The Notre Dame football team had a banner season under first-year head coach Charles Fant in 2012, advancing to the second round of the TSSAA playoffs and finishing with a 9-3 record.
The Fighting Irish have their eyes on another productive season and they plan to keep doing it with a lineup filled with underclassmen.
Three of those include juniors Kareem Orr and Joe Dossett and sophomore Alex Darras.
Orr has quickly become one of the most talented members of the team.
He's one of the best running backs with incredible speed and deceptive quickness while he's also developing into quite a defensive back.
Dossett is a veteran lineman on both sides of the ball who continues to generate interest from college scouts.
And Darras is the trigger man at quarterback who may be the most talented athlete on the team.
"We're going to have another good team as we have a chance to do well," said the 6-1, 260-pound Dossett during a break from class earlier this week.
"I want to be an outstanding lineman and I put a lot of effort into what I do. I attended a lot of camps this summer," he continued, noting that he spent time at Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Georgia Southern, UTC and Tennessee.
"Football has taught me a lot about adversity, but it's a tough sport. It helps me be a better young man," the three-year starter said matter of factly.
Orr is a 5-11, 185-pound athlete who has never met a stranger. He always seems to be smiling and he knows how to make those around him feel better.
"We have a good team coming back and we work hard every day at practice. I like running the football, but I also like delivering the hit. My footwork has gotten better," he said, referring to camps at Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
"I just want the ball in my hands so I can help us be successful," he concluded.
Darras is a strapping 6-3, 190-pound sophomore who is also an outstanding pitcher-infielder on the Notre Dame baseball team. Darras was a national Punt, Pass & Kick champion as an eighth grader, so he has more talent than most.
As you might expect, he's also the kicker for the Fighting Irish.
"We just want to improve on what we did last year. My size helps me as that's an advantage for a quarterback, but I just try to get better every day. A lot of folks look to me to be the leader. I was a lineman in middle school, but I've gotten to know a lot about the game. Right now, our offense is struggling, but we'll get things turned around," he said with a tone of confidence.
Coach Fant is just thankful that he has three such athletes to build on.
"Joe is such a vocal leader who is one of our team captains. He has special skills as he's strong and extremely agile for a big man. He's also a smart fellow who gets it after you tell him something one time.
"You can depend on him as he had 45 pancake blocks last year and was the Defensive Player of the Year in District 7-AA. He can play other positions, but he doesn't miss any blocks," Fant praised the big guy.
"It's really unusual to have a player like Alex who has so much talent at such a young age. He never lets himself get rattled and doesn't show much emotion, no matter what's happening on the field. His best sport may be soccer, but he's really a good athlete. We have to be careful how we use him because we can't afford for him to get hurt," Fant nodded.
"He's also an amazing kicker with a really strong leg. The other kids look to him to get the job done, but he's a very humble young man. He's polite and respectful and basically just an All-American type kid. It's such a treat to have him on our team," the coach added.
"Kareem is a playmaker who makes things happen. He has exceptional vision and is really coming on as a defensive player. He's quickly become a dominant player for us who scored 18 touchdowns last year, including eight rushing, eight receiving and two more on returns.
"He's electrifying when the ball is in his hands. We graduated our entire secondary, so we have to have him at safety. We have a lot of weapons on offense, so he may be the most valuable to us on defense. Kareem doesn't block very well, but we also don't ask him to very often," Fant laughed.
"Last year was such an unknown for this football team as the nucleus of the team was freshmen and sophomores. This year 94 percent of our offense is returning and we have some experience. That's why I'm so optimistic. We only have six seniors on the team this year and only three of them have much experience, so we have to play everybody," the likable coach concluded.
Notre Dame finished second in 7-AA last year with its only district loss being to Signal Mountain.
The Irish are picked to be contenders again this fall, but they have a challenging schedule to deal with. The season begins on the road tonight at Knoxville Catholic while other big non-district games include East Ridge on Aug. 30, Boyd-Buchanan on Sept. 12, Polk County on Oct. 11 and Coalfield on Oct. 25.
Perhaps the biggest game on the schedule will take place at district foe Signal Mountain on Oct. 4. Other district opponents include Chattanooga Christian, Bledsoe County, Sequatchie County and Grundy County.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)