Walker Valley junior Griffin Broome looks to be a key part to the offensive attack in 2018. The Mustangs will begin their season in the Kickoff Classic at Chattanooga's Finley Stadium, Thursday at 6 p.m. (Banner Photo: Patrick MacCoon)
Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan ended Tuesday's preparation for Chattanooga Central with one of the last pump-up speeches before his group straps on its "body armor."
As a part of a two-year agreement, a special opportunity presents itself again for the Mustangs, who will battle a familiar Purple Pounders in the Kickoff Classic season opener at Finley Stadium Thursday night at 6 p.m.
With hyperfocus about to kick in, the boys of fall are about to take center stage again.
"I hope our team relishes this moment and understands these are the times you live for," said Ryan, whose team plays the earlier game before Notre Dame takes on Baylor. "They will look back one day and either say, 'Man, I didn't do real good,' or 'I went out there and busted my butt.' We ask them to fight tooth-and-nail for their team, family, school and themselves."
In a matchup featuring two high-powered offenses that last year combined three All-State playmakers, only one of those returns in between the white lines a season after Chattanooga Central beat Walker Valley 48-36.
Michael McGhee helped power the Purple Pounders to their first playoff victory since 2003 last season, as he totaled 1,810 yards and 26 touchdowns and also was named Region 2-4A Offensive Player of the Year honors.
The senior tailback with breakaway speed will follow behind a line, which consists of a talented center in Eli Garner and a 6-foot-10 physical presence in Wyatt Garrett.
DonYa Parker is back as well after carving up 168 yards on 17 carries against the Mustangs last season, while McGhee went for 131 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1 a year ago.
"Chattanooga Central is a good football team," Ryan said. "They have some really good athletes. McGhee is definitely their go-to guy. If we let him run up and down the field, we will have a long night."
With another year of experience for several potential impact defensive players, such as linebackers Kallum Lowe (sophomore) and juniors Kole Hall and Kellar Carson, Walker Valley will look to gain back a little gusto after allowing 50.1 points per game last year.
Losing all-state playmakers Kolten Gibson and Zeke Westfield, who ranked nationally in the passing attack in 2017, the Mustangs will not have the same chances as last season to match scores. WV scored 28 points or more in eight of 10 games last season in a 1-9 season.
Junior QB Griffin Broome offers the Mustang offense a threat to extend plays with his legs. He rushed for 13 yards on five carries against a talented Notre Dame squad in the jamboree. Still, the starting quarterback will not be named until game time between sophomore Daniel Denton and Broome.
WV sophomore running back Heath Tanksley could be a breakout playmaker this season after finishing with a 153-total yard game on 24 touches to end the season last year against Soddy-Daisy. However, he will be a game-time decision to play after battling a sickness.
Central returns a trio of big time playmakers on the defensive side, as Region 2-4A lineman of the year Darius Hicks (47 tackles, 4 forced fumbles) is back along with safety Tracy Odom (78 tackles, 3 interceptions) and defensive end Chance Martin (78 tackles, 10 TFL).
The Purple Pounders finished 7-5 overall last season and beat Sullivan South, 45-42, in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Looking to get off on the right foot, the Mustangs hope to leave no regrets behind in Chattanooga.
"If you go through life and give it everything you've got, you have nothing to be ashamed of," Ryan said. "I hope our guys make the most of this opportunity. These guys have ability, they just have to start playing with confidence and execute the things they have been coached to do."
Another playmaker for Walker Valley is sophomore wide receiver Reid Gibson, while seniors Cole Gobble (DB), Chris Crenshaw (DE) and Eli Hancock (DB/KR) will be counted on heavily as well.