All ready for Bears-Blue Devils to kick off season
Dec 15, 2015 at 2:06 PM
Football traditionally saves its biggest rivalry games for the end of the season.
But just like the Daytona 500 is considered NASCAR's biggest event, at the beginning of the season, the Mt. Juliet-Lebanon football game is considered the biggest on the schedule for many fans.
And unless one or both of these teams make a deep run in the playoffs, this is the biggest splash either will receive this year - live broadcast on MyTV30 and, for the most part, the entire high school football stage to itself on opening night of the season.
Mt. Juliet's first trip to Lebanon's Clifton Tribble Field/Danny Watkins Stadium, entering its second year, will also feature two first-year coaches, at least in name. Kentucky legend Sam Harp gets his official introduction to Tennessee football while Trey Perry moves up to take over for his father, Roger, at the Golden Bear helm. But Trey Perry has been around this rivalry since 2006 and Roger Perry will still be on hand to call the offensive plays.
The rest of Wilson County's teams will kick off their seasons as usual on Friday night.
Mt. Juliet at Lebanon
One thing about an opening game, teams know less about each other than they will the rest of the season. Lebanon only exposed itself for others to see in two scrimmages while Mt. Juliet played two scrimmages per week since the teams put on full pads late last month.
"We have some information based on their roster and who they are returning," Trey Perry said of the Blue Devils. "The strength of their team is on their line. They are huge.
"Coach Harp's track record is to control the ball and the clock and he has the people to do it well. He's always been able to utilize, like any good coach, utilize what his personnel gives him…and this year, it's a big offensive front and some skill guys who can make plays in space."
Roger Perry's career has been attached to the wing-T offense, an attack Harp said isn't common north of the state line.
"Quite honestly, I haven't seen too many wing-Ts where I was from," Harp said. "The spread offense and throwing it all over the place seemed to be the forte of the majority of the teams that we went against in Kentucky.
"We've seen a few wing-Ts in the past. But this is going to be on a consistent basis here. We've got Mt. Juliet's wing-T, then Franklin [County's] the second game, then Hendersonville's the third game and they're wing-T. We move on down the schedule and Wilson Central's wing-T. So we better be good at defending it."
Harp said Mt. Juliet also has an advantage in that the Perrys have had their system in place for several seasons while he's just getting started at Lebanon.
"Those kids have been in the same system for years," Harp said. "They know what's expected of them. They know what to do. They've run the same system since they were at least in middle school, so from Grade 6 on up, they've been doing the same thing, and that's an advantage. They've got one large middle school and here we got four middle schools that feed into us.
"When they come to Roger, those kids are pretty adept to terminology."
Though Harp's been in Kentucky his entire 33-year career, the state is close enough to Portland, Tenn., where Roger Perry coached 16 seasons before coming to Mt. Juliet.
"He used to scrimmage, and even play, Franklin-Simpson out of Kentucky," Harp said. "I saw his teams on film when he was going against Franklin-Simpson when I was scouting Franklin-Simpson for myself. In fact, Roger may even have sent me some films on them."
Whether teams are prepared for what awaits them in games will be decided on the field. But the players are ready to play, coaches said almost in unison.
"Fall camp gets long and drawn out," said Perry, whose Golden Bears are playing on Thursday Night Lights for the sixth straight season, which includes an opening game against McGavock a few years ago. "So if you're going to do it on Thursday, at least you're not doing it off a game. Also for us, and Lebanon, it gives us eight days to get ready for our next game.
"Kids complain that fall camp is too long anyway. So if we can shorten it by a day, that's a good thing."
Harp: "Honestly, you can't cover every situation that possibly can happen during a football game. You try to. Some things you don't get to cover a whole lot, things you may just wind up talking about a little bit, and sometimes they can bite you.
"But the biggest thing I didn't want to do was overfeed the kids too much information and have them out there thinking instead of reacting and playing. We try to keep things simple and cover the basic things that can happen during a football game. We're just going to have to adapt as the game goes on if something surprises us."
Harp said prime-time TV would be a good time to start erasing the stigma of going 3-17 the previous two seasons.
"It's time that they step up," Harp said. "I told them today 'I've never been a part of a loser and I'm not going to start now'.
"I think our kids will rise to the challenge. The biggest thing that we're trying to emphasize right now is play every play as hard as you can play it regardless of what that score says. I don't even look at the scoreboard. If you're up 48 or you're down 48, it doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned. If you're winning by several touchdowns and you're not playing as hard as you can play, then you're going to be standing on the sideline with me. It's the same thing in reverse. That's the only way you build a program."
Wilson Central at Hendersonville
For years, Hendersonville has run the same offense, defense and strong kicking game under longtime coach Bruce Hatfield. So not having any fresh video of the Commandos is not bothersome to Wilson Central coach Brad Dedman.
"We didn't trade film, so I haven't seen a lot of them," Dedman said. "I assume they're still running the wing-T and they're still running the 50 on defense. Coach Hatfield has been there so long, you assume it will be the same way this year.
"You know you're going to have to drive the football down the field because they're going to kick it into the end zone."
So armed with this comfortable bit of history, Dedman said his Wildcats are ready to play - anybody.
"We're tired of going through practice," Dedman said. "We're ready for the season to get started, play with something on the line. The guys are tired of playing a copule of series and coming out. They're ready to play a whole ballgame.
"It's the first time either side will see live special teams. In Week 0, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes usually wins."
Whether the Wildcats are physically ready to play at full strength may not be known until kickoff. Running back Gabe Angel [meniscus], wide receiver Blake Lea [toe] and offensive tackle Evan Juhnka [knee] are questionable, Dedman said.
Cascade at Watertown
The Purple Tigers' final season in Robinson Stadium will begin with the same team which ended their next-to-last season on the historic field - the Cascade Champions.
Watertown will face a similar-looking team to the one which moved on to a second-round game at eventual state champion Friendship Christian wit a 24-21 triumph. Bruising fullback Creed Rose is back for his junior season.
Rose rumbled for 133 yards and two first-half touchdowns before a knee injury limited his carries after halftime.
"We're going to have to be able to tackle him and bring him down and contain him," said Watertown coach Gavin Webster before warning that Rose has backfield help this year. "They have an athletic little running back who has some speed and they'll move Creed to fullback.
"They don't throw it a lot. They're fairly big up front, both sides of the ball."
Like his coaching brethren, Webster said his Purple Tigers are champing at the bit to play.
"Seems like it's been a long fall," Webster said. "Kids put a lot of hard work in and they're ready to go."
Barring a home playoff game, the Tigers have five games remaining on the plot of ground located what used to be called The Hedges before the new campus and stadium open across town next year.
"Every game is going to be special," Webster said. "We're going to try to enjoy our times there before we move on."
Harding Academy at Friendship Christian
This is the first meeting between the teams from schools with church of Christ roots and success on the football field. The distance from Lebanon to Memphis means there has been little mutual connections through the years.
"I'm not sure I've ever seen them on film up until now." said longtime Commander coach John McNeal, who has been at FCS since 1986 [except for a three-year stint]. "Traditionally, they're always pretty good. They always have a few D-I guys. They have guys who have played in a big college atmosphere. They always have eight or more wins [9-3 last season] every year, so we expect a big battle.
"I know they have a big-time receiver and they have a tailback, a gamer. They got one of their better linemen back from last year. Outside of that, I don't know much more. They've only scrimmaged one time. We did trade one of ours [scrimmage video] for theirs, but it's such a short period. We don't have a history with them that we know them inside and out."
Friendship is more familiar with Chattanooga's Boyd-Buchanan from the playoffs. It first appeared the Buccaneers would be the opening-week opponent.
"That game was the first one I got on our schedule," McNeal said. "Boyd canceled on me the Friday before the state championship game, and it took me forever to find a game. Harding was one of those we were able to get."
Friendship's health situation is iffy going into the opener. Running back Steven Hollis and tight end Gene Carmen missed last week's jamboree with a virus., though both have practiced this week. Receiver Alex Cook reinjured a kneecap which was first damaged during soccer last spring and is likely lost for the year, McNeal said.
"We've been so good [healthwise] the last two years," McNeal said. "We're battling right now, sickness. We got young guys. So they're having to learn to push themselves. Football is a tough sport. Football is one of those you've got to play banged up, hurt a little bit. It's one of those situations right now where we're trying to keep everything together."
Mt. Juliet Christian at Whitwell
Both teams went 2-8 last year. Since the Saints' didn't play a scrimmage this fall, there was no video for coach Jake Roberts to swap. He does know the Tigers run a 3-4 defense and a traditional wing-T offense.
"Other than that, I don't know a whole lot about them," said Roberts, entering his second season at MJCA. "Based on previews, they're going to have more numbers than they've had in years past. They may be better this year."
Whether the Saints are prepared or not, they're ready to play.
"Our boys are ready," Roberts said. "They've worked hard. They're tired of hitting each other. They're ready to see another color jersey."
Other than possibly outside linebacker Peyton Sloan, who may have concussion symptoms [he was scheduled to see a doctor Wednesday], the Saints are physically ready to go.
"Healthwise, we're as healthy as we can be right now," Roberts said.