Dalton will face more familiar rivals, enjoy shorter road trips this year

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Coach Kit Carpenter talks to his team during a practice at Dalton High School's practice field on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 in Dalton, Ga.

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Head coach: Kit Carpenter (2-8 here and overall)

Returning starters: 5 offensive; 5 defensive

Last year's record: 2-8 overall, did not qualify for GHSA Class AAAAAA playoffs

Key players: Tyson Greenwade (6-0, 196) Sr. RB, Bannon Phalen (6-3, 218) Jr. TE, Jeffson Locke (6-4, 230) Jr. TE/DE, Luke Blanchard (5-9, 143) Sr. WR/RB, Assad Tanner (6-0, 173) Sr. DB, Riley Souther (6-0, 280) Jr. OL, John Ridley (6-0, 220) Sr. DL

Season outlook: The way their coach looks at it, the Catamounts are already winners in 2022.

Dalton, stuck in the state's second-highest classification the past six years, has moved down to AAAAA. Friday nights will be spent much closer to home, where old rivalries will be rekindled and new ones will be forged as Carpenter begins his second season as head coach at his alma mater after 19 as an assistant.

"Our travel schedule last year often had us playing on the other side of Atlanta," he said. "We had to leave at 2, and this year we can leave at 5. Until you've experienced it, you have no idea how much difference that makes."

In Region 7 the Cats will be reunited with Calhoun, Cartersville, Cass, Hiram and Woodland-Bartow, all former region foes. To be competitive, Dalton will have to regroup from its worst season in nearly 80 years.

"We had a great turnout over the summer, and once we put pads on it's been great," said Carpenter, who has more than 100 players on the roster. "This is my 21st season here, and there are a lot of things that have traditionally been done here that made this program successful.

"It's still about blocking and tackling, and right now the blocking part is the issue. We've got linemen in our younger group, but we're not very deep with our main group."

The skill group is among the area's best. The Cats have an elite tailback in Greenwade and depth in Blanchard, Adriel Hernandez and Warner Ross. After graduating star receivers Karim Page and Journey Boston, Dalton is reloading with Blanchard, R.J. Story, Bubba Tanner and Kenny London, a group Carpenter called "extremely skilled."

The Cats should make the biggest improvement on defense, starting with ends Phalen and Locke, a Christian Heritage transfer. Carpenter said the secondary, anchored by Tanner, should allow the front seven to be more aggressive.