DISTRICT 5-AAA AT A GLANCE
• Team on the rise: Most were projected to finish around the same positions they finished last season, but McMinn County is one of only two programs in the district that returns its starting quarterback, and tailback D.J. Kimpson rushed for almost 400 yards in the teams' 3-2 stretch run in 2013.
• Team on the decline: No teams really qualify here, but Bradley Central has lost the most entering this season, having to replace its starting quarterback, top two rushers and top two receivers, plus some key defensive pieces.
• Toughest schedule: Walker Valley's first eight opponents reached the playoffs last season, and six won at least a game in their respective classifications.
• Dream schedule: East Hamilton has six home dates this season, although the Hurricanes will face six opponents that advanced to the playoffs a season ago -- four of which won at least eight games. There will be very little time for a young but talented Hurricanes team to ease into the year.
• Players to watch: The top senior prospect could wind up being East Hamilton's Martez Durrah, but the most productive returning player is Cleveland tailback/defensive back T.J. Parker, who ran for more than 1,200 yards last season. Ooltewah senior athletes Edward Montgomery and Anthony Turner are playmakers on the perimeter, while junior Rashaun Freeman will be a big-name player on both sides of the ball and junior Jeremiah Jackson will be one of the area's top prospects a year from now. McMinn quarterback Corbin Powers threw for over 500 yards in the Cherokees' season finale a year ago, while the rising sophomore class has two potential gems in Bradley quarterback Cole Copeland and East Hamilton's Nick Woods.
• Predicted order of finish: At a recent media day, there was only a little disagreement between the coaches and the media in the polls. Ooltewah was the top team according to the coaches, while Cleveland was selected first by the media. East Hamilton was selected third in both polls, and Walker Valley and Soddy-Daisy were chosen sixth and seventh in both, respectively. Bradley Central was fourth in the coaches' poll, while McMinn was fourth in the media poll.
There will still be an arms race in District 5-AAA entering the 2014 football season. But the league's top four teams will be introducing new arms.
Bradley Central, Cleveland, East Hamilton and Ooltewah have new quarterbacks entering this season, a year after their four signal-callers combined for 34 wins, 10,752 yards and 95 touchdowns. Two of the four quarterbacks are on NCAA Division I rosters, Cleveland's Austin Herink at Middle Tennessee State and East Hamilton's Hunter Moore at Central Arkansas.
Former Bradley standout Brett Standifer, who spent his first three seasons at Soddy-Daisy, is at Division II Stillman College, while Ooltewah's Brody Binder signed a baseball scholarship with Division I Troy University.
The four were ranked among the top five quarterbacks in the area in passing yardage, yet the 5-AAA cupboard is far from bare in passing talent. Soddy-Daisy's Hunter Maynor threw for 1,707 yards (seventh in the area) and 16 touchdowns, while McMinn County's Corbin Powers was eighth with 1,692 yards and 15 scores.
Bradley's Bears will turn to sophomore Cole Copeland, who as a freshman threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 86 yards -- good for third on the team.
The lanky sophomore has talent and a quarterback pedigree, as four other Copelands have played the position in Bradley's history. But it will be the first time since 2009 that the Bears won't be experienced at that position.
Austin Massey, a Dynamite Dozen selection, takes over at Cleveland, attempting to become the fourth consecutive Blue Raiders quarterback to go to an NCAA FBS program. He threw eight passes last season, completing six for 49 yards, and rushed for 35 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore Nick Woods will get the nod at East Hamilton and also has a quarterback pedigree as older brother Jeremy threw for 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns for Ooltewah in 2006, helping the Owls to a 13-1 record and the Class 5A state semifinals.
The Owls are the only district team not settled at the key position, as two players -- senior Kelvin Leon and junior London Elrod -- are still competing for the starting job. Coach Mac Bryan hopes to make a decision on a starter after the Owls' final scrimmage of the preseason Thursday against Ringgold.
"We're trying to make sure both quarterbacks are ready, because if Brody had got injured last season, we would have had to go with a different type of player and tweak some of the stuff we were trying to do," Bryan said. "We have two quarterbacks able to do what we're setting up, and we've been pleased with both quarterbacks so far."
Walker Valley also will be starting a new quarterback, as Josh Jones takes over for the Mustangs. The athletic junior started the season finale last season against Soddy-Daisy and helped his team to an overtime victory.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.