McCallie's Manny Mitchell (25) attempts to trip up Walker Valley's Daniel Denton (13) during the McCallie vs. Walker Valley game in the Best of Preps football jamboree Friday, August 10, 2018 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Times Free Press Photo: Erin O. Smith)
WALKER VALLEY MUSTANGS
Head coach: Drew Akins (first year as a head coach)
Returning starters: 9 offensive; 9 defensive
Key players: ATH Griffin Broome (6-0, 175); WR Brody Swafford (5-11, 170); WR Reid Gibson (5-10, 175); C Hayden Gibson (5-9, 260); DE Bryce Hixson (5-9, 220); DE Christian Van Dusen (5-10, 230); LB Dyllan Jenkins (6-0, 185); ATH Skyy Craig (5-10, 160); DB Spencer Jackson (5-9, 165); WR-S Daniel Denton (6-0, 180); LB Kellar Carson (5-19, 170)
Team strengths: A clean slate and a boost to the offensive side of the ball could build confidence. The wide receivers group is deep, and a return to full heath for junior running back Heath Tanksley will be a shot in the arm.
Team concerns: With just one win over the last two seasons, confidence must grow and not vanish for a group that is learning a new spread offense and a 3-3-5 defensive scheme.
"We have to play for the next play and not revert to our old selves," Akins said. "We have to believe we can do it. You can't just wake up and be great. We are working toward that and believing in ourselves."
Breakout candidate: Junior transfer Tucker Pope will take on the quarterback duties for an offense that struggled with consistency at the position last year. Akins has engineered high-powered offenses in the past at Ooltewah and Red Bank and will try to make the Mustangs more dangerous.
"Tucker has a really talented arm," Akins said. "He's a football guy and has really started to make the right reads. We have a very talented receiving corps for him to throw to."
Season outlook: With Knoxville Catholic leaving the region, all four teams are playoff locks.
Over the past two seasons Walker Valley has taken its lumps, but it has a realistic aim to break through in the win column a handful of times, returning a very experienced squad. A more mature group has a new energy boost and could surprise people.
"When you have made the playoffs already, it becomes how can we host a playoff game," Akins said. "That hasn't happened here in a long time, and it's something we are striving to reach. Our kids are believing in what we are teaching them. No one on this team can do things himself."
Walker Valley's Brody Swafford (23) returns a kickoff against Soddy-Daisy at Walker Valley High School on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 in Cleveland, Tenn. (Times Free Press Photo: C.B. Schmelter)
Walker Valley's Griffin Broome (2) pump fakes against Soddy-Daisy at Walker Valley High School on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 in Cleveland, Tenn. (Times Free Press Photo: C.B. Schmelter)
Walker Valley's Hayden Gibson (70) claps after converting a fourth down against Central during the first game of the Chattanooga Kickoff Classic at Finley Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Times Free Press Photo: C.B. Schmelter
Walker Valley's Griffin Broome (2) passes against Soddy-Daisy at Walker Valley High School on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 in Cleveland, Tenn. (Times Free Press Photo by C.B. Schmelter)