Stephen HargisStaff File Photo by Valera Decker/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Because you always want to start the season with some sort of mantra — and apparently every school then prints that mantra on T-shirts — here's a few bold prep football predictions inspired by the "go big or go home" mentality.
* Baylor (Division II-AA), Signal Mountain (Class 4A), Boyd-Buchanan (2A) and South Pittsburg (1A) will make this an unprecedented season for the area by all playing for state championships.
Somewhere, the coaches of those four programs just cursed my name.
Even without Mr. Football Jacob Huesman, the Red Raiders have a stable of runners and a guy in Matthew Oellerich who has loads of offensive experience. The defense should again be salty and Baylor will be playoff-tested long before the postseason since all 10 of this year's opponents were playoff teams last season.
Signal Mountain's point-a-minute scoring average will drop, but not by much with the talents of quarterback Reese Phillips, receiver Jon Patton and running back Tim McClendon. And while the Eagles' streak of 14 straight games of scoring 40-plus points will likely come to an end with a nondistrict schedule that includes Tyner, Polk County, and South Pittsburg, no District 7-AA foe will come within 20 points of them. The biggest speed bump on the way to a second state title will be Greeneville, the defending 4A champ.
Boyd-Buchanan will once again prevent more than half its opponents from scoring double figures. The Bucs return eight defensive starters from a unit that allowed a touchdown or less eight times last year, and the offense features running back Chase Reed, a 1,200-yard rusher, and second-year starting quarterback Jim Cardwell.
Demetric "Little Man" Johnson, who averaged more than 10 yards per touch for South Pittsburg, last year should make a seamless move from receiver to running back and, combined with his kick- and punt-return skills, he will become the Pirates' fourth Mr. Football finalist in five years.
* Led by three-year, two-way starter Bobby Hendricks, who could see more carries than most previous Tyner running backs, the Rams will advance past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
* At least twice a game, Polk County coach Derrick Davis will use language his mama wouldn't approve of.
* While he won't reach his goal of 3,000 yards, Soddy-Daisy running back Cedric Edwards will easily surpass the 2,000-yard mark for the season. And Lookout Valley junior Jamal Jones will get more than 1,000 yards to help the Yellow Jackets rebound from last year's woes.
* Calhoun linebacker Alex Kirby will make more than one opposing running back wince in pain on impact.
* Northwest Georgia's drought of no state titles since 1974 will continue.
* Bradley Central receiver James Stovall's recruiting stock will continue to rise as he leaves a list of embarrassed defenders shaking their heads on his way to double-digit touchdown catches.
* With only 22 players on the roster, Copper Basin will not repeat last year's run to the quarterfinals.
* Brainerd's Tyrus Ward, who could still suit up and make any pursuing defender look silly, will continue to build a reputation as one of the top young assistants in the city.
* East Hamilton will win at least five games this year and contend for a playoff spot in tough District 6-AA.
* East Ridge's Shaquille Holland will not be caught from behind on any play all season. If he gets a step on a defender, go ahead and put the points on the scoreboard.
* Every team that faces Hixson will be bruised and sore the next day. The Wildcats are committed to a more grind-it-out, power-style offense, the kind that just wears on opponents by the fourth quarter.
* For the second straight season, Chattanooga Christian will go into its regular-season finale against Bledsoe County with a chance to earn a winning season and a playoff spot.
* Whether by a fan, coach or player, I will be mercilessly reminded of any one of these predictions if they fail to happen later in the season.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...