East Hamilton football coach Ted Gatewood would have liked to ease into the Hurricanes' first season in District 5-AAA. The other coaches and media took away that option.
The Hurricanes were named prohibitive favorites to win their new league Thursday at the district media luncheon at the Holiday Inn Express in Ooltewah. East Hamilton, which finished 11-2 in Class 4A last season and advanced to the state quarterfinals, was a unanimous selection to win by the media, while four schools received first-place votes in the coaches' poll.
"It's flattering that they look at us as favorites, but we're going to have to earn it," Gatewood said. "It's a target, but we have to work on what we do to get better."
The biggest issue concerning the Hurricanes this season is developing depth on the offensive line, as they lost three starters. They return most of their skill position players, including receiver/cornerback Tre Herndon, who recently committed to Vanderbilt.
After East Hamilton, the rest of the district is anybody's guess. It is expected to be tougher this season, not only because of the addition of East Hamilton but also the overall experience returning to some teams. Four 5-AAA teams -- Bradley Central, McMinn County, Ooltewah and Walker Valley -- advanced to the playoffs last year, while Cleveland finished 5-5.
Bradley was second in the media poll but fourth in the coaches' voting, while Ooltewah was second for the coaches and third for the media. Cleveland returns 16 starters and was selected fourth by the media and third by the coaches.
Defending champion McMinn County, Walker Valley and Soddy-Daisy rounded out both polls in that order.
"You listen to everything that Bradley has back and Cleveland returning eight starters on both sides of the ball," McMinn coach Bo Cagle said. "Ooltewah always has athletes and Walker Valley made the playoffs last year -- it's going to be a tough year for everybody. We've been picked fifth before, but there will be a learning curve we have to endure."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.