The 2013 prep football season ran the gamut. It began with a shining example of what makes the game so special - the way Hixson embraced Austin Clark, a player with Down syndrome who scored a touchdown in the jamboree and encouraged his teammates to win the program's first district title. Unfortunately even that story was overshadowed late in the season when a rogue coaching staff tarnished a proud area program.
Between those memorable stories were the usual plot lines of dramatic wins and losses and playoff runs, all decided by kids barely old enough to drive.
Whether teams filled the Friday night air with passes from spread offenses or punched opponents in the nose with old-school wing-T approaches, 11 area programs - Baylor, McCallie, Cleveland, East Hamilton, Hixson, Notre Dame, Silverdale Baptist, Marion County, South Pittsburg, Calhoun and Ringgold - reached at least the quarterfinals of their state's playoffs.
Led by 14 seniors, Silverdale Baptist Academy announced its arrival as a new local contender. Following up a 10-win season in 2012, the Seahawks narrowly missed knocking off perennial district power Boyd-Buchanan for the league title last year, then set off on a playoff run that didn't end until they had reached the quarterfinals and notched 11 wins.
But it wasn't just fledgling programs taking off last season. A few of the usual suspects continued to feed their football-starved fan bases as Calhoun extended its region win streak to 87 and made another deep playoff run and South Pittsburg again reached the Class 1A state championship game, its fifth in six years, despite having a coaching change. And ho-hum, Derrick Davis again led Polk County to 9 wins and the district title.
Blake Zeman dispelled the adage about where nice guys finish by leading Marion County to 10 wins and being named a Mr. Football finalist. Zeman, one of the best two-way players in the area, returns this season with bigger expectations for himself and his team.
It wasn't only the smaller schools who had memorable 2013 seasons. Three area programs from District 5-AAA - Cleveland, East Hamilton and Ooltewah - reached at least the second round, and twice those teams knocked each other out of the playoffs as East Hamilton barely beat Ooltewah and Cleveland held off the Hurricanes the following week to reach the semifinals for the first time in more than two decades.
The only headline missing from last season was a state championship being claimed by an area program. But regardless of how last season ended, a new season's kickoff also provides the opportunity to dream big and make a few lasting memories along the way.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.