In the spring, Kitt Grider excels as a baseball shortstop and pitcher, but South Pittsburg's senior quarterback is quick to point out that "there's nothing like the Friday night lights."
Pirates coach Tim Moore believes he's good enough to be considered a prospect in either sport.
"It depends which way he wants to go. I think he'll have opportunities," he said.
Grider, a transfer from North Jackson who stepped into South Pittsburg's starting quarterback job last season, has a bright outlook on his performance and that of the Pirates in 2014.
"We'll still be heavy on the run, but I think we'll spread things out," he said.
The Pirates will still run their wing-T plays, but Moore said South Pittsburg fans likely will compare this year's offense to the Terrell Robinson era.
"We're wanting to utilize Kitt's throwing ability, but guys have to prove they can catch the ball," Moore said. "We have two or three, but we'd like to have a couple more step up and prove they can catch consistently."
Grider is excited about the new offense. He played in a shotgun set at North Jackson but spent last year mostly under center in a Pirates offense geared around now graduated Jajuan Lankford.
Grider was disappointed with the way he played despite throwing for close to 1,000 yards.
"Last year wasn't how I wanted it," he said. "I wasn't nearly as good as I could have been. We'd get in a game and the defense would start mixing things up and I'd get confused."
He has plans to remedy that this year.
"I definitely will do a lot more opponent study," he said.
And then there's the rub of reaching the state championship game and coming up short.
"Folks around here expected us to get there," he said of last year's 12-2 season. "But that game, they showed up and we didn't."
He doesn't intend for that to happen again.
- Ward Gossett
SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES
Head coach: Tim Moore (52-44 overall; 12-2 in one year here)
Last year: 12-2; lost Class 1A state final to Union City, 23-14
Returning starters (O/D/K): 7/7/2
(all games at 8 Eastern unless noted)
Aug. 22 - Bell County, Ky.
Aug. 29 - at Hixson, 7:30
Sept. 5 - Sale Creek*
Sept. 12 - at Sequatchie County
Sept. 19 - at Whitwell*
Sept. 26 - Grundy County
Oct. 10 - Boyd-Buchanan
Oct. 17 - at Lookout Valley, 7:30*
Oct. 24 - at Polk County
Oct. 31 - Marion County*
* District 6-A game
RB Corbin Fitzgerald (5-10, 180, Sr.) could also show up at wide receiver and even quarterback on offense and will play a key role defensively at free safety. Just how Fitzgerald figures in at quarterback won't necessarily depend on lack of talent but rather a particular scheme, because QB Kitt Grider (6-1, 190, Sr.) is a proven veteran and Moore has made it clear the offense will run through him. DE/TE McKenna Blevins (6-2, 215), a defensive stalwart, will have a much bigger role in the revamped Pirates offense.
RB/WR Joseph Lilly (5-9, 150, So.) may be the fastest Pirate and the coaching staff intends to use his speed. LB/RB Chase Blevins (5-9, 150) will be more featured this year on offense, and Moore says he'll be a good back to pair with Corbin. C Mitch Button (5-10, 200, So.) has worked hard in the offseason and has shown he can snap the ball consistently in shotgun sets.
Last year's 12-2 run was a personal best for Moore, who had a 10-win season during his time at Battle Ground Academy. And it was another season of double-digit wins for South Pittsburg, which ran off five straight through 2011, beginning with a 15-0 campaign in 2007.
There is a definite football flair to South Pittsburg's hierarchy. Former Pirates assistant Danny Wilson, a head coach previously at Heritage, Cleveland and South Pittsburg, is now the school's principal. Vic Grider, who succeeded Wilson in 1997 and who had a long and highly successful stint of his own, is now the school's assistant principal, athletic director and softball coach. Wilson is still listed as a member of the overall coaching staff although he is not listed as being affiliated with any sport. The two had 15 football seasons with two or fewer losses.
Though they have seven starters returning on each side of the ball, one player the Pirates will miss is running back Jajuan Lankford, a two-time Mr. Football finalist and the 2013 Class A winner. Lankford, the program's fifth Mr. Football winner but its first two-time finalist, ran for more than 1,600 yards and 23 TDs last year on his way to taking the Pirates' all-time rushing lead with more than 5,200 yards. He signed with East Tennessee State.