In spring practice Tony Webb looked around and found himself in an anomaly for a small Class A school.
The coach had way more candidates for the offensive and defensive lines than he did for the skill positions. He needed running back/linebacker candidates.
"I was worried back in May whether we'd have a team or not this fall," he said.
When he began workouts this summer with a squad that had bloomed to 27 - eight more than he finished with in 2013 - Webb had two new running back/linebacker possibilities.
He seemed confident that Kahliel Peoples, a transfer from Ooltewah, and Moses Houston, who enrolled as a freshman after attending East Lake Middle, would offset the handful of talented athletes who scorned the football program.
"We needed backs and linebackers, and here they come," Webb said. "It really helped the depth. Both of those kids will help this year. I expect Kahliel to start, and I expect that both will play quite a bit and contribute."
Houston stands out already among the Yellow Jackets freshmen.
"He's thick - about 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds - and he just doesn't look like a freshman," Webb said. "He'll do about like Kahliel. He'll be a [strongside] linebacker and running back. At our school players learn multiple positions."
Peoples played his freshman season at Ooltewah but sat out last year, recovering from a torn ACL.
"I tried to play, was six months out from surgery, and I got hit in the knee. My mom made me sit out the rest of the year," he recalled.
He wasn't so sure about transferring to Lookout Valley although his family had moved to St. Elmo, but he was pleasantly surprised - and relieved that his mom wasn't having to drive across town twice each day during the school year.
"The first day I came in I was welcomed by everybody," he said. "Then when I came back from vacation and met Moses, things were even better. We don't know everything we're doing, but we're learning together."
Much to Webb's relief.
- Ward Gossett
LOOKOUT VALLEY YELLOW JACKETS
Head coach: Tony Webb (55-54 in 10 years here and overall)
Last year: 1-9; lone win was over Sale Creek
Returning starters (O/D/K): 8/8/1
(all home games at 7:30 Eastern)
Aug. 22 - Silverdale Baptist
Aug. 29 - Chattanooga Christian
Sept. 12 - at Grace Baptist
Sept. 19 - at Marion County*
Sept. 26 - at Bledsoe County
Oct. 3 - Whitwell*
Oct. 10 - at Meigs County
Oct. 17 - South Pittsburg*
Oct. 24 - Copper Basin
Oct. 30 - Sale Creek*
* District 6-A game
WR/LB Pascual Aranda (5-10, 180, Sr.) and RB/DB Jaylen Wynn (5-9, 170, Sr.) will be four-year starters, and Webb says because they've been through it and know what it takes that each has become a strong leader. He also mentioned QB/DB Evan Walker (6-2, 175, So.), who will be a third-year starter after playing a handful of games as an eighth-grader. "That first game he started, he was a 5-foot-7, 130-pounder," Webb said. "He's just a very talented kid, and others around him feed off of that."
RB/LB Kahliel Peoples (5-11, 230, Jr.) is a transfer from Ooltewah, and RB/LB Moses Houston (5-10, 210, Fr.) came to Lookout Valley from East Lake. On a team that finished the 2014 season with just 19 players, anybody new is welcome, but the Jackets needed running back/linebacker types and both fill the bill. "Kahliel is coming from a good program, and Moses is thick. He just doesn't look like a freshman," Webb said.
Tony Webb is starting his 18th season at Lookout Valley, his 11th as the head coach. The Yellow Jackets have made the playoffs seven times in the past 10 seasons.
Lookout Valley has been a jumping-off place for several coaches including Bill Price, the Signal Mountain coach who started his head coaching career there, and current Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe coach Todd Windham, who went from the Valley to Hixson before crossing the state line. Another former Jackets head coach is current staff member David Dinger. He's now the school's softball coach but gained acclaim as the baseball coach.
The proposal to split the TSSAA into strict public and private divisions would be tough for Lookout Valley for two reasons, Webb believes. "It's the worst thing they could do. We're one of the smaller Class A schools, and such a move would bring more bigger schools into single-A," he said. "The bigger issue: What's the first thing [private schools moving to DII] are going to do? Scholarships, taking more players from the public schools."