Who are Chattanooga area’s brightest stars at football season’s midpoint?

Best players, top teams, biggest surprises with schedule halfway gone

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Baylor running back Caleb Hampton celebrates with his teammates after scoring a touchdown during a home win against Knoxville Catholic on Sept. 2. Hampton has averaged 9.2 yards per carry while helping the Red Raiders to a 4-0 start.

As prep football programs across the Chattanooga area either reached the regular season's midpoint last week or will do so with Friday's games, the Times Free Press takes a look at the highlights so far.


› Baylor is 4-0 for the first time in three years, and with an average game score of 41-14 that includes a pair of runaway wins over TSSAA Division II-AAA East/Middle Region opponents — the Red Raiders led Knoxville Catholic and Pope John Paul II a combined 84-3 at halftime. Junior quarterback Whit Muschamp has thrown for 918 yards and only one interception in 72 attempts, and senior running back Caleb Hampton, who recently opened his recruitment after having been committed to South Carolina for baseball, is proving to be a Football Bowl Subdivision prospect with 679 rushing yards (9.2 per carry).

› Tyner has been so dominant in racing out to a 5-0 start, having outscored opponents a combined 205-6, that its starters have barely played in the second half of any game yet. While the Rams have averaged 41 points per game, it's the defense that has been most impressive, posting four shutouts, returning two interceptions for scores in a region win over Marion County and allowing an average of 1.9 yards per carry.

› Chattanooga Christian held its own before falling to three-time reigning DII-AAA state champion McCallie in its opener and has blistered its four opponents since then by an average score of 50-9. That includes lopsided wins over last year's 1A state champion South Pittsburg, 41-0, and DII-AA East Region foe Silverdale Baptist, which trailed 38-7 at halftime. The trio of quarterback Jordan Gile (891 passing yards), Boo Carter (19 receptions, 22.8 yards per catch) and Javoris Havis (513 rushing yards, 9.2 per carry) has made the offense nearly impossible to stop.

› Red Bank has not slowed down one bit in its first season with Ted Gatewood as head coach, particularly on defense. The Lions forced five turnovers, returning one for a score, and had a goal-line stand while winning their opener at Cleveland 35-12, shut out Ooltewah, then added back-to-back 33-7 wins to start Region 3-4A play. They allowed just 123 yards of total offense against Soddy-Daisy, and last week against Central they forced another five turnovers and returned two for touchdowns.

› Bradley Central, although its scores haven't been as impressive as those of some other area teams, has impressed with a knack for simply finding ways to win. The Bears (5-0) overcame five turnovers, 138 yards in penalties and a nine-point deficit in the final 9:57 to extend their series winning streak against Walker Valley to eight games when Grant Haney booted a 32-yard field goal with two seconds on the clock. The next week they held off rival Cleveland 16-10 for an eighth straight win in that series by stopping a Blue Raiders drive that reached the Bears' 17-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Last week Bradley held off winless Hardin Valley 24-17.


› McCallie 17, Woodward Academy 13 (Aug. 26): The Atlanta private school made the trip to Finley Stadium for a showdown of teams with multiple FBS prospects, and the War Eagles came to Chattanooga with four players already committed to Power Five programs. Both defenses dominated for much of the game, but McCallie used an 18-play possession — converting two third downs and a fourth down — that chewed up more than seven minutes of the fourth quarter. Although it did not result in points, the Blue Tornado turned the ball over at the Woodward Academy 10 with just 0.9 second remaining.

› Hixson 18, Signal Mountain 15 (Aug. 18): It was a historic opener for the Wildcats, who had been outscored 105-0 in the process of losing all five previous meetings with the Eagles. Down 15-7 in the fourth quarter, Hixson's defense got a stop on third-and-2, and after a bad punt snap resulted in a safety, the Wildcats returned the ensuing kickoff to the Signal Mountain 25. Chase Barnard then connected with Ron Suttles on a tying touchdown pass, and after stopping the Eagles again, Hixson drove to set up Isaac Smith's 41-yard field goal with 6.6 seconds remaining. It was Hixson's first season-opening win in 11 years and first home opener win in 22 seasons.

› Northwest Whitfield 35, Coahulla Creek 31 (Aug. 26): After last season's three-overtime victory for Coahulla Creek, this budding rivalry — between schools in different GHSA classifications but located less than 10 miles apart — took another step forward as the Bruins used a last-minute touchdown drive, capped by Owen Brooker's 9-yard run, to pull out the win. Brooker passed for 364 yards and two touchdowns, one to Caden Ramsey, who also scored on a run and an interception return. Colts quarterback Kace Kinnamon and Manny Dominguez hooked up for three touchdowns.

  photo  Staff file photo by Matt Hamilton / Tyner quarterback Joshua Jackson has already passed for more than 1,000 yards while helping the Rams start 5-0 and outscore opponents 205-6 this season. Jackson has 14 touchdown passes and has yet to throw an interception in 87 attempts.


› Owen Brooker, Northwest: The four-year starter, who is on pace to end his prep career in the top 10 in passing yards in Georgia history, has passed for 1,433 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Bruins (4-1). A 3,000-yard season is within reach.

› Juan Bullard, East Hamilton: When the Hurricanes lost their starting quarterback in the preseason to a season-ending knee injury, Bullard was moved from running back and has responded with 1,117 total yards and 19 touchdowns. He accounted for all but 28 of East Hamilton's 355 total yards in an opening win over rival Ooltewah and has averaged 9.8 yards per carry.

› Tyson Greenwade, Dalton: The 6-foot, 200-pound senior, in his second season as the starting tailback, has used his combination of speed and power to pile up 808 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Catamounts (2-2).

› Seth Griffin, North Murray: The dual threat has amassed 1,161 yards passing and 342 rushing while accounting for 15 touchdowns for the Mountaineers (2-2).

› Josh Jackson, Tyner: The senior quarterback has set a blistering pace for the Rams, who have won all five games by the state's 30-point mercy rule. He ranks among the area leaders with 1,194 passing yards and 14 touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception in 87 attempts.

› Michael "KoKo" Kendricks, Hixson: No area running back has carried as much of the offensive load for his team as the bruising junior has this year. He has 136 carries -- 57 more than the next player on the list — for an area-leading 799 yards.

› Brett Rogers, Silverdale Baptist Academy: The senior quarterback has been the epitome of a dual threat, totaling 1,326 yards (797 passing, 529 rushing) and 12 touchdowns.

› Peyton Williams, Ringgold: The senior has split time between receiver and running back and has compiled 462 yards rushing to go with 242 receiving on 15 catches.


› Jax Brooker, Northwest Whitfield: The senior linebacker has topped 100 tackles each of the past two years and is well on his way to doing it again with 57 — seven of them for loss — to go with an interception and four pass breakups.

› Eli Denton, Walker Valley: The senior has been a tackling machine throughout his career, and he once again ranks among the area leaders with 74.5 total tackles, including 59 solo stops.

› Bryce Travillian, Heritage: With 34 tackles (25 solo), six tackles for loss and two sacks, he's the most lethal defender for one of the area's top units. The Generals have allowed 47 points in a 4-0 start.

› Jamarion Varnell, Tyner: The entire defense has been dominant, allowing less than 2 yards per carry, but Varnell has still managed to stand out, leading the area with seven sacks to go with 10 tackles for loss and 21.5 total stops.

› Landon Williams, Dade County: The junior linebacker, who is a state champion in wrestling, has 11 tackles for loss and four sacks among his 25 solo stops. In last week's 14-0 win over North Carolina's Swain County — the Wolverines' second consecutive shutout — Williams' nine tackles included four for loss and a sack.


› Boo Carter, Chattanooga Christian: The only question for the four-star junior prospect is which side of the ball he will play on at the next level. He has totaled 434 receiving yards and scored four touchdowns and also ranks among the area leaders with three interceptions.

› Logan Eller and Toby Maddux, Trion: The two rarely come off the field for the Bulldogs (4-1). Eller, a 6-0, 205-pound senior fullback and linebacker, has 485 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns to go with 28 tackles. Maddux, a speedy junior running back and linebacker, has 450 yards of total offense and six touchdowns, 27 tackles, an interception and a sack.

› Eli Thomason, Christian Heritage: He leads the Lions in three categories: rushing with 369 yards and four touchdowns, receiving with 305 yards and four touchdowns on 11 catches, and tackles with 46 (35 solos and eight for loss).


› Cash Keene, Signal Mountain: Only a sophomore, he is already the team's offensive centerpiece, having thrown for 1,060 yards and six touchdowns with just two interceptions in 121 attempts. Much of that total has gone to junior Blake Wolfard, who has 617 receiving yards, leads the area in catches with 39 — 11 more than the next-closest player — and has caught all six touchdown passes thrown by Keene.

› Kace Kinnamon, Coahulla Creek: The senior is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the area, having completed 71% of his passes for 893 yards and nine touchdowns against just two interceptions. He has also rushed for 191 yards and three scores for the Colts (3-1).

› Judson Petty, North Murray: The junior playmaker has become Seth Griffin's top target this season with 28 catches for 435 yards and three touchdowns.

› Kamden Wellington, South Pittsburg: Despite never having played quarterback before, the junior has established himself as the program's best passer since former Mr. Football Terrell Robinson. Wellington has thrown for 703 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he has rushed for 307 yards and six scores.


› Southeast Whitfield (3-1), which returned to playing a league schedule this season after two years of nonregion competition, has already equaled the program's win total for the previous three seasons combined. Led by a strong ground game featuring running back Brady Ensley and lineman Jayden Calhoun, the Raiders are again dangerous.

› Hixson (3-2) has already equaled its win total of last season, and one more would be the most by the Wildcats since 2016, when they finished 6-5. That was also the most recent time Hixson qualified for the playoffs. One more Region 3-4A win, against either Red Bank, Soddy-Daisy or East Hamilton, would likely earn a playoff berth.

› Lookout Valley, after winning just two games the previous three seasons, stands 3-2 going into Friday's trip to winless Huntland. The Yellow Jackets, who most recently reached the playoffs in 2018, need just one Region 3-1A win against Copper Basin (0-4, 0-2), Whitwell (3-1, 1-1) or Sale Creek (2-2, 1-0) to qualify for the postseason.

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com and follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis. Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com and follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.