With only six minutes to spare before Friday's deadline, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed the executive order he had announced earlier in the week to allow the state's high school contact sports teams to begin practicing immediately.
Many area coaches had admittedly become nervous as the clock ticked closer to the deadline without the governor's signature that would provide the exemption amid coronavirus pandemic restrictions, but once the decision became official, the door was opened for prep football teams to begin practicing in full pads Monday, per TSSAA regulations, to prepare for a season that is scheduled to kick off in three weeks.
"I was keeping up with it on Twitter all day for sure," Howard football coach John Starr said. "It sounded like it would eventually get done, but you never know for sure until it's official, so to finally have that official word that we're going to get to practice and have football was a relief.
"The kids were excited when we finally got to tell them that we can really start working toward that first game."
Girls' soccer was the other sport immediately affected by the order, with those teams allowed to begin competition as planned on Aug. 17. That is the same date for the first contests for cross country and volleyball, which — like golf, which began playing this past week — were not affected by the state of emergency order due to the lack of contact in those sports.
As for the first week of football games with the official start date of Friday, Aug. 21, the schedule is highlighted by Tyner at Boyd Buchanan, Brainerd at Baylor, Soddy-Daisy at Red Bank, Signal Mountain at East Hamilton, Ridgeland at East Ridge and Chattanooga Christian at McCallie.
Tyner, which has won three straight Region 3-2A titles, is once again projected as a contender to make a deep playoff push under the dean of area coaches, Wayne Turner, who is entering his 31st season. Conversely, Boyd Buchanan coach Jeremy Bosken is entering only his second season, but he guided the Buccaneers to one of the biggest turnarounds in the state last season. He took a program that had gone winless — while being outscored by an average of 44 points — to eight wins with an offense that averaged 40 points per game.
Bucs quarterback Eli Morris is one of two local state Mr. Football semifinalists returning, joined by Baylor running back Elijah Howard. Morris compiled more than 2,600 total yards last year.
Howard, who has committed to Tennessee, is one of the area's leading returning rushers. Baylor, which has won 20 straight season openers, brings back 80% of the players responsible for the offensive production from a nine-win team that was yards away from advancing to the semifinals last fall.
Chattanooga Christian, which hosted a playoff game for the first time and also claimed its first playoff win in program history, has a daunting task by opening at last year's Division II-AAA state champion. McCallie must replace versatile quarterback DeAngelo Hardy, who was the heart of last year's title team, but the Blue Tornado are as talented as any team in the area with offensive linemen Austin and Jack Gentle, running back B.J. Harris and receiver Eric Rivers all having received offers to play college football.
Only four of the area's 35 Tennessee programs made coaching changes during the offseason, but one of those was Marion County, which brought back Dale Pruitt, who is just eight wins shy of 300 for his stellar career.
TIME FOR TOUR
For the 21st year, Chattanooga Times Free Press sports editor Stephen Hargis will go on his annual prep football tour Monday, the first day TSSAA teams are allowed to begin practicing in pads. Hargis will make stops at as many area schools as he can fit into that day and report on those stops at timesfreepress.com and in Tuesday’s newspaper. You can also follow @StephenHargis on Twitter for tour updates throughout the day.