• <strong>Team on the rise:</strong> Silverdale Baptist Academy had few seniors on last year’s team, which at 10-2 and advancing to the second round of the Class 2A state playoffs had the best season in program history. Eight starters return on each side, which has the Seahawks believing they can achieve more.
• <strong>Team on the decline: </strong>Copper Basin isn’t expected to have a full-blown collapse, but reaching the second round of the Class 1A playoffs for the second season in a row will be challenging. Graduated quarterback Dylan Boggs is equally a big loss at linebacker, where he was the team’s leading tackler for multiple seasons.
• <strong>Toughest schedule: </strong>Five of Boyd-Buchanan’s six nondistrict opponents were state-playoff teams last year, including second-rounders Notre Dame (4A) and South Pittsburg (1A). A Division II-A semifinalist and quarterfinalist are on the schedule, which begins with road trips to Red Bank and Class 3A playoff team McMinn Central.
• <strong>Dream schedule: </strong>Gone from Grace Academy’s 2012 schedule are state-playoff teams Notre Dame, Sweetwater, Lookout Valley and Marion County. Playoff team Grundy County returns, but that was one of the Golden Eagles’ two victories. They did pick up playoff teams Davidson Academy, Eagleville and Jackson County, but they are all Class 1A schools and had a combined record a year ago of 17-18. They open Aug. 23 hosting Chattanooga Christian, a Class 2A team that was 2-8 in 2012.
• <strong>Players to watch: </strong>Boyd-Buchanan’s Jim Cardwell returns for his fourth season as starting quarterback. He’s also a dangerous returner, whether on punts, kickoffs or interceptions from free safety. Silverdale returns two 1,000-yard rushers in seniors Matt McCulley and Josh Rogers. Grace Academy is expected to make senior Will Slack, who averaged 59.7 rushing yards per game a year ago, a featured back this season. He was averaging more than 100 yards per game when he tore an ACL in his sixth game as a sophomore.
• <strong>Coaches predicted order of finish:</strong> Boyd-Buchanan, Silverdale, Copper Basin, Grace Academy.
Silverdale Baptist Academy may have surprised some of its opponents last football season, which included the most victories in a season in the program’s eight-year history and its first state-playoff win.
The good news for Seahawks fans is that most of the talent that accomplished those things is back. But with that comes something new to the District 5-A program — expectations.
“I told the boys we’re not Cinderella status anymore,” Silverdale coach Al Rogers said. “We’re going to need to act like we’ve been there.”
Tyler Gibson and Kendall Shoemaker graduated, leaving voids along the line, but a total of eight starters return on both sides of the ball for the Seahawks. They must also find a successor for quarterback Spencer Mossburg.
“You can’t replace Spencer,” Rogers said. “But that being said, we’re not a primarily passing offense.”
Mossburg was also a baseball and basketball standout at Silverdale, and earlier this month he signed a baseball scholarship with Chattanooga State. Nathan Keylon is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound junior who also plays basketball and baseball at Silverdale and became Mossburg’s understudy about a quarter of the way through last season.
“He’s probably one of my biggest role models ever,” Keylon said. “He’s a great Christian guy. He was one of the biggest leaders on our team. He’s pretty much who I’m trying to be right now.”
Rogers views a strength of this year’s team as 12 seniors he believes will work as hard as the ones who came before them and set good examples for the younger players. And there are plenty more younger players this season.
Rogers said this time last year he was working with 22 players. There are 39 out as of now.
“I think everybody is a lot more confident going into this year,” 5-11, 266-pound senior two-way tackle Aubrey Shamblin said. “There’s definitely a lot more faces on this year’s team than last year’s. That’s going to help us during practice. We’ll get better looks now, and we won’t just be hitting the same people. The starting team is only as good as the practice team.”
For all of the Seahawks’ success in 2012, their 10-2 mark being the second winning record in program history, they still are seeking their first district title. Their lone regular-season loss a year ago was a whipping by champion Boyd-Buchanan on Aug. 31.
Rogers said the Bucs are “still the team to beat” and added that there’s “going to be something in the pregame speech” about what happened in last year’s game when the teams meet this year in week 10.
As far as achieving any general success in 2013, Rogers echoes what coaches at small schools everywhere are saying.
“We need to stay injury-free and stay unselfish,” he said. “A wolf is only as strong as his pack.”
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter/KelleySmiddie.