Since last football season ended, the one constant throughout District 6-A has been change. And now as the new season closes in, all five programs have notable differences. The fact that there are now five teams in the district is a change from last year.
Sale Creek opted to play against varsity competition in its first season and joined a league filled with traditional playoff contenders. The Panthers have good numbers for a first-year Class 1A program — roughly 30 are on the roster — but many of those haven’t played football in two or three years, while others have never played the game at all.
“We’ve only got five seniors, and the last time most of our juniors played was in eighth grade,” Sale Creek coach Ron Cox said. “We’re just going to teach them the fundamentals and how to do things right and build off that.”
No program in the district saw more offseason change than perennial power South Pittsburg. It began with veteran coach Vic Grider stepping down in December, followed just a couple of months later with his replacement abruptly resigning before Tim Moore, a former all-state Pirates offensive lineman who has been a part of state championships staffs at other schools, settled in at his alma mater.
More new faces came into the program since Moore’s hiring, including two transfers from North Jackson. Junior quarterback Kitt Grider (6-foot-1, 180 pounds), who threw for more than 4,100 yards and 40 touchdowns as a two-year starter at North Jackson, and senior lineman Kyle Crouch (5-10, 250), who had 48 tackles last year for the Chiefs, are now competing for starting jobs with the Pirates.
Lookout Valley, which has reached the playoffs eight of the last nine seasons, has a completely new offensive backfield. Sort of. The Yellow Jackets’ new quarterback, freshman Evan Walker, started three games as an eighth-grader but now has the job all to himself. He is joined by running back Jaylen Wynn, who rushed for more than 400 yards as a secondary option last year but is now the team’s primary ball carrier.
“Walker has Saturday talent,” Lookout Valley coach Tony Webb said. “That’s not something you typically say right away about a freshman, but if he stays healthy and keeps working, he’s got the talent to play at the next level. We’re excited about what he can do for us, and Jaylen is the type of runner that can make big plays for us any time.”
The biggest change at Marion County is that expectations are once again soaring. After consecutive losing seasons, including a program-worst 1-9 two years ago, Mac McCurry turned things around in just one year, winning nine games, reaching the quarterfinals and reviving pride in the program. The community is again buzzing with the belief that this could be a special season, especially with the return of all-state running back Blake Zeman, who had a breakout sophomore year.
“No doubt there’s a lot of high expectations in our community,” McCurry said. “The guys have to realize you’ve got to re-earn success every year. Nothing is automatic.”
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