Ready or not, Week 1 is here.
After a winter of weight lifting, spring practice, more lifting to begin the summer, a week of 7-on-7 passing games following dead period, a week of practice in shorts and three weeks in full pads, game week is here.
“We’ll be ready by Friday,” Mt. Juliet Christian coach Dan Davis said of his Saints, probably echoing many of his colleagues. “I don’t think anybody’s ready ready, but that’s us coaches.
“But I think we’re looking forward to opening day.”
Lebanon at Trousdale County
A couple of generations have passed since the Blue Devils last traveled to the Creekbank, a 24-0 Trousdale County win Oct. 23, 1970.
Since then, the Yellow Jackets have become a small-school power with nine state championships as classification took hold in Tennessee. At the same time, Lebanon has gone through ups and downs in its parallel universe in whatever the TSSAA’s largest classification has been.
“If you follow high school football, Trousdale County, since the ‘70s, has been synonymous with football success,” said second-year Lebanon coach Chuck Gentry, who prepped, and later coached at, Smith County, which has had an off-and-on history with the Yellow Jackets through the years. “It’s a different atmosphere, especially when you go to Trousdale County to play.
“It’s been voted one of the best atmospheres to play… It’ll be a fun experience with all the tradition. We’re looking forward to it.”
Trousdale enters Year 2 under coach Brad Waggoner, having gone 8-4 in 2017 with a Region 4-2A championship and an appearance in the second round of the playoffs.
“They’re returning 18 out of 21 starters, plus they added two transfers to the list,” Gentry said of the Yellow Jackets, whose newcomers are from White County and Florida. “It’s a typical Trousdale team. They’re good. They have strong young ‘uns up front; tough, hard-nosed playmakers in the backfield and good speed on the outside. They’ll be expected to contend for the 2A state championship.”
Trousdale has historically run the wing-T on offense. But the Yellow Jackets have looked different this summer.
“They went away from that from what we’ve seen in scrimmages and gone with some spread principles,” said Gentry, adding the Jackets use a mixture of 50 and 40 defensive fronts. “They’ll use different fronts, different coverages. We’ll have to be disciplined.”
It’s never good to open the season with an active injury list. Lebanon’s seems to be pretty clean
“Relatively healthy considering everything we’ve been through with the three scrimmages and the jamboree,” Gentry said Monday. “We’re pretty healthy.
“We should be good to go.”
Wilson Central at Beech
The Buccaneers have become a state powers in recent years in whatever classification they’ve been in. They’re coming off a 14-1 season with a loss to Knoxville Catholic in the BlueCross Bowl. In fact, Central’s 21-13 Week 1 loss last year was one of Beech’s closest games of the year.
“They’re similar to their usual selves,” Wildcat coach Brad Dedman said. “They have a little size on the offensive line. The defensive line moves pretty well. They’re a typical Beech team, physical-wise. We have our work cut out for us.”
Beech has historically run the ball out of a variety of fronts, including the smokestack-I, on offense and a 50 defense the last couple of seasons.
“They’re running more shotgun stuff than in the past,” Dedman said.
Central is coming off a 3-7 season. Dedman said it’s time for the new year to begin.
“We’re ready to start the season,” Dedman said. “We’re looking forward to playing someone other than playing a scrimmage.
“Our guys have been working hard. I’m happy with where we’re at and I hope it shows on Friday.”
Central does have a couple of players listed as out, including offensive tackle Cameron Staten (knee) and running back Stratton Farmer (head).
Watertown at Gordonsville
During the decade under former Lebanon coach Ron (Moose) Marshall, there were few secrets about Gordonsville.
With Marshall now serving on the Oakland staff (where former Lebanon baseball coach Eric Vetetoe has also re-surfaced), longtime assistant Scott Clemons has been promoted to the head coach’s seat. But any changes have been slight.
“Scott is doing some of the stuff they’ve done in the past,” Watertown coach Gavin Webster said of his alma mater. “It’s not anything we’re not familiar with. It looks a lot like what we run offensively. It’s got some spread, some 20 personnel, two-back stuff. They’ve run it in the past. They’re going to run what Gordonsville football likes to run.”
Marshall, a defensive specialist, was synonymous with the 50 defense. The Tigers have added a little to that.
“We’re going to see anything from the 50 to an even front,” Webster said. “They’ve expanded he defense a little.”
Gordonsville bounced back from a season-opening 20-0 loss to Watertown last year to win its region and advance to the second round of the Class 1A playoffs with a 7-5 record.
“They got a little bit of size, probably not as big as they have been in the past,” Webster said. “But they’ve got some big boys, got some speed, got some athletes who can go.”
Watertown-Gordonsville is a small high school version of Tennessee-Alabama, only no longer with conference connotations as both are in different classes and not in the same region/district.
“You can throw everything out what’s been done in the past,” Webster said of the season opener at Turney Ford Field. “It’s going to be a good ballgame on Friday night, no matter who the better team is.
“Clean slate. You don’t know. I think it’s going to be two good football teams on the field Friday night. There’ll be a big crowd there and it’ll be a good atmosphere.
Friendship Christian at Liberty Tech
The Commanders swapped independent Lancaster Christian for Liberty Tech, a Jackson school which opened in 2003 and has enjoyed success in football as well as other sports.
The Crusaders went 1-8 last year. But Commander coach John McNeal is ignoring that, noting they went to the Class 3A state final in 2016 where they lost to the Alcoa dynasty.
“They’re very athletic,” McNeal said of the Crusaders, who run multiple offensive sets. “They got good size and they got good skill people.
“They’re more run than throw. They’ll throw it a little, but they’re more run.”
Liberty runs a 4-4 defense.
“They rely on their speed on defense,” McNeal said. “They’re very athletic there. they try to play athletic. They can get away with mistakes and make up for it just because they’re so athletic.”
McNeal said the Commanders will have to play physical to counter Liberty’s speed.
“We’ve got to game plan the way it suits us,” McNeal said. “We feel the run game is the thing we’re going to have to do to establish,” he said.
Friendship has held several players out of recent scrimmages and the jamboree, but most should be back for the opener. Linebacker Ernie Gallatin, running back Jaheim Robinson (ankle) and two-way lineman Matthew Skeen (illness) returned to practice Monday. Linebacker/tight end Cade Holcombe was questionable Monday with a foot injury, though X-Rays were negative, McNeal said.
Glencliff at Mt. Juliet
The Golden Bears enter Week 1 with a rash of injuries, the most serious of which is to senior backup quarterback Jorie Green, who suffered what coach Trey Perry described as a “freak injury” to his spleen during Tuesday’s practice.
Green, who starts on three special teams, is being hospitalized at Summit Medical Center.
“It’s extremely sad for a guy who’s worked his butt off for four years,” Perry said while on his way to visit Green following Wednesday’s practice. “But if anyone’s equipped to handle it, it’s Jorie because he has a great network around him, (surrounded) by his family.”
Perry said video showed only one player was close enough to make contact with Green on the play and there appeared to be no contact.
“That’s what makes this so odd,” said Perry, adding the first player to visit Green in the hospital was former teammate Jalan Sowell, whose own playing career ended a year ago due to a pulminary embolism. “He’s a tough kid. He’s taken a lot of hard hits and come back from those.”
The injury list isn’t limited to Green. Starting defensive end/right tackle Ronnie Kramer is expected to be held out after dropping a loaded bar on his chest during a bench press. Other players, many in the same positions, will also miss the opener.
“We’ll be limited Friday night,” Perry said.
As for Glencliff, the Colts went 1-9 in 2017, starting with a 55-0 loss to Mt. Juliet.
“I see an improved team from last year,” Perry said of the Colts. “Getting to know Coach (Tate) Thigpen and his staff, I think they are headed in the right direction.
“As far as the eye test goes, the first people Glencliff puts out there, the starters, look good. They utilize a very dangerous, dual-threat quarterback that were going to see in the opener last year, but he was injured. He is explosive. They run the entire offense through him.
“One of their biggest attributes are their speed and quickness. When you have that, you want to utilize that by getting them the ball outside in space.”
Glencliff uses a 3-3 stack on defense, which many teams, including Mt. Juliet, have utilized.
“A lot of teams run it as a sub-package, not as their main package,” Perry said, noting the Tennessee Vols will see it from West Virginia in their opener. “Those that run it as their main package create problems with their blitz package.”
Franklin Grace Christian at Mt. Juliet Christian
The Lions went 6-5 in 2017, reaching the second round of the Class 1A playoffs under former Titans quarterback Rusty Smith.
They’re still a newer program, but they’re making some strides,” Davis said. “They have a well-coached group of young guys, some really good people.”
Grace runs a spread offense and a 3-3 stack defense.
“They’re a little young,” Davis said. “They have a lot of guys who try to do as they’re taught to do. They try to be fundamentally sound.
“They’re playing both ways. I think they’s sitting around 30 players (on the roster). There’s not a lot of depth.”
Following a jamboree and a handful of scrimmages, the Saints appear to be whole for the opener.
“We got through camp pretty healthy,” Davis said. “We’re excited about that.”
Week 1 games
LEBANON at Trousdale County
WILSON CENTRAL at Beech
WATERTOWN at Gordonsville
FRIENDSHIP CHRISTIAN at Liberty Tech, 7:30 p.m.
Glencliff at MT. JULIET
Franklin Grace Christian at MT. JULIET CHRISTIAN
All kickoffs at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.