Division II has an entirely new look this TSSAA football season.
Five Chattanooga teams that played in Division I last year are now part of an expanded private-school classification.
Boyd-Buchanan, Chattanooga Christian, Notre Dame and Silverdale Baptist Academy are members of the new DII-AA East Region. Grace Academy is the lone Chattanooga-area representative in the DII-A East Region.
Knoxville Webb has the AA East's only football program that already was playing in Division II. It lost 12-9 to Lausanne in last year's DII-A state championship game.
The Spartans are prohibitive favorites to win their new region, largely because of some of the talent they have coming back from their 11-2 team.
"They have a phenomenal team," Notre Dame coach Charles Fant said. "We had the opportunity to scrimmage with them in preseason last year and got to see how they run their organization and operation. I tell you, they do it right."
Webb quarterback Hunter Green threw for more than 1,000 yards last year and had 15 touchdown passes compared to three interceptions. Another senior this year, Morgan Ernst, was a Mr. Football finalist at linebacker (87 solo tackles) and rushed for 953 yards and 13 TDs.
The Spartans' leading rusher last year was an eighth-grader and also a Mr. Football finalist. Elijah Howard totaled 1,055 rushing yards with five of his 11 scoring runs being longer than 40 yards.
"That kid is going to be a freshman this year, and he's already that dynamic of a player," Fant said. "I was talking with the Alcoa coach (Gary Rankin) and he said that was one of the most talented eighth-graders he'd ever seen. That says a lot with that guy saying it."
Notre Dame and Christian Academy of Knoxville are expected to be Webb's main challengers. The Fighting Irish are making the conversion to an "air raid" offense this season.
"Any time you're playing teams you've never really played before, it comes down to execution and fundamentals," Fant said. "I'm not saying we don't care about what the other team does, but we know that to win games it's about us."
Boyd-Buchanan, CCS and Silverdale will each have a new quarterback this season. However, all three mainly run ground-oriented offenses.
Silverdale returns the most starters on defense among that group. Boyd-Buchanan may have the special-teams edge, based on the return of junior kickers Eli Terrell and Riley Barnes.
Knoxville Grace Christian is the region's other member.
With seven teams each in the East and West regions and five in the Middle Region, one team from each will be eliminated from the 16-team playoff bracket. Then four rounds of games will determine the state champion.
- Division II-A East: This region stretches across nearly half the state with Grace Academy alone in the southeast corner.
Antioch's Ezell-Harding, Lebanon's Friendship Christian, Murfreesboro's Middle Tennessee Christian, Mount Juliet Christian and Nashville's Donelson Christian represent the midstate. The region also includes Seymour's King's Academy and Knoxville's Concord Christian, which is Grace's closest league opponent at 85.9 miles away according to mapquest.com.
Grace coach Bob Ateca said he was generally familiar with the high school teams in the Middle Tennessee area when he lived in Clarksville early in the 2000s. He had a stint as head coach at Clarksville High School and later was an assistant coach at Austin Peay State University.
When asked what he knows about the teams in the Golden Eagles' new region, he said, "Not very much. We played Ezell-Harding the last two years and played Concord Christian the last two years, so we're familiar with those two programs. That's about it. It's all new to us. It's like we're starting from scratch."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter @KelleySmiddie.