Coach: Bill Price (24-2 here; 137-95 overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 9/9/2
Remember these names: Having a pair of dependable and versatile receivers in Will Queen (Sr., 6-1, 180) and Jon Patton (Sr., 6-4, 205) should help quarterback Reese Phillips (Jr., 6-3, 215) as he takes his first significant snaps. The Eagles have experience elsewhere in the backfield in fullbacks Zack Bowman (Sr., 6-0, 215) and Mitchell Hall (Sr., 5-9, 180) and running back Mitchell Hall (Sr., 5-9, 180) and will benefit greatly on both sides of the ball from the presence of newcomer running back/linebacker Tim McClendon (Sr., 6-2, 230). They also have four of five returning offensive linemen, including center Jon Evans (Sr., 5-10, 215).
Will be a memorable year if: The Eagles beat top-five-ranked Class 6A member Blackman, win their second district title and make a return to a state final despite bumping up from Class 2A to 4A.
Aug. 19 East Hamilton
Aug. 26 Tyner
Sept. 2 at Bledsoe County*
Sept. 9 at Blackman
Sept. 16 Grundy County*
Sept. 23 South Pittsburg
Sept. 30 Notre Dame*
Oct. 7 at Polk County
Oct. 14 Chattanooga Christian*
Oct. 28 at Sequatchie County*
* District 7-AA game
In its third year of existence and second in varsity competition, Signal Mountain won the Class 2A state championship. Following an unbeaten junior varsity season in 2008, the Eagles went 10-2 in 2009 and 14-0 last year. It stands to reason that Price has set the bar high, especially after the team averaged a point a minute last season behind now-graduated quarterback Hogan Whitmire, linebacker/fullback Gervell Morgan, linemen Shea Baker and Will Sawyer and running back/linebacker/defensive back Donnie Garner, whose state championship performance will be long remembered.
Garner ran for a season-high 218 yards and three touchdowns.
"It was huge for the kids, the community, the assistant coaches and me," Price said. "These kids committed to being in the weight room and doing all the little things that are part of building a successful team. You have to have great players to win a state championship. I have coached some great teams, and what it always comes down to is having the good athletes but more importantly having the good kids."
Although he's really just getting started as a high school quarterback, Signal Mountain's Reese Phillips already has gained in-state notoriety and is beginning to appear on prospect lists across the nation.
At least on preseason magazine named him the Class 4A preseason all-state quarterback. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder finished second in Division I prospect camps in Nashville and Atlanta and first in one in Knoxville. He attended a three-day camp at the University of Tennessee and David Cutcliffe's invitation-only quarterback camp at Duke.
Some in the mountain community expressed concern about replacing Hogan Whitmire, who last year threw for 2,499 yards and 30 touchdowns as the Eagles went 14-0 and won the Class 2A state title. They hadn't heard about Phillips, who just turned 16 and whose mother says doctors believe he won't top out until he reaches at least 6-foot-5.
"At that age he is the most talented quarterback I've seen," said Signal coach Bill Price, a former QB whose lengthy career covers all classifications and jobs in three states. "He will have to prove it, but he has the potential to play at the highest level if he continues to improve."
While Phillips' size comes from his mother's side of the family, football talent runs through his father's side. His dad, Stan, his uncle Tank and his grandfather Harry all were outstanding high school quarterbacks, and his great-uncle is Dickie Phillips, who was an outstanding high school and college lineman.
Though his limited stints at quarterback have come in mop-up, handoff roles, Reese Phillips was on special teams returning punts and making tackles as an eighth-grader, when the Eagles were playing a junior varsity schedule in the first year on the field. He progressed as a freshman and has spent time at cornerback and safety, at outside linebacker and defensive end and at tight end and wide receiver.
"I guess my biggest concern is not having the experience," he said. "I have gone to camps and it wasn't just for the throwing but more the mental part of the game. I've watched a lot of film and I've watched a lot of defenses."
There's nothing like game situations, though, and the Eagles gave up their last two 7-on-7 passing league scrimmages as punishment for a parent getting involved in an on-field skirmish with Soddy-Daisy. They were practices that Reese and his receivers could have used.
In all, he and receivers Jon Patton, Will Queen and Chris Abernathy missed at least 14 quarters of summer competition, "and they were scrimmages we really could have used," Price said.
It was experience that might have allayed Phillips' jitters.
"I'm nervous, in part because of all the hype and the fact that I've never been the starting quarterback," he said. "I just want to get that first snap over with, and then it will be back to playing football."
He won't be out there by himself. Four of the five 2010 offensive linemen return along with Patton and Queen and running backs Andrew Price and Zack Bowman. Too, transfer Tim McClendon (6-2, 240) is looking like a great between-the-tackles back although he will be a linebacker first and foremost.
"This is the most talented group I've been around," Phillips said. "The defense should be really good, and there's a lot of experience on both sides of the ball."