The countdown has begun for the high school football season. In fewer than eight weeks teams will take the field for the event that has become the prelude to the season's kickoff — the 20th annual Best of Preps jamboree at Finley Stadium.
A total of 22 Chattanooga-area teams will compete in this year's jamboree, which is set for Aug. 16-17 and will have 20-minute quarters with a continually running clock for each. Sponsored by the Times Free Press and Truck N' Trailers USA, the event will feature nine quarters of action that Friday and 13 quarters on Saturday, and admission will be $10 both days.
"We're really excited about the number of local teams playing this year," said Todd Agne, jamboree operations director. "The community has gotten used to this being the showcase for the start of the season. There are new coaches, new players, new uniforms and helmets and just a lot of excitement around it."
Prep athletes in Tennessee, for all sports, are currently in a two-week dead period mandated by the TSSAA. Athletes cannot practice, lift weights or attend any team-oriented functions until after July 6. After that, football teams again will begin preparations for the season.
Copper Basin was added to the teams that will compete this year, and among the more intriguing first-day matchups will be Bradley Central vs. East Hamilton, McCallie vs. Central and Chattanooga Christian vs. East Hamilton. Saturday's lineup of games includes Howard vs. Signal Mountain, Walker Valley vs. Red Bank, Brainerd vs. McMinn County, Notre Dame vs. Ooltewah, Notre Dame vs. Soddy-Daisy, Baylor vs. Soddy-Daisy and Baylor vs. Ooltewah.
The event also will feature several college prospects, including McCallie defensive lineman Jay Hardy, who is one of the state's highest-rated recruits, and Blue Tornado quarterback DeAngelo Hardy, as well as Tyner receiver Jeremiah Batiste, who recently committed to Miami (Ohio), Red Bank quarterback Madox Wilkey and Bradley Central receiver Tray Curry, who is one of the state's top-rated junior recruits.
Additionally, the jamboree will mark the debut for three coaches with their new teams: Boyd Buchahan's Jeremy Bosken, East Hamilton's Grant Reynolds and Walker Valley's Drew Akins. Bosken has a reputation for turning around struggling programs and will look to rebuild the Buccaneers. Akins, who played at Boyd Buchanan and helped lead the Bucs to back-to-back state-title games as their quarterback before making a name for himself as a talented offensive coordinator, will be making his head coaching debut.
Reynolds, the former Boyd Buchanan coach who helped guide Huntsville's Madison Academy to a Class 4A state runner-up finish two years ago, is returning to the city where he began his coaching career. He was the defensive coordinator for Boyd Buchanan during its stretch of reaching three consecutive state-title games, winning it in 2003, and later led the program back to the championship game as head coach in 2009. He took over at East Hamilton in February and has since been working to build up the roster numbers and put together a new staff.
"Our numbers are good and we've got our assistants in place, so things are really starting to move along for us," Reynolds said. "I'm really excited to get going again and see what our kids can do.
"I've always thought of the jamboree as a great time to see other teams, and also it's a dress rehearsal for the season. It's the first time you get to simulate what's going to happen on Friday nights. We have so many young kids this year, so it's good for us to have two quarters to play so we can see who will step up and play when the lights come on. All the kids know everybody in town is there to watch, so they all want to do well. It's a big deal."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.