Coach: Stanley Jackson (3-7 here and overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 5/4/0
Remember these names: Maleek Rooks (Sr., 5-9, 182) is at quarterback after a running back/receiver role, and running backs/linebackers Isaiah Hayes (Sr., 5-10, 205) and Corey Wiley (Sr., 5-10, 198) will be important along with wide receivers/defensive backs Justins Smith (Sr., 5-9, 188) and William Womack (Jr., 6-0, 188) and two-way lineman Kevin Hampton (6-0, 210) .
Will be a memorable year if: The Panthers can get away with quick but undersized lines and can take advantage of quality speed at the skill positions. There is a question of consistency. Since 2006 it's been bust or boom, losing one year, winning and getting in the playoffs the next. They went 8-4 in 2009 and 3-7 last year after a 4-7 in 2006, a 7-4 in 2007 and a 3-7 in 2008.
Aug. 19 at Ooltewah
Aug. 26 at Rhea County*
Sept. 2 Tyner*
Sept. 16 at East Hamilton*
Sept. 23 at Austin-East
Sept. 30 Howard*
Oct. 7 at Red Bank*
Oct. 14 at Central*
Oct. 21 Hixson*
Oct. 28 East Ridge*
* District 6-AA game
The late Pete Potter is more readily remembered for coaching at McCallie but directed Brainerd to its last unbeaten season, 10-0 in 1969. It was the first year of the TSSAA's playoff format, but teams were selected on a point basis and both Brainerd and Brownsville, ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the final state Associated Press poll, were left out of the four-team Class AAA playoffs. Participants that first year were elected on a points system based on wins within their classification.
"I remember there were teams with one loss that had more points," said Brownie Au, a lineman on that team who is now a local State Farm agent.
That Brainerd team had perhaps the greatest collection of players to strap on a helmet with at least five signing college scholarships: quarterback Fred Rohrdanz (MTSU), running back Ed Nelson (Vanderbilt) and wide receiver Tommy West, offensive lineman Vernon Pauls and linebacker Kenny Stansell (Tennessee)
"Every week was exciting," Au recalled. "It seemed like every Friday morning the cheerleaders had been to all of the seniors' houses and decorated their yards the night before."
Brainerd coach Stanley Jackson calls it a three-to-one rule, necessary because the Panthers have only 30 players for a season in strong District 6-AA.
"We have to be three times better against most teams we play," Jackson explained, "because our guys play offense, defense and special teams and they're most likely going to be going up against a different player in each phase of the game."
The Panthers have begun to take pride in the short stack they've been dealt. Call it a strength in fewer numbers.
"If we're going to win, we have to take advantage of our speed, and we have to do it over and over again," said Isaiah Hayes, a senior fullback and linebacker.
Said Jackson: "We don't have a lot of depth, but the other team, people in the stands and even people in the community don't care. I don't think we're handicapped. We get frustrated, but even people who are truly handicapped work to get the best out of life.
"We're in a microcosm of life. You have challenges every day and you're either going to run from them or face them head-on. We're not going to run from anybody. We came up short in some games last year, but there wasn't a single game where I thought anybody quit. A lot of our kids have challenges that are a lot tougher than a football game."
He has adopted a practice philosophy geared toward game conditioning.
"We concentrate more on tempo," Jackson said. "Football is a series of bursts. You practice at a high tempo and hope it becomes muscle memory and then stamina."
Depth is only one of the physical concerns. When he and assistants Tyrus Ward, Toney Owens and Leroy Higgins were handing out equipment, there was obviously plenty of gear from which to choose, but there were moments when a worry wrinkle creased Jackson's forehead.
"Seems like we're handing out a lot of 'smalls' and 'mediums,'" he grumbled.
Two of those, Tarik Williams (5-foot-7, 119 pounds) and Javoe Watkins (5-6, 118), are candidates for pass-catching, pass-defending and special-teams duties.
The Panthers are long on skill players but looking for line guys. The one proven lineman is two-way starter Kevin Hampton, but Jackson also has hopes for Jamichael Corbin, a 6-foot, 309-pounder.
"We're going to have to play kids that are young. We're going to have to let them grow up," Jackson said.
He wants them to grow up while at the same time removing their program from the list of forgottens.
"Nobody out there is talking about Brainerd from the aspect of the media, opponents and the community," the coach said. "There was a time when we were relevant when people talked about championships."
To that end, he'll rely heavily on Maleek Rooks, a senior whose maturity and leadership should be a tremendous help at the quarterback position; running backs/linebackers Hayes and Corey Wiley; Hampton; and receivers/defensive backs Justin Smith and William Womack.