In some ways, the race to the playoffs begins in earnest this week.
Though most District 9-AAA teams faced off in Week 0, this is the week generally designated as the first district week. TSSAA encourages teams to schedule its league games in even-numbered weeks, then fill the odd-numbered weeks from the back end until all the teams are on the slate, leaving most non-league contests early in the season.
This is the district opener for 8-A and the East-Middle District.
Lebanon at Hendersonville
Less than a year after the winless Blue Devils kept the Commandos out of the playoffs, Hendersonville is off to a 2-0 start with wins over Wilson Central and Hunters Lane.
Lebanon is trying to get into the district race after losing the opener to Mt. Juliet. The Blue Devils picked up an out-of-league win over Franklin County last week. This is LHS' only road game in the first six contests of the season.
"[The Commandos] are very aggressive in the way they play, both offensively and defensively," first-year Lebanon coach Sam Harp said. "Quarterback throws a good ball, he's a good runner. They operate out of a lot of different formations, do a lot of different things. It's more than just a wing-T team.
"Defensively, we've got to be prepared to get our proper alignments off the guys and what they like to do. Kicking game, we certainly have to be solid there. We've got to greatly improve our kicking game over what it was last week because that was our Achilles' heel [only one extra point converted after five touchdowns]. Offensively, we've got to take care of the football and do what we do best, which is run downhill."
Historically, the Commandos run the wing-T offense, the 50 defense and trot out a strong-legged kicker who starts opponents on their 20-yard line most of the time.
"I don't know the young man's name, but every time he lines it up, he kicks it out of the end zone," Harp said. "We are looking at 80 yards, and that's a huge weapon the way high school rules are, not being able to return out of the end zone.
"I've never been in favor of that whatsoever."
On the injury front, Coleton Thomas sustained an MCL injury last week and underwent an MRI on Tuesday.
"Right now he's on crutches," Harp said Tuesday of his long-snapper. "I feel like he's going to be able to return, but it may be two or three weeks.
"He's our long snapper. He plays our inside technique on defense, he plays our tight end position. He just does a lot of things."
Wilson Central at Portland
The Wildcats rallied from behind to beat LaVergne for their first win of the season last week and are seeking their first District 9-AAA victory after losing at Hendersonville in Week 0.
But Central is in better straits than the Panthers, coached by former Wildcat coach Trey Aric who are 0-2 going into their district opener.
"They're definitely big up front and physical," Wildcat coach Brad Dedman said of the Panthers, noting they average 260 pounds across both lines. "That may not be big enough.
"They run the single wing. You can call it old-timey, but it's something you hardly ever see anymore, so you definitely got to be disciplined as a football team and read your keys."
Though Portland has had little success since moving to Class AAA, the Panthers have given the Wildcats all they can handle since Aric left Gladeville for northwest Sumner County.
"It's going to be a dogfight," Dedman said. "Last year, we had to come back from 10-14 points down. The year before that, we had to fake a punt and the year before that, they actually beat us."
Dedman said fullback/outside linebackers Kaleb Butler [turf toe] and D'Sean Osborne [ankle] are not likely to play this week.
Watertown at Trousdale County
After playing eight region games in a nine-team Region 4-A last year to a four-game, five-team District 8-A, there is little room for error for the Purple Tigers and Yellow Jackets as far as making the playoffs go as both teams enter their league schedules. Out-of-district games can impact a playoff race, but only when teams take care of their league games first.
Trousdale is off to a 2-0 start while the Purple Tigers are off to a slow 0-2 beginning.
"Pretty much [have] most everybody back from last year," Watertown coach Gavin Webster said of the Yellow Jackets. "[Coach Kevin Creasy] doesn't have a lot of numbers, but what he's got he's got good athletes. He's got kids who play hard and get after you.
"They got a good tradition over there. The community backs the program 100 percent and they come out in droves."
Quarterback Ty Jobe played a week after injuring his ankle against Cascade but sat out on defense. Fullback Luke Turner went out with an ankle injury.
"Ty wound up having a good night," Webster said after not being sure if his senior would be able to go during last weeks' preparations. "Turner went down with an ankle injury. He's day-by-day. Not sure if he'll play Friday night or not, so we're getting some other guys ready. We try to preach to these guys, the backups, you're one play away from getting in."
King's Academy at Friendship Christian
The Commanders' homecoming marks their first official foray into the East-Middle District.
King's, which Commander coach John McNeal said Friendship played years ago when the school was called Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist, will come to Pirtle Field 1-1 overall following a 35-18 win over Hancock County last week. The Lions lost to Sunbright 55-33 in Week 0.
"I was surprised," McNeal said after watching the Lions on video. "They got a big running back who can run the football. Got a receiver who can fly. Overall, they are not as big as we are or as physical.
"But I saw them beat Hancock last week. The week before, they got beat but they scored some points. They've been scoring."
King's will be followed by old Region 4-A rival Trousdale County, defending Division II-A champion Knoxville Webb and Middle District power Franklin Road Academy.
"We've got to worry about what we need to do to get better," said McNeal, whose 1-0 Commanders are coming off a Week 1 bye. "Honestly, we're going to worry about our problems and issues we need to work on."
McNeal said the early bye came at a good time for the 2013 Commanders, who were coming off a Week 0 win over Harding Academy.
"It was good for the team we have," McNeal said. "The last few years, we had been kind of getting the toughness at the beginning of the year, and then figuring out some things we needed to do toward the end of the year. This year, with some young kids playing some positions, it's given us a chance with a little more time of practice before the heat of battle. Harding was one of those, but at least we've had a couple of weeks where we can try to fix some of those young problems that are going to come with inexperienced players.
"We've got three in a row that's going to be torture. But that's why this schedule is going to benefit us and we're looking forward to it."
Mt. Juliet at Station Camp
It's early in the season, but this game may prove big by the time Nov. 1 comes around as the 1-0 [2-0 overall] Golden Bears try to break out of the first-place pack in District 9-AAA. Station Camp lost to Beech on ESPN a couple of Sunday mornings ago in its only game and will try to get back into the race.
"You can't hide behind the fact it's a big game even though it's early," Mt. Juliet coach Trey Perry said. "They know the magnitude of getting a leg up in the district race this early."
With Beech's Tennessee commitment Jalen Hurd out for the season with an injury, Station Camp receiver Josh Malone is now the district's marquee player.
"He is a special talent who's really done a great job over the last year of honing his skills and focusing on the little things at his position," Perry said of Malone. "At the same time, Station Camp has done a really good job of doing things to get him the ball in space."
Junior quarterback Kyle Anderton is in charge of getting Malone the ball and, like Mt. Juliet's Nolan Chowbay, started every game of his sophomore season.
"He's another one who has done a good job in the offseason," Perry said of Anderton. "He's slimmed down… He does a great job of going through his reads."
The Bison, coached by Mt. Juliet graduate Shaun Hollinsworth, will run the gamut from the I and power-I to the spread.
"Station Camp's biggest problem may be figuring out who to get the ball to because they have so many," Perry quipped.
It's not just on offense where the Bison are talented. Junior Tre Malone is a featured runner at tailback and an inside linebacker on defense, a unit led by linebacker Ryker Tope.
Seems like every year Station Camp produces some of the best linebackers in our district," Perry said. "[Tope] has been a constant the last couple of years. Rock solid, probably a great leader."
Perry said the Bears are largely healthy, which is a good thing since the Bison didn't play last weekend.
"That makes it big that we're able to go into the game healthy," Perry said.
Middle Tennessee Christian at Mt. Juliet Christian
The Saints and Knoxville Webb aren't playing each other in the East-Middle District with Mt. Juliet Christian forfeiting its decision to the Spartans as both schools scheduled other opponents closer to home. This is MJCA's replacement game while Webb, which is off this week, faced Baylor as the Saints took the week off.
Though Webb is off to an 0-2 start against a murderous schedule and Middle Tennessee Christian is 2-0, the Cougars are still considered the easier draw. That doesn't make them easy as MTCS has gone from 0-10 last year to 2013 victories over Cannon County and Zion Christian.
"They are significantly better than they were last year," Mt. Juliet Christian coach Jake Roberts said of the Cougars, who run a zone-read offense out of the spread. "They've got a really good quarterback. He's really shifty when he gets out of the pocket.
"They've got solid backs, three different guys they rotate in. They're hard to take down."
Middle Tennessee Christian runs a 4-4 defense which focuses on stopping the run.
Mt. Juliet Christian lost at Whitwell in Week 0 before getting healthy last week. Despite the improved health, Roberts would have preferred to have played last week.
"I would have liked to have had a game last Friday, but that's the way the cards fell," Roberts said. "It would have done a lot to have washed the bad taste out of our mouths from Week 0."
Week 2 games
LEBANON at Hendersonville
WILSON CENTRAL at Portland
WATERTOWN at Trousdale County
King's Academy at FRIENDSHIP CHRISTIAN, 7:30 p.m.
MT. JULIET at Station Camp
Middle Tennessee Christian at MT. JULIET CHRISTIAN
All kickoffs at 7 p.m. except for Friendship