Coach: Tim James (6-24 here; 54-56 overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 10/8/2
Remember these names: As most of their Region 7-AAA rivals scramble to find offensive line starters, the Generals are nearly set up front. Seniors Justin Adekoya (6-5, 275) and Luke Sims (6-2, 260) will lead the way for a bruising ground game that also features bullish quarterback Jake Sampson (Sr., 6-1, 230) and running back Ethan Thompson (Sr., 5-10, 210).
Will be a memorable year if: The Generals keep following James' development plan and take the next natural progression - and that means playoffs or at least a serious run at them. Like last season, Heritage has a very favorable early schedule and could easily be 4-0 entering region play. Inexperience no longer is an excuse and James expects his team this year to win the close ones it lost last year (three by six points or less).
Aug. 26 North Murray
Sept. 2 at Lakeview-FO
Sept. 9 Murray County
Sept. 16 Pickens County
Sept. 30 Ringgold*
Oct. 7 at Dalton*
Oct. 14 at LaFayette*
Oct. 21 Southeast Whitfield*
Oct. 28 at Ridgeland*
Nov. 4 Region play-in game
* Region 7A-AAA game
Luke Sims sometimes finds it hard to believe this is the same group he started camp with four years ago.
Sims is part of the first full senior class at Heritage High in Ringgold and one of several Generals who played significant minutes during a 2008 season in which they lost all 10 games by an average of more than 40 points.
"I remember that first year we were just trying to hold on," said Sims, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound offensive lineman. "I knew it was going to get better for us, but that was a very humbling experience. We just kept on believing that if we stayed with it and kept pushing hard that we would do well."
Coach Tim James' teams have gone 1-9 and 5-5 since that first season, losing three tight games in the final quarter last year. With 18 starters back in a Region 7-AAA that has no clear preseason favorite, players such as Sims can start to dream of playing after week 10.
"That's our goal and I think it's a very realistic one," said Sims, one of six seniors James said are being looked at by college programs. "We started out well last year (3-1), but we kind of slipped after that. The key this year is to stay hot all season and not let up one bit."
James admitted that depth is still an issue and that an injury or two could derail any postseason hopes. Still, he's noticed a different feeling around camp this year, a confidence that comes only with experience and winning.
"Most of the kids will have been with us four years now, and quite a few of them will be in their fourth year of starting," he said. "I think that should pay dividends, but at the same token, like everybody else, injuries could play a key role on how we end up. We're bigger, stronger and faster than we ever have been, and that's a plus."
The veteran coach cautioned, though, that being too confident and looking ahead would be foolish for a program still in its infancy.
"People are talking about that," he said of the playoffs, "but as a coach all I can talk about is that we open up Aug. 26 against North Murray. If you start being overconfident, you set yourself up for failure. We're going to be positive, but we'll take it slow. It is at least in the conversation this year."
They will go down as one of the worst teams of the last decade, but the 2008 Generals always will have a special place in the heart of coach Tim James. They jumped right into varsity competition in their first year of existence and paid the price, losing games by such scores as 64-0, 55-7 and 50-7. They scored more than seven points only once - and still lost by 37 to Southeast Whitfield.
James recalls a recent conversation with 2008 team member Justin Hall that shows a little white lie sometimes serves its purpose.
"Justin came up to me and said, 'Coach, that first year when we got off the bus at Carrollton and you said we had a chance to win, did you mean it?' I said, 'Justin, absolutely not, but I had to say it or I'd have to beat you to get you off the bus.'
"I look at some of the pictures of that first team and, bless their hearts, they were so inexperienced and little. It was tough at the time, but looking back, that was a special group."