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Ready or not, teams ready to kick off season
Aug 17, 2012 12:00 am
By ANDY REED
Coaches tried to get the TSSAA to move up the start of this year's fall practice a week to no avail.
But despite just two weeks in pads before game-week preparation, most are ready for their seasons to begin, whether they're actually ready or not.
"We've been practicing against each other," said Wilson Central coach Brad Dedman, whose Wildcats will open the season at Gallatin. "We get tired of seeing ourselves."
"Normally, you'd have another week of practice," said Watertown's Gavin Webster, whose Purple Tigers will travel to Cannon County. "But I believe coaching staff is ready, kids are ready. It seems like we've been doing this awhile. We've been going at it ever since dead period [in early July in helmets and shorts]. Had our fall camp. They're ready."
"I am sick and tired of moving and worried about fixing this and fixing that," said Lebanon's Troy Crane, who spent the summer moving everything to the school's new South Hartmann Drive campus. "I'm ready to actually start coaching football. This week has been a lot more like football season. We're really anxious to get things going and actually coaching football and doing things you enjoy doing."
"I wouldn't say I feel like we're ready to play," said Friendship coach John McNeal, whose Commanders open defense of their Class 2A state championship at Donelson Christian. "I can say we're wanting to play. The players, the coaches, we're ready to start playing. We still got a ways to go, but I'm assuming they do, too, or at least hoping they do. Anybody's playing Week 0 is not where they want to be.
"As far as the excitement in ready to play on Friday night, the guys are ready and the coaches are ready. But there are still a lot of things that we got to improve on."
Mt. Juliet's Roger Perry said the players are ready, but the coaches may not be.
"Our coaches would like to have several more days on the practice field," Perry said. "Our players are ready for the season to start. Kind of a concern we didn't have a chance to get in a jamboree, to get under the lights.
"It's the first game situation we've had for the 2012 season."
It will also be the first game in charge for Mt. Juliet Christian's rookie coach Jake Roberts.
"Our guys are really chomping at the bit," said Roberts, who did not send his Saints out to face any opponents in scrimmages or jamborees but will travel to Unionville on Friday. "They're waiting to hit somebody [not wearing] our colors."
Lebanon at Mt. Juliet
The Golden Bears rode a season-opening 13-game winning streak right into the state semifinals. They've said goodbye to 27 seniors, but plenty of talent is still wearing the black and gold.
"They have done an excellent job of building their young people through the program and it's a credit to their coaching staff of being able to two-platoon and sticking to their plan. It's really paid off. A lot of their people who were backups last year got a lot of quality coaching and they're just filling spots and not missing a beat."
Despite the graduation losses, Mt. Juliet has experience in the backfield in 1,400-yard rusher Contrez McCathern and Caleb Hopkins.
"I think they have the best backfield unit in our [District 9-AAA] league," Crane said of the Bears. "It's scary everytime either one of them touches the ball back there. Gang tackling is going to be very important and that's an area we've really struggled at, so that poses some concern. We've really emphasized everybody running and getting to the football and wrapping up and things like that. It'll take a total team effort to tackle those ... backs."
As for Mt. Juliet's defense?
"They're very well coached," Crane said. "[Defensive coordinator] Trey Perry does an excellent job of game planning and coaching those guys. They play with a lot of energy. They do the little things well... They don't really fall for the all of the smoke and mirrors."
Lebanon, coming off a 2-8 season and wracked by injuries, especially in the offensive backfield, is a work in progress.
"We're still missing several key people," Crane said. "We're just trying to practice the ones that are here and the ones that are healthy. That's the game of football. Whenever somebody goes down, that's why it's important for you when you're not necessarily getting the physical reps, you got to be getting the mental reps and when your number's called, you got to be ready to go in."
Perry took in the Blue Devils' jamboree against Coffee County last Saturday.
"I was very impressed with them," Perry said. "They got good size, got good speed.
"I know they're hungry for a victory. They're a football team that will come in here ready to play."
And while Crane sees a Mt. Juliet program which can slide in replacements for their graduation losses, Perry sees question marks.
"We have several questions," said Perry, who reported no injuries. "Are the guys ready to step up and compete in District 9-AAA?"
Wilson Central at Gallatin
The Wildcats were waiting on pins and needles to see if they would get to play this game as a budget battle had kept schools closed in Sumner County until today. Teams had been practicing but would not have been allowed to play until classes began.
Now, the focus can be on Friday's game at the Waveyard.
"They're about like usual; they're big, fast, physical," Dedman said of the Wave, who are paced by tailback/receiver Darian Banks [5-foot-10, 180 pounds] and quarterback Morgan Campbell [5-10, 150].
"[Banks] can go to the house at any time," Dedman said. "He pretty much does it all. Wherever he lines up, they try to get the ball to him.
"[Campbell] is very shifty. He can run, he can throw. Everything revolves around those two guys."
Gallatin's defense also looks familiar.
"They're physical and big, just like normal," Dedman said.
Central is not healthy to open the season. Outside linebacker Chase Hobbs has been out with a knee injury since mid-summer, running back D.J. Majors is also out with a bad knee and wide receiver Chris Lee is questionable with a hamstring issue.
But after five wins in his first two seasons, Dedman is optimistic his Wildcats will have some roar in 2012.
"We're looking forward to it," he said. "We're expecting big things this year.
"I think we can be a surprise to some people."
Watertown at Cannon County
After closing last season on a five-game losing streak and dropping its jamboree, the Purple Tigers need a win to cure all ailments.
"We need to get a win; we need to get off to a good start," Watertown coach Gavin Webster said. "You always want to start off with a win so we've been preaching that. Kids are working hard and really adapting to a lot of things and are being very attentive."
Cannon County runs a pro-I with some one-back on offense and a 50 defense.
"They've got pretty good size, pretty physical, some athletes," Webster said of the Lions. "They like to throw the ball a little bit. Got a good little running back, got a good quarterback."
On the injury front, receiver/defensive lineman Cooper Jacobsen sustained a concussion in last week's jamboree and won't play this week. Running back/outside linebacker Dennie Holcombe is questionable after rolling his ankle during practice earlier this week.
Friendship Christian at Donelson Christian
These longstanding private school rivals don't play each other every year, but when they do meet, it does play out like a rivalry.
"Our games with DCA, a lot of them come down to the last series of the ballgame; they've been real close over the years," said McNeal, entering his 21st consecutive season [and 24th overall] at FCS. "Week 0, probably will be a little sloppy both ways. Right now, we're still kind of working on ourself. This early in the year, we've got to do that to get better in certain areas we need improvement on."
McNeal said DCA has to replace a quarterback, receiver, running back and some linemen from the team which came from behind in the final seconds to upend the eventual state champion Commanders last August at Pirtle Field.
"They got some guys filling in just like we do," McNeal said. "There's a lot of guys people don't know their names or who they are but who we feel are good ballplayers, and I'm sure they're in the same situation.
"It's a matter of the players who are younger moving up and the same with ours."
Like McNeal, Dennis Goodwin has coached DCA for a long time. The Wildcats will run an I and some spread on offense and a 4-3 on defense. Goodwin has a former assistant back on his staff. Paul Townsend left DCA to take the head coaching job at Mt. Juliet Christian. After spending the last couple of seasons as Wilson Central's receivers coach, he was let go as part of position cuts on the WCHS faculty. Townsend has caught on with the faculty at Pearl-Cohn and the Wildcat coaching staff.
"The coaches have been there a long time," McNeal said. "They coach them up. They play hard. I expect a tough ballgame."
McNeal said with a few exceptions, the Commanders got through preseason healthy.
Mt. Juliet Christian at Community
Since the Saints did not scrimmage or play in a jamboree, this is their first exposure of the season. Though Community coaches can watch film from the Vikings' win last season, a new MJCA coaching staff could make some of that film study academic.
"That's what we're hoping," Roberts said. "Unless they got a double agent, they won't know what's coming from us.
"It ought to be fun. I think we'll start surprising some people from the get-go."
It works the other way as well as Roberts has to use last year's film for most of his info on the Vikings, who went 2-8 in 2011.
"They're a run-first football team," Roberts said. "They got athletes enough we're going to have to contain [their] offense.
"They've got some size up front. They've got some athletes who can make plays."
Mt. Juliet Christian will enter its opener healthy.
"That was our goal to get to the first game without any injuries," Roberts said.
McClain Christian at Franklin Christian
The Bulldogs enter their first full varsity eight-man schedule coming off a 20-0 win over the Western Kentucky Warriors and a 22-16 loss to the homeschool Middle Tennessee Heat in last Saturday's Blue Devil Jamboree at Lebanon's Clifton Tribble Field/Danny Watkins Stadium.
Sophomore quarterback Jon Whitener completed 11 of 18 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Senior Brandon Fox hit 5 of 6 throws for 98 yards and a score. Weston Rountree, a sophomore homeschooler who plays for MCA, contributed on both sides of the ball with 16 tackles on defense and two touchdowns, a two-point conversion and 103 yards on four catches on offense.
"For the most part, Saturday was a good day," said McClain coach Seth Bass, who lost just two players to graduation in the three-year history of the program. "We learned a lot about our team and stayed pretty healthy. We showed we have some speed and can be resilient when we got behind."
But Bass has had to deal with injuries going into Saturday's 7 p.m. kickoff at Franklin's Jim Warren Park.
"With the nature of the sport, injures are something we have to constantly deal with," Bass said. "We're still in the infancy of this program and we just don't have a lot of depth, especially up front."
McClain will play a couple of road games before the Bulldogs open their home schedule Sept. 1 at Stroud Gwynn Field, the former Castle Heights Military Academy field located behind Wilson Bank & Trust's main office on West Main Street. Because of scheduling issues, MCA will play only three of its 10 games at home this year.
"We're used to things being an uphill battle, and scheduling 10 football games is no different," Bass said. "We have an incredible amount of support from our athletes' families, our school and the community, so we're just happy to be able to play."
MCA sports information contributed to this story.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952, ext. 17; or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org