Coach: Shannon Williams (4-6 here and career)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 7/8/2
Remember these names: Jay Rudwall (Sr., 6-0, 215) was second in the area with 134 tackles from his middle linebacker position last season. Receivers Mikhail Creech (Sr., 6-3, 175), T.J. Warren (Sr., 6-3, 190) and Juice Arnold (Sr., 6-1, 175) all have big-play potential, while Arnold and Calvin Murray (Sr., 5-9, 180) man the secondary.
Will be a memorable year if: Bradley Stephens embraces the quarterback position. Athletes are all over the field for the Owls, so a signal-caller with the ability to distribute and take care of the ball is pertinent for the team’s success. The Owls will be expected to improve in leaps and bounds this year after a 4-6 finish last season.
Aug. 19 Brainerd
Aug. 26 East Hamilton
Sept. 2 at Cleveland*
Sept. 9 at Siegel
Sept. 16 at McMinn County*
Sept. 23 at East Ridge
Sept. 30 at Soddy-Daisy*
Oct. 7 Bradley Central*
Oct. 14 Rhea County*
Oct. 28 Walker Valley*
* District 5-AAA game
For the final eight games of the 2010 season, Ooltewah’s Mikhail Creech was only half the player he was at the beginning.
Owls coach Shannon Williams hopes to get a full season of production from the senior receiver this year.
A broken hand in the second game of the season limited Creech’s production, as he wore a cast upon his return to the lineup in game four. He was seldom used on offense: The player who had three catches for 121 yards and a 57-yard touchdown against Tyner in the season opener was put on ice offensively.
And the 6-foot-3, 175-pounder was Ooltewah’s big-play threat.
“All you have to do is look back to the week before to see what he is capable of,” Williams said. “He definitely gave us an element of the ability to make big plays, so when he went down, we lost our home-run hitter who had the ability to make those plays.”
The Owls have a recent history of big-play producers, and this year they have Creech, fellow 6-3 receiver T.J. Warren and 6-1 receiver and cornerback Juice Arnold. The question going into preseason camp was who was going to distribute the ball among all the playmakers, but that question seems to have been answered with senior quarterback Bradley Stephens.
“I think the quarterback position is improving,” Creech said. “He’s doing a better job of reading defenses. It is frustrating at times when the timing is off, but he’s new and we all make mistakes. It’s just going to be important for us to pick him up and make up for any he makes.”
Creech showed what he was capable of in the Tyner game early last season, but Williams expects that productivity to be the norm this year.
“He’s still got to play better,” the coach said. “He’s still young and has a lot of room to get better, but he has to work on his craft. He’s on our leadership council, and we expect him to spread the culture.”
Said Creech: “I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove this season, but I also have a lot of catching up to do, so I’ll have to work twice as hard.”
Experiencing consistent success had not been in the Owls’ culture. The program had suffered through three winless seasons in a seven-year span (1985-91) and had never gone through three consecutive winning seasons in the school’s history. That changed in 2005, when former Cleveland coach Benny Monroe took over the program.
Ooltewah went 48-12 in Monroe’s five years, advancing to the state semifinals in 2006 and the quarterfinals in 2008. Eleven players were named to all-state teams, and current University of Tennessee defensive end Jacques Smith was a state Mr. Football in 2008 and 2009.
Then-Ooltewah assistant and current Rhea coach Doug Greene noted that a lot of talent made the run possible.
“It was a special time for me because I was able to be with Coach Monroe; it was a lot of fun,” Greene said. “We won a lot of games with a lot of variety and had a lot of good kids that were able to buy into the system we wanted to run.”