College teams and conferences have all made their preseason appearances before the media.
Many high schools have done the same thing.
This afternoon, coaches and players from District 5-AAA, one of the most competitive districts in our area, stepped up to the mic.
The coaches all stressed the toughness of the district, strength of schedules inside and outside of the district, the need to build depth and stay healthy.
Bradley Central coach Damon Floyd got the party started, "Offensive line wise, we have two starters returning. We have six seniors that are competing for those five spots. So we feel like, especially early on, we'll probably lean on that offensive line, try to get our running game going as the season starts."
BC returns only four offensive starters. Floyd said his skill guys are pretty inexperienced. "We're just young," Floyd noted. At quarterback - Cole Copeland, the younger brother of Brice Copeland. The coach sees potential and a different skill set. "Overall, we really gotta stay healthy like all teams do to have a chance to compete every Friday night. And you know, we're just excited to get started."
Before the session, the media and coaches filled out a poll, ranking how they believed each team would finish in the seven team district.
The media selected Cleveland to win the district. Coach Ron Crawford said it would take an extraordinary effort to reach that pinnacle. "We've got to search to find that effort level. Some of the guys that led us in effort are not with us anymore. And we were undersized defensively last year. We're going to be undersized this year."
But the Blue Raiders bring back a considerable amount of experience, 21 seniors.
Crawford echoed what all of the coaches said from the dias, staying healthy is key. "(We're) nicked up in fall camp. If any of you (other coaches) are like we are, you know you're missing reps. Everybody that doesn't coach thinks they'll be back by the time the season starts, but we prefer ours to practice."
East Hamilton, picked third by the coaches and media, returns to the field with a young team. Coach Ted Gatewood said they bring back five starters on defense. And he noted the strength of the district, top to bottom. "We got one of probably the toughest AAA class districts in the state, top to bottom, every weekend, every Friday night. It's as competitive as it gets."
The Hurricanes will continue playing a 3-4 hybrid defense and dress out about 65-70 kids. "We tell our kids all the time you're special because you choose to participate in something like football that requires a test of your courage, your manhood," Gatewood noted.
Several of the coaches talked about the tough out-of-district schedules. McMinn County has one of the toughest. Coach Bo Cagle was well aware of it, "In our first five games we play McMinn Central, McCallie, Cleveland, Alcoa and Oak Ridge. So we're looking at sophomores trying to get through those first five games and be able to play that 6th one with being able to run around with any kind of percentage at all."
McMinn lost all of its starting receivers from last season, but has depth with a "bunch of sophomores."Our goal is to get better each week. Hopfully, by the last game of the year, we're playing our best football. We've tried and strived for it."
In the preseason poll, the coaches picked Ooltewah to come out on top. Coach Mac Bryan said his defense will stay in a 4-3 base alignment. His linebacker corps returns intact. Bryan said, "We've told our kids we think we can have a good football team if they want to be one. But the problem is with the schedule we play in the district that we're in, you've got to bring your A game every Friday night."
Walker Valley and Soddy Daisy have struggled in District 5-AAA. The media and coaches poll didn't show much change, but both coaches remain optimistic.
Second year Soddy coach Justin Barnes views experiences from last season as building blocks for this campaign. Barnes said, "The biggest thing I can say about our guys is they don't quit. When it comes up, no matter. You know we were down 56-14 to Ooltewah, we're still fighting to the last. It kind of shows that character and gives them something to build on."
The Trojans return five starters on defense and Barnes said they must limit mistakes if they hope to win more games this season. He knows it's a steep climb to reach the elite level of this district. Barnes said, "Taking that next step, don't be satisfied with being just good enough. We gotta be able to take that next step when we are in a close game like we had with Walker Valley. We gotta be able to limit the mistakes that we make to where we can become victorious."
Meanwhile, Walker Valley will have to turn to some inexperienced players to mount a successful season. They return four starters on defense and three on offense. But the biggest news: a change in its offense.
Coach Glen Ryan broke the news to the other coaches and teams. "Offensively, we have joined the 21st century there. We're going to a little bit of a spread. We've broken out of our Wing T and kind of going to a spread offense, more Auburn style."
Coach Ryan said in the offseason his coaching staff met with spread offense coaches at Birmingham Southern and also Gainesville High down in Georgia. "We're trying to take that next step. We would like to try and climb that ladder and get a little bit closer to all the big guys up here. That's our goal. In order to do that, our players have got to understand the mental part of coming out in the way they have to practice every day."
All of the goals, aspirations, practices and drills will be on display in just over two short weeks. For these student athletes, it couldn't come soon enough.
by John Madewell