Ah, the dog days of a football-less summer are approaching the end.
You can hear Twitter rants in the distance. The fence crowd for every team is readying their voice in preparation of ‘god-awful calls.’ Coaches get ready to douse their hot seats with a clean slate while players figure out their role in the offense.
It’s all coming together. That is except for one thing: predictions so outrageous the you’ll want to call your old football and laugh in unison at it. The upside is that it just might happen. Our track record is pretty clean, but then again, we’re merely warming up our journalistic senses. The best is yet to come.
And with that, we’re giving you our top five takeaways from our TSSN Preseason Tour!
The Sequatchie Valley Could Very Well Boast Six Playoff Teams
It’s not out of sorts to think five teams could potentially make the playoffs in 2016. Three classifications among six schools with two schools in each has its advantages for a region with football crazy fans like the Sequatchie Valley. Also, five teams made it in 2015, with no team really taking a huge step back in the offseason. That being said, this could be a year of unprecedented success where all six school make it happen, whether by a landslide or the grit of their teeth. And as strange as it seems, it hasn’t happened in the modern era (2001-present), so it would be a great accomplishment for the Valley as a whole.
The only thing standing in the way of that is Grundy County who wound up 1-9 last season in a new, top-notch region. Believe it or not, this year the Jackets are in much better condition with physical players and an even more physical offensive system. Coach Tate put much more emphasis on defense in the offseason, so this team should be able to hang with more opponents. It’s hard to say how good they’ll be because of their slight isolation from the Valley geographically, but I would be cautious with any jokes directed at Coalmont, especially later in the season.
A Coaching Change is Child’s Play in Jasper
From the transition into Ricky Ross’s tenure to his departure, there was much talk about the coach and coaching staff. On the back end of a scandal that rocked the Valley not so long ago, the addition of Ross was heralded as a quick move, but he kept the program on track, and then some, with back-to-back title appearances. It was merely a continuation of the previous staff, only with more legal practices.
The same can definitely be said about Joey Mathis who worked alongside Ross during his tenure as an assistant over the past two years. That’s his goal, simply to continue the success. In fact, on his first day as head coach in the spring, Mathis stood behind a crowd of his players waiting for the head coach to do the some kind of recap at the end of practice. There were some eyes wondering why Mathis hadn’t said anything. That was, until the first-year head coach realized that he indeed was the head coach of a State Caliber program. Either way, the change was seamless outside of an awkward post-practice speech just as it was when Ross took over.
Tiger Town Has a New Nickname: Wild Card Whitwell
Coaching over the past 19 years in cities such as Chattanooga, Atlanta, and Murfreesboro, it was probably, if only slightly, a culture shock when Tracy Malone took over a program that currently sits at third in its rural, three-school county. That being said,Whitwell is a great program and suffers from jurisdictional headaches in Marion County and South Pittsburg on a constant basis. And you may ask how does the experienced head coach even begin to combat that ailment? It’s simple: you have to put down your wildest card and hope it sticks.
And that wild card comes not from the mentally tough mindset Malone brings, but out of the schemes he’ll run. Much like Helton did in the previous two years, Malone will shake the pot as much as it can be stirred and then shake it a bit more. The formations are different from much of the Valley and will probably feature more diversity in play types. And with a more balanced attack, the Tigers won’t have to rely on traditional factors to win games, although a 20-yard spurt never hurt anyone.
Bledsoe County is the Most Underrated Team in the Valley, Region 3-2A
Dropping down to the 2A classification last season would have helped the Warriors had they not been sentenced to the region of death known as 3-2A. With Marion County, Boyd-Buchanan, and Tyner all up top, the Warriors scratched and clawed to get the 4-seed in the first round. This year maybe different, though, as Bledsoe County and 2nd-year head coach Josh Owensby have a lot of veteran players in the trenches and in the backfield.
Though Meigs County is taking a huge leap forward in the region, the Warriors were able to field a great team and mount a comeback last season in the last game to beat the Tigers. This year they might have more trouble with that team, but they should improve against other teams in the region. With senior signal-caller Chaise Sorrow, who’s started since he was sophomore, at the helm backed by Joseph Gore at tailback, Bledsoe County has enough talent to rely on. When you add in a seasoned offensive and defensive line, though, you’re chances go up significantly. Don’t be surprised in the Warriors upset some 3-2A dwellers or a Valley rival or two in year two under the man they simply describe with the phrase “O is O.”
Grider’s Veteran Status Mirrors His Pirate Squad
Returning 20 out of 22 starters on both sides of the ball, Vic Grider is pretty content with his chances. The comparison can be made that with time comes success, but with only a year under his belt in his second stint as head coach, Grider has done more with less time. It’s almost like it’s meant to be, much like the circumstances he faced in the offseason before he came back to the sidelines. The athletic organization knew what had to be done at that point. Vic Grider knows what needs to be in in 2016. And so do his players, who are as tenured as he is or more, if you don’t count his first series at South Pittsburg.
Hogan Holland, a Grundy County transfer, took over the offense last year and had his moments, but couldn’t give the Pirates the boost they needed over the long haul. This year with a lot of weapons on the ground and in the air, he looks poised to put the Pirates deep in the postseason and maybe even in Cookeville come December. What else can you expect from a program with veterans on the field and coaching from the sidelines? Not much more, and that’s just the way Griuder and his squad prefer it.
Two of the Top Five Players Hail From Sequatchie County
Where they rank, specifically, is for debate, but Kyle Cates and Hunter Davenport make up a premier one-two punch in the Sequatchie Valley. Although Marion County and South Pittsburg seemed to be loaded with talent, Sequatchie County does boast two of the top five. Alex Kirkendoll, Joseph Lilly, Hunter Zeman, and countless other make up the Valley Elite, and they deserve it. The Indians, though, have some of the best-looking player as far as an undescribable specimen-type factor.
That being said, their defense will be stout as Adam Caine relies heavily on it with his background being on that side of the ball. And it doesn’t hurt to have the Player’s Vote for most underrated, most overrated, and best player in the Sequatchie Valley. The fact that they were voted in over a Mr. Football semifinalist is even more impressive. The Indians have a lot to prove, but with talent like that, it may be easier to do than previously thought.