Kolten Gibson (3) plays for Walker Valley (Photo: Robin Rudd - Times Free Press)
A returning quarterback makes a high school football coach's life easier.
A returning dual-threat quarterback can make it even more so.
"I've never had a real dual-threat guy, but it's great when you have a returning quarterback," said Notre Dame coach Charles Fant, who has three candidates competing to replace four-year Irish starter Alex Darras.
"When you start crafting plays in the spring and summer, you know what you can put on that person's plate and then shape how you get the ball in playmakers' hands."
It helps when "that person" can be included among the "playmakers."
Bradley Central senior Cole Copeland, who recently committed to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is one of those guys — a dual threat. So is Walker Valley junior Kolten Gibson.
How good are they, and how do they stack up? See for yourself Thursday night when Gibson and the rest of the Mustangs teammates make a short trip down the highway to play Copeland and the rest of the Bradley boys. That season-opening kickoff is at 7:30.
Another dual threat is Soddy-Daisy senior Justin Cooke.
First and foremost, though, they're strong-armed, gun-slinging trigger men, and the local fraternity is larger than normal this year. The group also includes East Hamilton senior Nick Woods, McCallie senior Robert Riddle, Northwest Whitfield junior Luke Shiflett, Chattanooga Christian senior Matthew Mercer and possibly Scottsboro sophomore Bo Nix.
Copeland, Gibson and Cooke lead the group.
Cooke didn't run nearly as much last year as Copeland or Gibson for two reasons: wide receiver Tre Carter and running back Christian Bell. They have graduated, though, and while there are still some good receivers, Cooke will give Trojans coach Justin Barnes more options.
An East Tennessee State University baseball commitment, Cooke passed for 2,275 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2015, and the 5-foot-9, 175-pounder had another 385 rushing yards with seven more scores.
"We want him to be a passer, and we didn't run him as much as we could have last year. He is now a dual-threat guy," Barnes said. "He's a little bigger and stronger, and one of the great things about him is that he can get out of trouble for us. But he's a pass-first guy. He's playing within the system and looking to complete the pass, and then when all else fails, then take off and run."
Gibson has added pounds and inches since last season, his second as a starter. Now a 6-foot-2, 180-pound college prospect, he stepped in three games into his freshman season.
"He's very talented, and he's definitely a dual threat," Mustangs coach Glen Ryan said. "He throws the ball well, but he's deceptively fast. But the biggest thing about Kolten is that he's very level-headed. He is going to make a mistake or two, but he also is going to shake them off."
Gibson passed for 2,112 yards last season, completing 64.3 percent of his passes while maintaining a 3-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. He came up 4 yards shy of 500 rushing yards for the year while sharing a backfield with 1,000-yard rusher Alex King.
"Kolten's a pretty good prospect," Ryan said. "A lot of the big D-I teams want 6-4 or 6-5 quarterbacks. If he grows another inch or two, his stock will rise. He's already set school records for passing yardage and TDs."
Bradley Central coach Damon Floyd made it clear how he feels about Copeland.
"I wouldn't trade him for any quarterback in the nation," Floyd said. "He knows our offense inside out, and we let him call what he wants — get to the line and check to whatever he wants. He's seen it all."
Copeland completed 66.5 percent of his passes for 2,489 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, and Floyd said of eight interceptions, only four in almost 300 attempts should be considered the quarterback's fault. Copeland — yes, he's a member of the legendary Copeland family that has provided so many athletes for the Bears — also ran for 864 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"He doesn't have the strongest arm, but it's not weak," Floyd said. "The key is his accuracy.
"He's everything you could ask for. He shows up, works hard and leads by example."
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him on Twitter @wardgossett.