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.
Today we're talking receivers. Nothing scares a defensive coordinator more than a stud wideout, someone who can turn a game on one play and create mismatches all over the field. The only thing worse than that for a defense is having more than one standout to worry about.
The following groups have what it takes to put points on the board in bunches:
Coach Clay Stephenson and senior quarterback Christian Lewis have an embarrassment of receiving riches at their disposal, starting with returning all-star Cole Speers. The 6-foot senior, who is getting power five recruiting interest, had 1,151 yards, averaging more than 20 yards per catch and scored 11 touchdowns. The home run threat was clocked under 4.4 seconds this spring, the kind of speed that will force teams to assign safety help.
Another big-time outside threat is 6-2 senior Quin Smith, who has an offer from Air Force. He had a great postseason a year ago and showed throughout the season his prowess for winning contested throws. Worry too much about Speer and Smith will burn you.
At 5-9 and 160 pounds, senior Brendan Gray is the perfect inside complement to Speer and Smith. Gray, known for his route running and quick burst, will line up inside, outside and in the backfield and will be featured in the team's short screen game. Rounding out the group is senior Peyton Law, who is better known for his basketball skills. At 6-7 he will be a matchup nightmare for defenses, who likely will have no choice but to cover him one on one.
After already making the list of the area's top backfields, the fact that the Blue Raiders also made this list should give a hint about expectations for this season's offense. Senior Destun Thomas had a breakout junior year with more than 1,000 receiving yards an 18 touchdown catches and is drawing recruiting interest from several college programs, including Memphis.
But what truly separates the Blue Raiders receiving corps is its depth, as at least six and as many as eight pass catchers are expected to make an impact as targets for junio quarterback Drew Lambert, who is already moving up in-state recruiting rankings. That list includesjunior D.J. Adams, sophomore Micah Jordan — a Virginia Tech baseball commitment — and junior Rodney Broadnax (6-5, 195), who was also part of the basketball team's run to the state tournament last spring.
The Catamounts have a reputation for using strong run games to win games — and with Tyson Greenwade in the backfield the ground game will still be in good shape — but Dalton this season has the horses outside to keep defenses on their heels.
The Kit Carpenter era opens with the fastest group of receivers in the area and a quarterback in Parker McClurg who can get the ball to them. Carpenter calls 6-2 senior Karim Page the most skilled receiver in talent-rich Region 5-AAAAAA. He's joined on the outside by Journey Boston, who has shined in spring and summer workouts and who, like Page, has been clocked sub-4.5 in the 40 this year.
Want more speed? Slot receiver Luke Blanchard, a junior, recently finished fourth in the 100 meters at the USATF National Youth Championships in Rome and has, in Carpenter's words, "tremendous ability to run and catch."
The pass-happy Bruins will be locked and loaded this fall with a deep and talented receiving corps for elite quarterback Owen Brooker to utilize.
Senior Ray Morrison is getting FBS recruiting looks after getting nearly 1,000 yards on 54 catches a year ago. At 6-3 he has the size to win most inside matchups and possesses the speed to win over the top if pressed.
Also 6-3, Brayden Morrison steps into a full-time starting role and will be lined up all over the field, according to coach Josh Robinson, causing mismatches. The biggest buzz of spring and summer workouts has surrounded sophomore Hudson Gray, an elite athlete who will, Robinson says, be a featured focus of the offense. The unit also has plenty of depth in 6-2 Jase Talley, former starter Hayden Maynard and sophomores Tytus Ramsey and Isaiah Foster.
Senior Ryan Lay has won the quarterback competition and will have an embarrassment of riches to throw to in his first year as the starter. The Mustangs, who averaged 42 points per game in last year's regular season and look to put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in program history under third-year coach Drew Akins, might surpass last year's 2,100 passing yards thanks to a list of eight capable pass catchers.
That includes senior Daishun Sims, who transferred in over the summer and already has an offer from Austin Peay, as well as fellow seniors Aidan Gibson, Cole Harbison, Kade Tjaarda, Kyler Parris and Tristen McCann. Running backs Spencer Jackson and Tucker Ownby will move from the backfield to receiver when the Mustangs go to a five receiver formation.
"What has me really excited is there is very little drop off no matter which group of guys we have on the field," Akins said.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.