With the start of the 2021 prep football season now just a month away, Chattanooga area programs are hitting the stretch run of the preseason camp circuit.
By now coaches have a great idea of what their team's strengths and weaknesses are — and so do we. This week sports editor Stephen Hargis and staff writer Lindsey Young will analyze some of the most notable positional groups in the area and what makes them stand out.
The series starts with the key to any successful team — the offensive line. A good line is more about cohesiveness and chemistry than it is about pure size and strength, though those are certainly good attributes to have. As you'll see here it's also key to have some experience and depth.
Here are some of the best offensive line units in the area:
Led by junior Brycen Sanders (6-foot-6, 280), who started as a sophomore and already has scholarship offers from Tennessee, Georgia, Ole Miss, Stanford and Virginia Tech, the Red Raiders enter the preseason with more answers up front than among its skill positions.
Three starters return and only one of those — center Bo Black (6-foot-4, 300) — is a senior. He played right tackle last season, while junior Rhet Johson (6-0, 225) has now moved from guard to center.
Anchored by Brody Grant, a three-year starter at center who has drawn recruiting interest from several Ivy League programs, the Buccaneers should be strong up front. Colbe Haddoc (6-3, 287), who transferred in last season, is gaining recruiting interest from Charlotte and Memphis among others and tight ends Karson Gay — who has already committed to Virginia — and Jacob Shockley give the Bucs a pair of big bodies capable of blocking as well as catching passes.
The Bears return four of five starters up front, including center Alex Dayton, left guard Brayden Owens and left tackle Gabe Campbell — all who weight 250-plus pounds. Also back is right guard Brody Morgan and a pair of massive tight ends in Josh Helsdon and Carter Howard, both of whom stand 6-4, 270.
"We have 19 kids with tight end-type bodies," Bears coach Damon Floyd said. "We've got good size and experience and we can go at least seven players deep on the line and not see much of a drop off. But what I really like about this group is that they will allow us to run multiple formations.
Much was expected from this group a year ago, but injuries and poor play led to a shocking 1-9 finish. That performance has been a motivating factor for the Panthers as a whole and the linemen have led the way, using a strong offseason in the weight room to become, coach Kip Klein hopes, the dominant force he had expected in 2020.
Leading the way is Klein's son, senior Jacob Klein (6-7, 320), who missed the last half of 2020 with injury, but has had a strong spring and summer and will anchor the left tackle spot. The other tackle, Cade Dunn (6-4, 275), has been mostly a defensive lineman but has shown enough in spring and summer camps to receive recruiting attention on the offensive side.
Probably the most improved member of the unit is junior guard Brody Headrick (6-3, 280), who lost 35 pounds while also adding muscle in the offseason. Senior Chase Blevins (6-foot, 250) returns at center, while sophomore Hayden Kerr and senior Bishop Hayden are battling for the other guard spot.
One of the smallest schools in the area has one of the most experienced and deepest groups up front. Second-year head coach Sean Patrick's Bulldogs return seven linemen who started multiple games from a year ago and get two other players back from injury to go with three of the best tight ends in the northwest Georgia area. They've also added former Duke University player and Carrollton High School assistant coach Jake Sanders to the staff as offensive line coach.
Headlining the group is 6-3, 260-pound tackle Kaleb Park, a two-way starter who is getting several small college looks. Isaac Stewart and Bladyn Bowman also started every game a year ago, with Jackson Drennan, Zach Sharp and Collier Gable each getting multiple starts.
Sophomores Ezra Adams and Colby Evans, each over 260 pounds, missed all of last year due to injury and will push to start. All-region tight end Brantley Willbanks is likely to move inside, with 6-6, 230-pound senior Cole Cavin and all-region second team member Ben Allen (6-3, 200) starting at the twin tight end positions.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.