Hixson Picked As Team To Beat In District 6-AA Football

Tyner, Central, Red Bank, East Ridge Could Be In Roll Of Spoiler

Thursday, July 11, 2013 - by John Hunt

Sports writers and high school football coaches don't always see eye-to-eye on everything, but they all had the same idea at the District 6-AA media day at Hixson Thursday afternoon.

Based on the two polls taken at the end of the day, the Hixson Wildcats have been picked as the team to beat and the big target will be on their backs when the 2013 season begins next month.

It's always fun to meet with these folks as they talk trash about inexperienced their teams will be and how they don't know what they'll do on Friday night when the big challenge comes face-to-face with them.

But one thing is for sure.  They're all working hard at this point and optimism is at an all-time high.  If everything falls into place, who knows what the end result will be?

Tyner's Wayne Turner is the senior member of this coaching group as he begins his 24th season as the leader of the Rams.  Dr. Brian Gwyn is on the other end of the scale as the first-year coach of the Brainerd Panthers.

Each coach had a chance to address the gathering where they introduced some of their best players.  They talked about strengths and weaknesses and what they hope will take place this fall.

The teams presented in alphabetical order, which meant that Gwyn was the first person to face the music.

"I'm just trying to get familiar with the players on my team as we hope to bring a new brand of football to Brainerd," he began.

"We have between 45 and 50 kids out and that's a good sign.  We have a lot of young ones, but we hope to put a good product on the field.  This is a very promising situation for these young men and I'm just thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them," the soft-spoken coach added.

Central's John Allen was next.

"If we could have just counted the first half last year, we'd have been 8-2, but we ended up 2-8.  We're focusing on finishing this year," Allen said, noting that he has more than 90 on his summer roster.

"The program has come a long way since I got there three years ago and I think we may have turned the corner.  I'm excited about the direction our program is headed.

There are several new assistant coaches on the Central staff, the most notable being former Hixson and UTC standout Stan Eller, who will serve as the offensive coordinator.

"We'll run the spread offense as we try to speed the game up a little bit.  I'm looking forward to coach Eller's expertise, but we're more excited than ever.  We've gotten better, but the whole district has gotten better as well," he added.

Tracy Malone had just been hired as the East Ridge coach this time last year and he missed last year's gathering for one reason or another.  He certainly feels better now than he did when he started.

"What a difference a year makes," Malone began.

"I've always felt like members of the football team are often leaders of the student body, so we have T-shirts with the letters BTM on the back.  They stand for Bigger Than Me.  We know that our behavior off the field affects more than just us as individuals as it reflects on our team as well.

"We're trying to help them be mature young men as well as good football players.  They've been working hard, but we're really in a competitive district.  Every team in this league has the ability to win.  We feel like we have a chance to do well if we can just stay healthy.

"Our kicking game should be pretty good and we'll run the shotgun on offense most of the time.  Offense is my focus.  We still have a long way to go, but we're headed in the right direction," Malone concluded.

Jason Fitzgerald is entering his second year as the Hixson coach.  The Wildcats caught a few teams by surprise last year as they advanced to the playoffs.  Expectations are again set pretty high.

"I guess the biggest thing about our team this year is the experience we gained from this time a year ago.  I hope that we learned how to win last year, but can we carry that over to this year?

"We snuck up on some people last year.  We aren't going to change a whole lot.  We have good depth at running back, but we have a versatile returning quarterback in Gill Brown and we'll throw it some too.

"I'm a believer that you have to run the football to win on Friday nights, but we have to be more physical this year.  We really got manhandled a couple of times last year and we realized in the playoff loss to Notre Dame how much stronger we needed to be.

"We all want to win.  That's why we're in this business, but any of these teams can win on any given night," Fitzgerald concluded.

The Red Bank Lions are hoping to improve on what turned out to be a disappointing season a year ago.  Coach E.K. Slaughter is starting his second season as the leader of the Red Bank squad.

"It's been a great experience getting to know these guys and all have the ability to be pretty good football players," Slaughter began his address.

"We should have a little different look.  We're down numbers wise, so we could go either way.  We have a chance to be pretty good as long as we stay healthy, but we just don't have much depth.  Our strength is up front, so we're leaning on that, but we're just trying to simplify things," Slaughter added.

Michael Robinson, who was the leading receiver for the Lions a year ago, has a new position as he'll be the Red Bank quarterback.

Tyner's Turner has never been one to sugar coat anything concerning any team he's ever coached.  He's like the others in that he knows everything depends on the breaks his team gets and how they respond when faced with adverse situations.

"This was one of the most enjoyable spring practices I can ever remember, but it was because of the attitude and energy these guys brought to the team.  There are a lot of days when they come into my office and I help pump them up, but they've done a great job of recharging my batteries," Turner broke into a smile.

"We always set our expectations high at Tyner as we expect to win every Friday night.  The skill people have rallied around our linemen and that's what we did when we won a state title back in the 90s.  We'll just have to wait and see how it all unfolds.

"So far, I like what I've seen and we have pretty good size and decent quickness.  We have about 45 out, which isn't bad for us," the veteran coach said.

While Hixson was picked first in both the coaches and media polls, Central was picked second among the coaches while Tyner was the pick among the media.

Coach Michael Calloway and members of his Howard Hustlin' Tigers were not present for Thursday's gathering.

COACHES POLL                                MEDIA POLL

1. Hixson                                              1. Hixson

2. Central                                              2. Tyner

3. Tyner                                                3. Red Bank

4. Red Bank                                         4. Central and East Ridge

5. East Ridge                                       6. Brainerd

6. Brainerd                                           7. Howard

7. Howard

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@comcast.net)

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