When Tim James was named the first head football at Heritage High School in Ringgold, he knew what was coming. As a new school in what has been an average football county, the Generals were going to have to follow a meticulous building plan and have the patience to see it through.
The progression over the first four seasons was just as James had hoped, from zero wins that first season to seven in 2011. The foundation had been built, and even though the team graduated more than 30 seniors from that 2011 team, James believed his team would remain competitive.
He was not prepared for the 0-10 season that followed.
"The wheels fell off," the veteran coach said with a shake of his head. "We graduated 35 seniors and I don't think I realized the significance that would have on us. Take that with bumping up to 4-A and all the injuries ... I've never seen anything like it. I thought we were a 5-5 team at worst, and I'm usually a really good judge of what to expect. I'm glad it's over with and now we can move forward."
That process begins with a revamped offense under new coordinator Jeremy New that will take advantage of a new set of skill players. Heritage was a ground-and-pound team in previous seasons, but that will change this year in New's spread attack that features the strong right arm of sophomore quarterback Dylan Bice and a promising receiving corps.
"We're young, but there's a lot of potential," James said. "We have likely the best receiving corps we've had, and if our sophomore quarterback develops, we should be able to sling the ball a little bit."
That potential includes junior Christian King (6-foot-2, 190) and senior Tyler Meroney (6-4, 175), big targets who can bail out Bice in tough situations, while quicker athletes Damian Goins and Blake Burch will be prominent on routes out of the backfield.
Defensively, seven starters return, including ends Austin Crane and Blaine Loveless, and a new emphasis on stopping the run has been pounded into the unit in training camp. Crane, a senior, said the entire team learned a lesson from last season and is eager to turn things back around.
"You can't be complacent," he said. "We had a good season the year before, and I felt like some of our seniors kind of took it easy and didn't give it their all during the offseason. We haven't done that this year. I believe we can break .500 because we're so much better than last year. We are not going through what we did last year."
James and the rest of the Generals are counting on it.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.