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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 9/9/16. Bradley Central's Dylan Standifer (8) dodges a tackle by Cleveland's Ashton Dunn (51) to score a touchdown during the first half of play at the Blue Raiders' home field on Friday, September 9, 2016.

Life goes on, but life as the folks in Maryville have known it has changed.

George Quarles, the architect of the Maryville High School football powerhouse and the coach of 16 region championship teams, has moved on — to Furman University — and fans may question whether Derek Hunt, his successor, can keep a highly tuned program at a high-revved pace.

In this year's Region 2-6A, Hunt's challenge is as formidable as any Quarles faced.

The region is strong with Bradley Central, a continuing challenger, rejoined by three of the Bears' former Class 5A league rivals: Cleveland, McMinn County and Ooltewah.

But McMinn coach Bo Cagle believes Maryville remains the favorite.

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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 9/9/16. Bradley Central's Dylan Standifer (8) scores a touchdown over Cleveland during the first half of play at the Blue Raiders' home field on Friday, September 9, 2016.

"Until somebody beats them, they're the best team," Cagle said. "And, yeah, I'd say Bradley's number two, and I think they have a good chance to beat Maryville because of what they have returning. That defense they've had, most of them are back. The quarterback (Dylan Standifer) is a mystery. If he's OK, they're going to keep going.

"Ooltewah's in the mix, too. All I'm hoping is we can grab fourth."

Cleveland, McMinn and Ooltewah have stepped up a classification but have talent and numbers.

"The question I've heard most often is about moving up," Ooltewah coach Mac Bryan said.

When he arrived on the heels of legendary Benny Monroe, Bryan just kept the success banner high on the flagpole. In his four years leading the program, the Owls have gone 40-10 while making the playoffs each season and the quarterfinals twice.

"I think we're about the third-smallest 6A school in the state of Tennessee," Bryan said. "That does present some problems with numbers. Our enrollment isn't nearly as high as a lot of people we're going to play this year, and that does make it tough in this sport because football is a numbers sport.

"We still have, counting our ninth-graders, 120 in the program. The biggest question we have is depth. Many of the teams we'll play two platoon like we do and also have depth in a lot of positions. We're still trying to build that depth."

The Owls went through a major rebuild a year ago, and a lot of those players are back, including five seniors in the offensive line — "the biggest group and probably the sharpest group we've had," Bryan said.

Leading the linemen are center Brandon Davis and Zaiere Bruner.

They do have a new quarterback and the first nonsenior Bryan has started at the position, Kyrell Sanford, but the dual threat is surrounded with numerous scoring threats, including running back Sincere Quinn and receivers Cam Chambers and Andrew Manning.

Cleveland, due to injuries, went through a long list of quarterbacks a year ago, but the return of Kellye Cawood after a year at South Pittsburg bodes well for the Blue Raiders.

"He has a live arm and he's accurate," coach Scott Cummings said.

Cawood and Jackson Moore are competing for the starting spot, and there is a battle at wide receiver with at least four players involved. Those include Romeo Wykle — who will definitely make an impression at strong safety — and Micaleous Elder, a diminutive running back who will split time as a slot receiver.

Speed is the Blue Raiders' definite strength, with six players clocking 4.55 seconds or better in the 40-yard dash. The 5-foot-7 Elder, at 4.39, was the fastest of the bunch.

"He's small, but he has incredible skills, feet, strength, et cetera," Cummings said.

McMinn County hopes to make its niche with a ball-control, run-the-clock wing-T offense, led by quarterback Bradley Hayes, who will be a three-year starter. There is depth in the Cherokees' offensive line, which is keyed by Tommy Trotter, and at running back.

However, Cagle has been looking for starters in the defensive line and the secondary, and noseguard Martin Pierce and linebackers Tabre Abernathy, Austin Arnett and Will Wright may have to carry the load early on.

"We'll probably be underdogs in five of our first seven games, and then the last three we'll hopefully be going into with hopes of the playoffs," Cagle said.

Bradley Central is one of the richest teams in terms of returning players and talent. The Bears have 18 of the 22 starters from 2016 back in the fold to run a spread offense and a 3-4 defense.

Yes, the Bears are replacing all-everything quarterback Cole Copeland, who's now at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, but Standifer is no longer wet behind the ears. He even started a couple of games at quarterback last year when Copeland was injured.

"He had an extremely great season last year at wide receiver," Bears coach Damon Floyd said. "This year as a quarterback, he is surrounded by a lot of experienced talent."

Atop that list are receivers Lameric Tucker, an all-state pick last season, and Nick Howell and tackle Chris Cash, who's considering Harvard and Air Force among his college choices. Tucker might wind up following Copeland to UTC, but he is drawing interest from Eastern Kentucky, Mercer, Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay as well.

The defense is anchored by linebacker Jay Person — who's being recruited by Mississippi State, Missouri and Kentucky from the Southeastern Conference along with Middle Tennessee State, Memphis and Wake Forest — as well as quick-footed linemen Kevin Gentry and Henley Headrick and safety Jake Presley.

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6288. Follow him on Twitter @wardgossett.

Region 2-6A outlook

Team to beat: If based on nothing other than history, Maryville is the target. The Rebels are tied with Alcoa for the all-time TSSAA record with 15 football state championships, including four since Class 6A was added in 2009.

Watch out for: Bradley Central has been in the same region with Maryville, and the Bears are, well, loaded for bear with Dylan Standifer taking over for graduated QB Cole Copeland, the school’s all-time passing leader.

Best game: Bradley travels to Maryville for the teams’ regular-season finale Oct. 27.

Dream schedule: When a team moves into Class 6A, there’s really no such thing, especially in a region that includes Bradley and Maryville. Ooltewah will open at Tyner, a 2A team, albeit a physical one. The Owls open at home against Science Hill, one of the Region 1-6A favorites, and have two other money games — Bradley and East Hamilton — at home. Their open date (Sept. 29) is followed by consecutive region games against McMinn County, Maryville, Cleveland and Heritage.

Nightmare schedule: After an opener against McMinn Central, McMinn County meets always tough Farragut on Aug. 25 and hosts Maryville the following week. The Cherokees play Bradley and Ooltewah in back-to-back weeks (Sept. 29, Oct. 6).

Players to watch: Bradley LB Jay Person (6-2, 210) has at least two SEC offers, and Bears WR Lameric Tucker (5-10, 170) is most likely the region’s fastest player, though he might be challenged by Cleveland RB/REC Micaleous Elder (5-7, 165). Ooltewah has several prospects, including OL Zaire Bruner (6-2, 285), WR/DB Andrew Manning 96-2, 285), RB Sincere Quinn (5-10, 185), WR Cam Chambers (6-2, 200) and DL Rondarius Wash (6-2, 285).

Predicted order of finish: Maryville, Bradley Central, Ooltewah, Cleveland, McMinn County, William Blount, Heritage.

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