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.
Offensive football at the high school level has changed a great deal over the past 15 years as more teams try to spread defenses out let their athletes make plays in space. What hasn't changed is the value of a good ground game and in today's football a good rushing attack can become a great one if the quarterback joins his backs as a running threat.
Here are some of the most dangerous backfields in the area:
The Lions look to exploit mismatches with multiple formations and senior running back Solomon Locke is one of the area's best. The 6-foot, 195-pounder put up 1,022 yards rushing, another 180 receiving and scored 12 touchdowns while sharing backfield duties last eyar.
The two-way starter — Locke is also the team's top linebacker — will need a break at times and there is plenty of backfield depth in Eli Thomason and a pair of talented freshmen, Jaylon Gay and Sam Wooten.
The Lions, coming off their first region championship, also boast one of the area's top dual-threat quarterbacks in senior Christian Thomas, who is 20-3 as a starter. In those two years he's put up 4,398 yards and 43 touchdowns and is at his most dangerous when plays break down.
It's been a while since the Blue Raiders had as many playmakers as they will put on the field this season. Skill positions — across the board — will be a highlight, and that begins with a backfield that includes junior quarterback Drew Lambert (6-1, 200) who is already gathering heavy recruiting interest. He'll be joined in the backfield by senior Tito Boyd (5-10, 205), junior Markelle McKinley (6-1, 170) and sophomore Brian Beard (6-1, 185). Boyd is a bruising ballcarrier, while McKinley and Beard bring speed and are versatile enough to help at other positions as well.
Not many teams could lose a 1,500-yard passer to graduation and have the possibility of being an even more dangerous offense. But that scenario could play out this fall as Jeremiah Flemmons (6-4, 190) moves under center from receiver to give the Hurricanes a dual threat athlete. Alongside him will be junior running back Juandrick Bullard (5-10, 180), who ran for more than 1,700 yards last season.
"As a defensive coach I know how frustrating it is trying to defend a mobile quarterback, so we'll try to create some headaches for people with what Jeremiah can do," Hurricanes coach Grant Reynolds said. "Besides being able to make plays with his legs, he can throw the ball deep and has good accuracy so we're excited."
The Lions will come at opponents with waves of speed and power out of the backfield, beginning with senior quarterback Joseph Blackmon, who is one of the team's fastest players. Reco Trimble (6-1, 180) is better known for being one of the state's top defensive back prospects — among his offers are Arkansas, North Carolina State and South Carolina — but will get plenty of chances to showcase his versatility on offense too. Junior AD Crutcher and freshman Daune Morris (5-10, 185) are fast and physical — a Lions trademark — and will share plenty of carries.
"I love the versatility and football I.Q. our backfield guys have," Lions coach Chris Brown said. "They're all smart kids, which means we can do a lot of different things because our backs can also be weapons in the passing game. And they're all dynamic with the ball in their hands."
Coaches are always looking for depth in the backfield. That won't be a problem for veteran coach Robert Akins, who has a plethora of options back from one of last season's top ground games.
Senior Kori Dumas is the top Tiger. The 5-11, 175 pounder had right at 1,000 yards and added 309 receiving to go with 24 touchdowns. Junior Peyton Williams was injured halfway through the season but stood out early when called on and averaged 7.8 yards per carry.
Also back from injury is Dre Morris, who was fighting for the starting spot a year ago. Malachi Hill, who led the team with 327 yards receiving, added 204 more on the ground while averaging 8.6 yards per carry. If the Tigers need a tough yard or two they can turn to a pair of defensive stars to get it done in Jacob Garnica and Kyle White.
And when defenses start to key on the backs that's when athletic quarterback Mason Parker does most of his damage. He had over 500 rushing yards a year ago, second on the team.
Despite the loss of last year's Mr. Football award winner and a three-year starting quarterback, the Pirates might be deeper in the backfield this season. It begins with senior running back De'Andre Kelly (6-0, 195), who missed most of last year's regular season but averaged 10 yards per carry in the playoffs and brings a blend of speed and power. Senior quarterback Richard Hunter (6-0, 190), shined as a dual threat athlete in his opportunities last year and showed great improvement as a passer during the spring.
But what makes this group special is the depth the Pirates can attack opponents with as junior Jayden Mount, sophomores RaCash Kelly and Kamden Wellington and senior Chris Jackson all are big-play threats.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.
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