybody needs some luck, but as Coach Potter used to say, 'The harder you work, the luckier you get.'"