(10-2 in 2010, lost in Division II-AA state title game)
Despite losing Mr. Football quarterback Jacob Huesman, the Red Raiders return 10 starters on offense and eight on defense, which will have expectations soaring this fall. Matt Oellerich, who started at quarterback as a freshman and played receiver the last two years, will make the shift back to QB when the team begins spring practice Monday.
“He knows everything about the offense and has been on the field in a lot of big-game situations,” Baylor coach Phil Massey said. “He’s excited to be back at quarterback, and I have all the confidence that he’ll do an excellent job.”
The Red Raiders will begin looking for two new starting defensive tackles and a new middle linebacker. One job that is solidified is offensive lineman Barrett Gouger (6-foot-41⁄2, 280), who has scholarship offers already from Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and Memphis as well as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
(7-4, lost in first round of the Class 3A playoffs)
Nearly the entire starting lineup returns for the Warriors (10 on each side of the ball), including every lineman as well as running back Brandon Smith and quarterback Cody Holloway. One new potential target for Holloway is Jeremiah Gilbert (6-2, 225), whose size will make him a nightmare for opposing cornerbacks when he lines up wide. “The great thing is we have a lot of younger guys who don’t want to watch the game, so there’s healthy competition for a lot of positions and that will mean good depth for us,” Warriors coach Jason Reel said.
(9-5, lost in the 2A semifinals)
Plenty of skill-position players return for the Buccaneers, but what has coach Grant Reynolds even more excited is the fact that both sides of the line could go two- or three-deep with no one having to play both ways. “We have good size and good numbers in our line, and that’s where you can win a lot of games,” said Reynolds, who lost just two starters from last year. Jim Cardwell is back at quarterback after showing steady improvement each week as a freshman starter last season, and running back Chase Reed along with receivers Kyle Thomas and Andrew Peace. “With so many guys back, and pretty good depth, there’s a lot of excitement,” Reynolds said. “We’re hoping to build off the deep playoff run with so much experience, too.”
(9-3, lost in 6A second round)
College coaches will make Bears practice a must-see stop because of the talent level that continues to swell. Rising senior receiver James Stovall (6-3, 180) has turned in sub-4.5 40-yard dash times and has drawn interest from Tennessee assistant Jim Chaney as well as Memphis coaches. Another potential prospect already drawing interest from UT is rising junior left tackle Austin Sanders (6-5, 290). The Bears will spend much of the spring workouts finding two new linemen to team with Sanders and help protect junior quarterback Bryce Copeland, who has added 15 pounds of muscle.
(3-7 in 2010)
The focal point for the Panthers will be settling on a quarterback, although Maleek Rooks is athletic enough to either take that job or play several positions. “He can run the veer option, but other than quarterback, we’ll mainly just install our base defense and get the fundamentals down,” Brainerd coach Stanley Jackson said about the spring work. “We felt we had a lot of problems being fundamentally sound last year, and we just gave up way too much.”
(14-1, lost in Georgia AA state title game)
With phase one of the building of a new high school going on, the Yellow Jackets will practice before and after school to make up for having fewer days. As has been the case the past few seasons, finding offensive linemen will be the key.
“We need four starters up front,” said coach Hal Lamb, who also must replace quarterback Landon Curtis and leading rusher Dustin Christian. “We always seem to have a good group step up, and we hope that happens again this year. We have some guys with a lot of potential, including a couple of sophomores, to go with returning starter Tyler King.”
(6-5, lost in 4A first round)
Few things excite a new coach more than realizing he has inherited a good deal of talent. John Allen, who just took over the Purple Pounders job, realized quickly that there are plenty of athletes on the roster.
“We just want to see how quickly they can learn the wing-T,” Allen said. “But they sure look the part. Spring is for the young guys; it’s a time to plant seeds in their minds so they will work hard this summer. We’ve got 80-plus kids, so I don’t even know all their names yet.” Among the names Allen does already know are senior linebacker Nikolay Timoshchuk and free safety Von Bell. Both are among the best in the city at their positions. Central’s staff has repainted the locker room and put new carpet down and will bring in new weight equipment in June.
After narrowly missing out on what would have been their first playoff appearance, the Chargers have plenty of incentive to continue improving. Among the returning players who will be heavily counted on for another playoff push is senior receiver Beau Simmons (6-3, 200), who led the city with just over 1,200 yards (17.5 per catch) last year. Also back is cornerback Brad Click (6-2, 185), who played every play on defense and became a solid offensive contributor at receiver as well. Eleven other players with starting experience also return.
With 21 seniors returning, the Indians will look to find depth plus ways to make talented quarterback Nathan Schuster even more dangerous. “Last spring we were so inexperienced on both sides of the ball, but with so many starters back we’ll be fine-tuning more as we search for depth and role players,” coach Brad Waggoner said. “We’ll still be a spread team, but we’ll have Nathan under center a bit more.”
(6-5, lost in 5A first round)
The decision to make a defensive scheme change means the Blue Raiders will concentrate heavily on that side of the ball when they go out next week. The abundance of linebackers and the need to be more aggressive led coach E.K. Slaughter to switch to a 3-4 alignment for 2011. “We want to attack and get after people,” Slaughter said. “We gave up too much by reading and reacting last year. I usually hate spring practice, but this should actually be good this year. We’ve got four of our five offensive linemen back and about four guys who could play tailback, so we’re OK on that side of the ball.” The biggest change on offense will be trying a no-huddle attack. Quarterback Chad Voytik’s grasp of the offense helped coaches decide to try that. Voytik, who recently accepted an invitation to play in the annual U.S. Army All-American game in San Antonio next January, already has offers from Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Mississippi State and Pittsburgh.
The first-year program will not play a varsity schedule until the 2012 season, and coach Jared Hamlin will spend the Colts’ first spring practice matching athletes with positions. “There will be a lot of evaluation,” said Hamlin, a former Virginia Tech player who has coached extensively in Florida. “We’re not concerned with throwing a playbook at them just yet. We’ll worry about that in the summer.”
With the hiring of Bill Napier as offensive coordinator, the Catamounts will use the spring to get players acclimated to his option offense. “We had moved into more of an option team late last year, and with Coach Napier aboard we will continue to develop that and our passing game,” head coach Matt Land said. “It’s a huge boost to hire anyone of the quality of a Bill Napier, who I consider one of the greatest high school coaches in Georgia.”
As Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood was assessing where his team stood going into spring practice, workers were installing the lights at the football field. Bleachers are the next step, and Gatewood is hopeful the two-year battle to get the stadium at the three-year-old school will be complete in time for the season opener. While there are six players vying for the quarterback job, Gatewood’s biggest concern is in the offensive line, where only one player with experience returns. “It’s our third year as a program, and once again we’re young,” Gatewood said. “But we’ve got to stop worrying about being young or using that as an excuse and just be ready to play. To be honest, every position on the field is wide open as far as I’m concerned.
“We’ve got quite a few involved in other spring sports right now, but this is an opportunity for the other kids to show what they can do and maybe turn some heads.”
The Pioneers already have finished spring practice, capping an offseason loaded with change. That included new defensive coordinator Cortney Braswell, who implemented a switch to the 3-4 scheme.
Rising sophomore C.J. Baker (6-2, 240), who made the state tournament as a wrestler and played junior varsity football last year, had a great spring at both offensive tackle and noseguard, according to Pioneers coach Mike Martin.
With nine starters back on each side of the ball, the Golden Eagles will practice in a couple of weeks, hoping to have a few more players who currently are involved in other spring sports. Receiver Corey Nelson, who was lost for the season in the first game of 2010, returns along with offensive lineman Adin Hall (6-3, 220). Hall has grown nearly three inches and added more than 20 pounds in the offseason.
The graduation of quarterback Dre Prather has created a major opportunity for one of three candidates to lead a team that came very close to making the Georgia Class AA playoffs last year.
“We’ve got to find a quarterback,” coach Chad Fisher said, mentioning sophomore Chandler Curtis, junior M.J. Reynolds and Tyshaun Clemons as the candidates. “If we can replace Dre adequately, we’ve got a good chance to make the playoffs.”
The Trojans have a good group of skill players returning, but the interiors of the lines — including both defensive tackles and three offensive linemen — need settling. “We feel real good about the younger guys coming up there,” coach Kevin McElhaney said. “Guys like Cory Jewell, Randall Smith and Tristan Crabtree will get the chance to earn major playing time.”
The spring will be spent, for the first time in the program’s short history, working on fine-tuning and installing new wrinkles instead of finding players, though coach Tim James is expecting good competition.
“Any position is open, as far as I’m concerned,” James said. “We only have to replace one starter (tackle) on offense and three (two linebackers, free safety) on defense, so we can spend more time working on technique instead of beating each other up.”
The Wildcats have completed spring drills and coach Houston White made the tough decision to forgo his preferred wide-open style of offense for a more run-heavy attack. “I was having heart palpitations because we only threw it about four times,” White said. “We’ll still be multiple, but we really want to concentrate on the run game. We have our whole offensive line back, so we worked on running the football and stopping the run.”
Justin Matherson, who showed a lot of promise as a sophomore but tore an ACL last year, is back at quarterback and has senior Clarencio Holmes to hand the ball to. Holmes (5-8, 180) is already drawing serious interest from Eastern Kentucky and Samford.
(8-3, lost in 3A first round)
New coach Michael Calloway will take the Hustlin’ Tigers out next week to begin spring drills. Calloway said he spent much of his first few weeks on the job talking to students who didn’t play last year but can, he believes, help the team. “Most of the kids know me well, so I’m just trying to encourage a few new ones to come out and give it a shot and help us out,” Calloway said. Four assistants remain from the previous staff, including defensive coordinator Dante Dawson. Junior lineman Brandon Wlaters (6-7, 275) has been busy with AAU basketball but has remained in touch with Calloway to let him know he is working out and will be ready to rejoin the team soon.
With skill players such as tailback Devarus Porter returning, the Ramblers are putting most of their focus on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’ve got to get better on defense,” coach Tab Gable said. “Our No. 1 goal is to find some defensive players. We want all our linemen to just play one way, so we have to develop some starters. We’ve got some young kids we feel very good about.”
Coming off an 0-10 season, the Warriors will focus as much on the mental aspect of improving as they will the physical facets. Coach Todd Windham has nine starters returning on each side of the ball.
“Our main focus is just to have a very positive two weeks,” Windham said. “We’re ready to get back to work, because no one enjoyed what we went through last year. With so many starters returning, it will be easier to hit the ground running.”
After their community was hit hard by last week’s tornadoes, the Yellow Jackets took a few days off before coach Tony Webb decided it might help them to return to the normal routine of practice. With 17 starters back, the Jackets already have seen a dramatic jump in size and speed from offseason workouts. “We played a lot of sophomores last year, and hopefully that will help now that they have experience and are a year bigger,” Webb said. “I really think Jamal Jones (5-10, 175), has a great attitutde and can be special at running back. I’m also anxious to see (sophomore lineman) Kendall Parham on the field, because he’s gotten noticeably bigger (6-3, 260). He could become a college prospect if he just keeps working hard.”
(5-6, lost in 2A first round)
The Warriors began last season with 19 seniors but ended it with only nine. That attrition hurt them last year but could pay off this season with so many young players returning, including 17 juniors.
“We’ve only got about five seniors this year, so we’re still young,” coach Troy Boeck said. “Our freshman class is huge and is one of the most talented we’ve had here in a long time. There are three or four of those kids that will start this year. That will upset some upperclassmen, but that’s just how talented those young kids are.” One of those talented freshmen who carries big expectations is fullback/linebacker Blake Zeman, brother of junior quarterback Matt Zeman. Linemen Hunter Murray (6-2, 230) and Taylor Condra (5-10, 240) had impressive offseason workouts. The Warriors also should benefit from schedule changes, replacing Boyd-Buchanan, Signal Mountain and Cumberland County with Copper Basin, Chattanooga Chrisitan and Hixson.
While there isn’t as much experience as new head coach Bubba Simmons would like, size is not a concern. When the Blue Tornado go out later this month, the staff is eager to see how linemen Tye Youngblood (6-2, 270), Russ Robinson (6-1, 250), Josh Bandy (6-0, 240) and Parker Ryals (5-11, 200) come together. Also, inside linebackers Hayden Cronan (6-1, 210) and Jalen Kellum (6-0, 235) could form a solid run-stopping tandem. Former head coach Rick Whitt will remain on staff and assist Simmons on offense.
The Chargers already had spring practice.
“There wasn’t any phase of the game we didn’t work on,” coach Josh Goodin said. “We tested some changes on offense and defense, and we’ll probably go to the three-man front because of all the spread offenses we face. “There were a few defections after we struggled last year, but the majority of the team is back, other than the eight seniors we graduated. The ones who did come back had an attitude of not letting what happened last year go down again. We’re still not real big, but there was a lot more intensity.” Of the 57 workout T-shirts Goodin ordered for the team, only 10 were extra large. But one player who makes up for lack of size with intensity is senior linebacker/tight end Dylan Lawson (5-10, 185), who will be a three-year starter.
The Indians have John Hammond as their fourth head coach in six seasons. He has been a Murray assistant coach the past eight seasons. His first spring as head coach will be spent on identifying starters, since the Indians return only two starters on each side of the ball.
(13-1, lost in Alabama 4A semifinals)
The Chiefs started practicing last week before the storms but have taken off since the deadly tornadoes. Head coach Shawn Peek’s nephew, Blake, was killed in one of the storms that hit Tuscaloosa.
“To be honest, it’s just been a nightmare, and there’s not a lot of us ready to turn back to football yet,” Coach Peek said.
The second-year varsity program will be busy this spring putting in new schemes on each side of the ball to better match its personnel and its run-heavy region.
“Offensively, we were a spread-veer team last year, but we’ll work more under center this year, though we’ll still run the veer along with more belly plays,” coach Larry Cornelius said. “We’re also going to pass the ball more with (junior) quarterback Brady Swilling. Defensively, we were a 3-4 team last year, but we had issues stopping the run, and in our region (7-AA) that’s not good, so we’re going to a stack 5-3.”
New head coach Josh Robinson, the defensive coordinator under previous coach Mike Falleur, has to replace all four secondary starters. The Bruins play in Region 7-AAAA, noted for its pass-happy offenses. “We have 16 kids ranging from sophomores to seniors who will compete for those positions,” said Robinson, listing Jordan Woodard, Drew Stavro and Drew White as three of the candidates. “We want to have it narrowed down by the time practice ends.”
The Fighting Irish will practice later this month to avoid conflicting with other spring sports. The program lost 15 seniors and will have only about eight seniors this year, but one bright spot should be transfer Josh Moore, who was Ringgold’s starting quarterback last year. “We’ll be short on numbers, so we’ll look for guys who want to play and give great effort,” coach Josh Sellers said.
To avoid competing with other spring sports, the Owls wrapped up practice in March. The Owls have 16 starters back, but coaches focused on identifying a quarterback rotation from a list of four candidates. Receiver T.J. Warren (6-3, 190) and defensive backs Juice Arnold (6-1, 175) and Mikhail Creech (6-3, 175) are drawing college recruiters, and Calvin Murray is another solid defensive back, making for a solid secondary. “This was a lot different feeling than last spring,” head coach Shannon Williams said. “I got the job late last year and we didn’t have our staff hired until July, so things were just so rushed. This year, we actually worked on improving as a team. But we won’t get better just because we’re a year older. We’ve got work to do.”
(10-2, lost in 3A second round)
A program noted for its toughness spent the spring working on getting tougher.
The Wildcats return 13 starters to both sides of the ball but still worked on fundamentals as well as finding a replacement for quarterback Jared Allen. Senior Al Akins and junior Duncan Coffey likely will continue battling for that job into the season. “We basically went out and found out who likes to hit,” Wildcats coach Derrick Davis said. “There was a lot of just good old blocking and tackling and tough, Polk County football. We were looking for leaders, and I think we found a few.”
Red Bank (7-5, lost in 4A second round): Coach Tim Daniels again opted not to hold spring practice. Instead, the Lions continued offseason workouts and conditioning.
(6-5, won non-playoff bowl game)
When the Eagles begin practice next week, rising sophomore Demetrius Patterson is one player coaches are eager to see at several positions. “He’ll play receiver, but he gives us a dimension we haven’t had here in a while,” coach Jason Fitzgerald said. “We’ll be looking for a new quarterback to get him the ball. We’ve got a few scrimmages lined up because I want the kids playing quarterback to be put in some pressure situations and see how they react.” Senior Luke Everett (5-11, 200) played running back and was a backup quarterback last year. He will compete with sophomore Austin Dodson (6-1, 205) for the QB job.
(9-2, lost in AAA second round)
With only three returning starters on each side of the ball, the Panthers are in a rebuilding mode after three consecutive region titles. “We’re looking for bodies at nearly every position,” coach Mark Mariakis said. “It’s the first time in eight years that we’ve been in this situation. We lost each of our defensive linemen and at least one key player on every level of defense. Needless to say, it’s a really, really important spring for us.”
With the team’s school and field heavily damaged by the EF-4 tornado that hit the area, the Tigers are moving their practices to Heritage and will go out at 9 a.m. each day, culminating with a May 21 spring wrapup with Heritage and LFO at Heritage. Much of the spring will be focused on returning to the wing-T offense from last year’s spread attack. Slade Dale is among those in the race to take over at quarterback. “The wing-T is really what’s best for our linemen,” coach Robert Akins said. “We’re at a point where we need to angle-block more. Our quarterbacks are good option quarterbacks, so we’re OK there. We’ll also have a lot of positions up for grabs. It’s going to be wide open.”
(8-4, lost in 3A second round)
Coming off the program’s best season in 14 years, the Indians have plenty of playmakers returning, including 1,200-yard rusher Jerry Fain. Four of the five offensive line starters are back, as is fullback Shane Yother, but the team will be looking for a new quarterback. “We’ve got some kids who can play there, but that spot and our defensive line are really the holes we need to fill when we go out next week,” Indians coach Chad Barger said.
(14-0, won 2A state championship)
Among the program’s newcomers is former Moore County coach Mac McCurry, the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator. “He’s very, very intense, which I like,” head coach Bill Price said. “He’ll be here for spring practice, so we’re excited about what he can bring to the program.”
Ernie McCarson also takes over coaching the defensive line, as the team switches to more of a three-man front, while offensively the biggest adjustment will be Reese Phillips taking over at quarterback.
“He’s got a lot of talent and he’ll be fine, but we’ve just got to get him a lot of snaps,” Price said. “We’ve got maybe four running backs we know we can count on, but we’re looking to find a few more for depth. That’s our big thing this spring, finding depth at a few positions. “We played a lot of bigger schools and tough teams last year, so that should help us make the adjustment to moving up to 4A in the fall. Our kids have been through a tough workout program, so they’re just ready to get back out on the field.”
Ideally, new coach Al Rogers would be able to introduce his new schemes, but because so many players are involved in spring sports, the Seahawks will not hold football practice. Tim Couch will be their offensive coordinator, and former Cleveland coach Danny Carson has joined the staff as a volunteer and will coach the offensive line and likely work as the defensive coordinator.
(12-2, won 1A state championship)
With nearly half the roster involved in baseball or track, the Pirates will use spring workouts to evaluate younger players and begin filling holes on the offensive line, where only one starter returns. Quarterback Jake Stone, fully recovered from a knee injury, is one of the players who will miss spring practice because of baseball. That means receiver Antonio Chubb will take most of the spring snaps, learning the position as a potential backup for the fall. Rising junior Demetric “Little Man” Johnson (6-1, 180) also is changing positions, going from receiver to a loaded running back corps that includes Johnny Sellers (5-10, 205) and sophomore Jijuan Lankford (5-11, 170). “We’re not worried about our skill-position areas,” Pirates coach Vic Grider said. “We’re pretty solid there. Our work is in the offensive line. But we have some guys who have waited their turn, and now is their chance to step up.”
The Raiders will focus on getting better on defense. Nine starters return, including three who were injured early last season.
“We gave up too many yards against the run and too many big pass plays,” coach David Crane said. “We have to get better in our front seven, and that’s an area where we were hit hard by injuries last year. We’ve got 10 starters returning on offense, so we feel good there.”
(6-5, lost in Class A first round)
The Bulldogs have to replace 17 starters from last fall, meaning this spring practice will be intense and competitive.
“In a lot of ways it’s like I’m coming here for the first time,” head coach David Humphreys said. “I guess if there’s a key area, it would be in the skill positions. We’ll be OK in the lines. I expect a lot of enthusiasm for the workouts because there are so many positions open.”
(8-3, lost in 3A first round)
The Rams may have lost as much talent as any area team, but as is typically the case, there is a list of skilled players ready to step in. On defense, Tyner lost two linebackers, two linemen and two secondary starters, while on offense the Rams lost two linemen and four skill-position players. While they will be short on experience, size and skill shouldn’t be an issue this fall. Offensive linemen Darius Lomnick (6-3, 270) and Davis Powell (6-4, 350) anchor that side, and fullback/linebacker Patrick Chandler (6-0, 220) loves contact, whichever side of the ball he’s playing. Edward Duckett and Raynard Williamson are two other linemen who can go both ways. “We’re not hurting for size,” Rams coach Wayne Turner said. “We should be able to get after people, and we’ve got about five or six backs who I think can help us. The thing I like is we’ve got a lot of competing going on at a lot of different positions.”
Because of the storm damage, spring practice likely will be cut short for the Mustangs. The upside of being so young last year is that now there are at least seven starters back on each side of the ball, including junior running back Kelvin Wells, who ran for 1,500 yards last year. Wells was one of four sophomores who started last season, and another is lineman Jake Owenby (6-3, 285). Both are expected to become leaders now, while the Mustangs sort through a three-man quarterback battle.
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 ...
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Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...