Loaded. That's the word most commonly used to describe Tennessee's Region 3-2A when it comes to football, and with good reason.
Three teams from that region — Marion County, Meigs County and Tyner — have played for a state title in the past six years and once again have the talent to be considered legitimate contenders. Meanwhile, two others — Bledsoe County, which won the region title two years ago, and Polk County — have the potential to contend with those favorites.
"Our region is probably the best, top to bottom, in the whole state," Bledsoe County coach Dewayne Tabor said. "It's fun to play in those environments, but you'd better be ready, because there are no off weeks in our league."
Heading into Scott Chandler's second season in charge at Tyner, the Rams bring back 14 starters — including quarterback Josh Jackson (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and running back Jersey Chubb (5-10, 220), as well as linemen Journe Norwood (6-4, 295) Jamarion Varnell (6-1, 275) and Jonah Chapman (5-11, 225).
"We've got some really talented kids who could make it a special season," said Chandler, whose roster has grown to 72 players. "We have 18 seniors, and all of them should contribute. Most of those kids are going into their third year as either starters or guys who have played a ton of snaps.
"There's good size, speed and experience, so I'm as anxious as anybody to see us get after it."
The Rams opened last season with six straight wins, averaging 40 points per game, before injuries led the season into a downward turn. They averaged just 12 points while losing five of their last six games, including a first-round playoff defeat.
After an unbeaten regular season, and on the heels of consecutive appearances in the BlueCross Bowl state title game the previous two seasons, Meigs County also made an unexpectedly early exit in the second round.
The Tigers, who moved back into 3-2A last year, have won region titles five years in a row and have compiled a 72-8 overall record the past six seasons. Despite returning just two offensive starters, coach Jason Fitzgerald said he sees no reason to expect a letdown from the program's recent success.
"Us coaches know that Tyner and Marion are going to be really good, but our kids don't even know what expectations are," Fitzgerald said. "Our players couldn't get to Tyner if we dropped them off in Chattanooga and don't even know where Jasper is on a map. They don't look at other teams or what people are saying.
"Our bunch just asks if we have a game on Friday, and if we told them to line up and play in the parking lot, they're ready to go. We've got some kids who will flat out get after people. I like our attitude and what we have the potential to be by the playoffs."
Fitzgerald compared new quarterback Ethan Meadows' ability and approach to the game to his two predecessors, both of whom earned all-state honors. He's also the younger brother of former Tigers running back Will Meadows, a 2020 Mr. Football finalist.
Four of the defensive front seven return for Meigs County, including all-state lineman Dalton Purgason and linebacker Luke Pendergrass, one of the team's leading tacklers last season.
Marion County will be under the direction of Tim Starkey, who was promoted from offensive coordinator and has a versatile group back on that side of the ball.
The Warriors have the size up front — their line averages 290 pounds — and an array of potential game-breaking skill players in Alex Condra (6-0, 200), Sam Pickett (6-0, 160), Brody Leonard (6-1, 165) and E.J. Wilson (5-11, 195) to be special on offense.
The defense brings back experience from a unit that allowed more than 15 points only once all season and gave up seven or fewer points eight times, including in the playoff loss.
Bledsoe County is just two years removed from winning the region but will need a large group of underclassmen to step up and fill key roles around the 10 starters who return. That includes a sophomore backfield of quarterback Jonathan Thomas (5-9, 180), who was forced into action last year due to injuries, and Caymen Siever (5-11, 160), who joins seniors Braiton Boring (6-0, 2-5), Hunter Clark (5-10, 180) and Eli Tabor (5-9, 165) to form a solid running back rotation.
"This is the biggest roster we've had since I've been here, but it's also the youngest," Coach Tabor said. "We'll have three or four freshmen who are a legitimate No. 2 on the depth chart. I believe we've got good potential, it's just how quickly the young guys step up and contribute."
Derick Davis, who built Polk County into a perennial region title contender while leading the program from 2000-2018 — the Wildcats won five region titles during that stretch and had an undefeated regular season in 2009 — was brought back as head coach in late June.
The combination of his track record and 12 returning starters could produce the program's first winning season since the last year Davis was in charge.
If Tellico Plains is going to contend for a playoff berth from such a talented region, it will need to improve greatly on both sides of the ball after being outscored an average of 29-15 last year.