As he watched the wealth of talent on the McCallie track team two years ago, Blue Tornado football coach Ralph Potter envisioned those sprinters chasing footballs instead of batons. That raw speed was one of the ingredients missing in the football program when Potter returned to his alma mater, but he has quickly made an upgrade in that department.
Getting track athletes to join the football team is one way the coaching staff has closed the talent gap in the state's ultra-competitive Division II-AA.
"You can't rely on speed alone," said Potter, who's entering his third year back in charge at McCallie. "You've got to be in the right spot, but having guys who can run really fast increases your margin of error and allows us to do some things scheme-wise we haven't been able to.
"We knew we needed to get faster to compete in this league. We're trying to upgrade in a lot of different areas, and one of the first was getting faster all over the field."
One of the deepest positions of speed for the Blue Tornado is in the secondary, where cornerback Myles Patten and safety J.J. Lewis return as starters and were also members of the state-champion 4x100 relay team. While senior safety Sam Viscomi isn't on the sprint relay team, he's another speedy secondary option, and junior transfer Nygel Edmonds, who will play cornerback, is a four-star college prospect who also brings a lot of straight-line speed as well as ability to change direction quickly.
"It definitely helps to have that much speed in the secondary, because you need it to recover or close in on receivers or if somebody breaks through the line on a run," Patten said. "There's a lot of pride and responsibility to be leaders in the secondary, since we're all experienced. Confidence is really important in the secondary, especially at corner, and you have to be mentally tough to back there."
Senior running back Alex Trotter was also on the 4x100 relay team and gives the offense another big-play threat to go with junior quarterback JayVaughn Craig.
Potter joked that the staff used to keep a statistic detailing how many times McCallie players would get past the defense but still not score because they lacked the speed to break away. That shouldn't be the case nearly as often this season.
"There's no comparison in guys with speed and guys with confidence, and we've got more of both now," Potter said. "The confidence comes from knowing what to do. We're light-years ahead of last year as far as knowing what to do, and the more confident you are the faster you play. Hopefully all of that will translate into more big plays and more wins for us."
- Stephen Hargis
McCALLIE BLUE TORNADO
Head coach: Ralph Potter (85-51 in 12 years here; 152-83 in 20 years overall)
Last year: 4-8 overall; lost to MUS in the Division II-AA quarterfinals
Returning starters (O/D/K): 7/7/0
Control panel: The Blue Tornado's strength is with the experienced playmakers returning, starting in the backfield with dual-threat QB JaVaughn Craig (6-3, 185, Jr.) and RBs Alex Trotter (5-9, 180, Sr.) and Paul Silverblatt (5-11, 170, Sr.), as well as speedy WR Myles Patton (5-11, 175, Sr.).
New producers: An already talented secondary returned three of four starters from last season. The new guy, however, is Nygel Edmonds (6-0, 185, Jr.) a transfer from Atlanta who is rated as a four-star prospect and already has college offers from Clemson, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia Tech, among others.
Items of interest:
9.4 - The average yards per play by returning QB JayVaughn Craig, who combined to rush and pass for more than 1,900 yards.
6 - Consecutive losses to rival Baylor. The Blue Tornado had won the previous 11 straight before Baylor began its own streak. It's also been six seasons since McCallie had a winning record. The Blue Tornado finished 6-5 in 2008 but have suffered sub-.500 records since.
"This is our third year of having the same staff together. That will definitely help. You always feel like you need more guys who can compete at the level we need them to in this league, but we're closer than we were." - Coach Ralph Potter
(all games at 7:30 Eastern unlessnoted)
Aug. 21 - Cleveland (at Finley)
Aug. 29 - at McMinn County
Sept. 5 - at Pope John Paul II, 8*
Sept. 12 - Siegel
Sept. 19 - at Bowling Green (Ky.), 8
Sept. 26 - Ensworth*
Oct. 3 - Baylor*
Oct. 10 - Brentwood Academy*
Oct. 24 - at Father Ryan, 8*
Oct. 31 - at MBA, 8*