No matter what anyone might say, it’s always football time in Tennessee.
With a week left until dead period hits, which will lead in to 7-on-7 competitions, local football programs have gotten a look at their upcoming squads through spring practice and summer workouts.
Bradley Central, Cleveland and Walker Valley’s head ball coaches were in attendance for a luncheon with Mix 104.1 radio to talk about the upcoming football season.
Here is a look at what to know about each of the three programs as they look forward to putting on the pads and scrimmaging someone other than themselves.
While the offseason departures have been major for Walker Valley, perhaps one of its most lethal one-two combos has still yet to come.
Rising seniors Kolten Gibson and Zeke Westfield set spring practices ablaze and have shown impeccable timing through the air, which was shown by their six touchdown connections in a single spring game.
Gibson (6,058 career passing yards, 63 touchdown passes) is 20 TD passes away from being top five in touchdown passes for a career in Tennessee history and is 1,651 yards from being top 10 in passing yardage (according to TSSAA.org).
This season he will have a 6-foot-4 weapon to exclusively throw to in Westfield, who recently proved he is among the elite athletes in the state with all-state medals to show for in the Class AAA decathlon and 100-meter dash this past May.
“Kolten has had a great spring and our offensive lineman and defensive lineman really have looked good as well,” WVHS head coach Glen Ryan said. “Zeke has had a great spring and we feel really, really good about him.
“Luke Wallace and Brock Gibson are both out here for the first time and we think they will help fill the voids left at receiver.”
Not only will the Mustangs have to replace Cooper Melton (Vols walk-on), Zach Eslinger and Bryce Nunnelly (Mocs signee), but also the school’s top scoring back of all-time in Alex King.
“Cole Hall has impressed us and really had a great spring,” Ryan said. “He is probably our front-runner in the backfield to replace Alex and Mason (Oran). We have a really strong freshman class, it looks like, that can challenge for playing time as well.
“We will be young in several areas this year, but feel like we are where we need to be going into the break.”
The Mustangs will open the season against Chattanooga Central at UTC’s Finley Stadium on a Thursday night.
“It will be a nice venue for our guys,” Ryan said. “They enjoy it down there. To open with Chattanooga Central is exciting and it will be something our guys really enjoy. We want to push ourselves to be our best and be prepared for that day as best we can.”
New additions to the WV coaching staff are Derek Marlow (wide receivers and quarterbacks coach), who coached at Midway High School last season, and Nate Mathis (defensive line).
Perhaps one of the most experienced teams in the state, this group may have lost Cole Copeland to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga but the near future looks bright.
Going back to the start of last season, Bradley will return with 10 offensive starters and seven on defense from a nine-win season in 2016.
After strictly having players either play offense or defense for the past two seasons, two-way players could have an impact for the Bears this season.
“Nick Howell, Lameric Tucker and Adam Mullis may play both sides of the ball,” 12th year head coach Damon Floyd said. “Nick got hurt in the second game against McMinn last season and he will play running back, receiver and be an option on defense.”
Mullis was the team’s leading rusher last season with 872 yards (950 all purpose, 9 TDs) and looks to be a part of a dangerous backfield.
“Mullis is the starter, but we will rotate guys like Devon Moore, Nick and Lameric in the backfield as well,” Floyd said. “Devon has been hurt the past two seasons, but he’s a 230-pound bruiser who will get the ball plenty as well.”
Despite just a month of practice under his belt due to baseball, rising junior quarterback Dylan Standifer has impressed in his reps.
Standifer will take over the reins of the offense after posting 960 total yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The 5-foot-10 signal caller completed 41 of 57 passes for 497 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions in limited action.
“Dylan has done a good job in the limited time at quarterback and so has Saylor Clark,” Adams said. “I thought Mason Mitchell had a really good spring too, for us, and he is one of our newer players even though he played some last year.”
Mitchell had 17 tackles as an outside linebacker last season and will help fill the void left by the departure of Hunter Duggan (81 tackles, 4 sacks).
“Easton Clark is another guy that has looked really good on defense,” Adams said. “We are excited for what is to come, but know we have a lot of work to put in.”
The uncommitted nightmare on defense for BC opponents, Jay Person, has garnered over 20 collegiate offers after a junior campaign with 72 tackles (17 TFL, 5 sacks).
Tucker returns for his final prep campaign as one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the state after a 94-catch, 1,459-yard season with 16 total touchdowns.
No coaching staff changes have been made for the Bears over the offseason.
Strength has been a necessity for Scot Cummings since he took over the CHS football program.
The strides made under his hires of Kevin Day and now new head strength-and-conditioning coach and wide receivers mentor Jeremy Bosken have been significant.
“Two years ago, when I first got here we only had one 400-pound squatter on the entire team, which is embarrassing,” Cummings said. “I know we have at least 15 to 20 now. Hopefully it will translate to our toughness on the field, because if we can add a physical brand of football to our speed, we will have something.”
Cummings also announced the new additions to the coaching staff in Rusty McIntyre (offensive line) and former Ooltewah assistant Chris Brown (inside linebackers).
The biggest position battles to watch this summer are expected to be at quarterback, and for those who protect the gunslinger as well.
“The debacle of what happened last year with Cleveland quarterbacks puts us in a situation this year too,” Cummings said. “Four out of the five kids who played quarterback last year were seniors.”
Jackson Moore is the only one with playing time who’s returning.
“We haven’t named our starter year, but we feel like we have three who can really fight for the job. Robert Flowers played quarterback for us this spring, while Jackson sat out with a broken nose from baseball,” Cummings added.
“We also have Kellye Cawood, whose parents moved back to Cleveland from South Pittsburg. We have three kids with at least some resemblance of varsity experience, not a lot though as being the man. Each of them will bring something different to the table.”
The offensive line battles will be one to watch as well as Cummings says there are around eight players he thinks can challenge for a starting gig.
The tight end position battle is wide open as well for a team looking to run several tight end sets.
Nonetheless, 2017 will be a special season for the Blue Raiders on a one of a kind playing surface.
“The extra padding underneath our turf cost an extra $87,000, so it was a big commitment from our school board to have the best surface in the country,” Cummings said. “The actual field is the only high school surface of its kind in the country.”
The brand new surface is expected to draw interest from football programs at every level, Cummings said.
“The (Atlanta) Falcons practice facility has it, and the surface is being explored right now,” he said. “It’s going to be cool to see NFL general managers and college athletic directors coming to visit our campus. They will be bringing those type of people in to sell it.”
Junior running back Micaleous Elder is expected to have a significant impact after rushing for 663 yards on 66 carries and 10 touchdowns.
Seniors Romeo Wykle will be expected to shine at wide receiver and defensive back, while Keegan Jones will see significant time in the backfield and be used in several ways.