After one of the most impressive turnarounds in the state last season, the next step in Boyd Buchanan's football revival will be to challenge for a region championship.
The Buccaneers brought in Jeremy Bosken as coach after a winless 2018 season and proceeded to build back roster numbers and respect with an eight-win year that included reaching as high as the No. 2 state ranking. But they finished third in the Division II-AA East standings, behind Knoxville Grace and Chattanooga Christian School, and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
The confidence gained from a successful season, combined with the drive to respond to the disappointing finish, have pushed a team with seven starters back on each side of the ball to believe it can attain even larger goals this fall.
"We're excited about the kids we have coming back and what some of the younger guys could bring, too," said Bosken, whose roster has climbed from close to 20 players to more than 60 since taking over. "We've got some big shoes to fill with what we did lose to graduation, but our guys have big-game experience now and know they can compete."
The most noticeable improvement last year came on offense. The Bucs averaged 40 points per game in 2019, and they welcome back all-state quarterback Eli Morris — a state Mr. Football semifinalist who accounted for more than 2,600 yards.
Also returning are fullback Matt Stone and versatile athlete JaMichael McGoy — who could play any skill position and was recently timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Tight end Karson Gay has become one of the state's most sought-after junior prospects, having picked up seven scholarship offers in the past month, including from Tennessee, Southern California, Ole Miss, Pittsburgh, Purdue and BYU.
For the program to take the next step and make a deeper playoff push, the defense must improve after Boyd Buchanan allowed 30-plus points five times last year. The Bucs recently revised their schedule and will play only one non-region opponent — at Lookout Valley on Oct. 9 — for a slate of seven games, due to health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic. Their season kicks off Sept. 4 at Knoxville Webb.
CCS has also adjusted its schedule, having recently dropped non-region opponents McCallie and Whitwell, and will open against Baylor and finish the regular season with six consecutive region games.
The Chargers, who finished second behind Grace Academy in last year's region standings, are coming off a season of firsts that included the program's first time to host a playoff game and first postseason victory. It was also the fifth time in the past six years CCS had reached the playoffs.
The carryover of confidence, plus the return of 11 total starters and plenty of other players who picked up notable experience, should continue to push the Chargers toward contending for the region's top spot. They scored 30-plus points five times last year, and the potential is there for more of the same with no shortage of speed in the backfield, including running backs Traveon Scott, JaMichael Baxter and Javorus Havis, as well as the return of Sam Hall at quarterback. However, the Chargers must find a solid rotation of linemen — only one starter returns up front on offense — to help spring those athletes into the open field.
At one time last season, nearly half of Notre Dame's original starters were out of action due to injuries. That led to the disappointment of the program's first losing record in eight years and also helped Fighting Irish coach Charles Fant decide to take a different approach this season.
"We need to keep our players rotated on both offense and defense to limit the total number of plays in a game," Fant said. "Hopefully that will help us avoid some of the issues we had last year with so many injuries. We simply had too many guys playing too many snaps."
A total of 13 players with starting experience are back, and speed on offense — particularly from running backs Khalil Spence and Alex Osborne and athlete George Fillauer — should also make the Irish a threat against any opponent.
Silverdale Baptist Academy is under the direction of first-year head coach Mike Connor, who inherits a team with nine starters back on defense and a solid group of offensive weapons led by junior running back Connor Delashmitt. He accounted for more than 1,200 total yards last year in nine games.
If an inexperienced group of offensive linemen step up, the Seahawks could be in line for a return to the playoffs after missing out last year.
In Division II-A East, Grace Academy is the only local program in the eight-team region, and the Eagles will try to not only bounce back from a disappointing 2019 season but also overcome not having home facilities after the school was destroyed by a tornado in the spring.
There is experience returning, however, and many of this year's starters were part of a seven-win team two years ago that reached the second round of the playoffs.
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