Tyner, East Ridge, Hixson Picks In 6-AA Football

Annual Media Gathering Held At Finley Stadium

Thursday, July 10, 2014 - by John Hunt

It's been less than a week since Independence Day passed and more than a month before the first game will be played, but it's never too early to start talking about football in the Chattanooga area.

Such was the case on Thursday at noon when coaches and players from District 6-AA gathered at Finley Stadium's Stadium Club to discuss the upcoming season and to share hopes and dreams for the coming months.

Thursday's gathering was a chance for three of the district's four new coaches to introduce themselves, including Central's Ryan Mallory, Hixson's Dan Duff and Howard's Mark Teague.  Red Bank's Chad Grabowski, who is in the process of moving from Nashville to Chattanooga, was not present for the gathering.

Tyner's Wayne Turner is the veteran coach of this group with more than 20 years at the helm for the Rams, but neither Turner or any of his players were there.

Despite that fact, Tyner was picked to finish first in the Media poll while East Ridge and Hixson finished in a tie for first in the Coaches poll.

These gatherings are always fun because it gives coaches and sports writers a chance to rekindle friendships and to generally catch up on the latest news on both sides. 

It's always interesting to hear what the coaches say, but the message is most often the same from year to year, namely staying healthy and having  chance to be pretty good and liking the attitude of the players and just how hard they've been working in the off-season.

They all have aspirations of going undefeated and winning a state title, but we all know what the likelihood of that will be.

Coaches and players from every team got a chance to present themselves with their outlook for the season and to introduce players who will be counted on in game-deciding situations.

Here in alphabetical order are those schools and what their coaches had to say.

BRAINERD: Second-year head coach Brian Gwyn wasn't present, but assistant coach Tyrus Ward was.

"We got a little momentum toward the end of last season and we've tried to carry that over to this year," Ward said, noting that the Panthers have been averaging about 26 players during the summer workouts.

"We have a great group of seniors and we always want to make the playoffs.  We have six returning starters on defense and that will carry us early while we have seven young men who will play both ways.

"With such small numbers, we have to stay healthy and we want to stay focused and disciplined and consistent.  It's a new year and we're hoping for a good season," Ward concluded.

CENTRAL: Ryan Mallory was on the faculty at Central last year and served as an assistant  wrestling coach, but he jumped at the chance when the head football job came open.

"I'm really excited about this opportunity.  We were close in a lot of games last year, so we need to learn how to finish.  We have plenty of outstanding athletes, but we're putting the emphasis on being good people.

"The kids believe in what we're doing and we have about 60 out so far.  This is a very tough district with a lot of parity, but every football coach has the dream of being the head guy and I have that chance now," Mallory nodded.

EAST RIDGE: Coach Tracy Malone enters his third year as the leader of the Pioneers and he's cautiously optimistic that he has the ingredients of a fine football team.

He has 64  on his early roster, but will probably add a few more when school starts.  One things that he gets excited about is the fact that he has 15 returning starters, including nine on defense and six on offense.

Perhaps the key player among those returnees is JoJo Tillery, who will be entering his third year as the starting quarterback.

"JoJo knows what I'm looking for and I know what he's capable of doing and that's a huge improvement from our first year together," Malone said with a smile.

"We had to replace a very good punter and kicker in Tad Whitaker, but we have a good group of experienced players who have been in the battles before.  We have a bunch who are hungry and our goal is to be better than last year.

"We opened a few eyes a year ago and we're just hoping that trend continues.  I'm personally excited about the coming season, but it seems like every team is gunning for each other.  Any team in this district is capable of beating anyone else on any given Friday night," Malone concluded.

HIXSON: Coach Dan Duff returns to the Wildcat sideline after spending the past 12 years in Georgia.  Duff was the Hixson coach for six seasons in the late 90s and led the team to a region title in his third season.

Hixson advanced to the third round of the playoffs a year ago, but some 20 seniors have since moved on to bigger and better things.

The popular coach has another big challenge in front of him.

"I have a lot of wonderful memories from my time at Hixson and I'm glad to be back," Duff began.

"We've had great participation in summer workouts and we have about 60 on the roster.  We've got to replace some good ones, but our goals are to stop the other team on defense and to score on offense.

"I'm really optimistic about the coming season, although we have some work to do.  We lost everyone from our defensive secondary.  But we'll compete and I expect us to be physical.  We have pretty good size up front.

"Football has changed since I was last at Hixson, but whatever the other team gives us is what we'll take," he added.

HOWARD: Mark Teague is now the head coach for the Hustlin' Tigers after serving as the defensive coordinator at East Ridge a year ago.

"It's been a good experience so far, but I hit the ground running when I got here.  We have a lot of tradition at Howard and I'm looking forward to getting them back on the map," he suggested.

"We have to take pride in our program, but we have a really nice weight room.  We had about 30 out in the spring and that's not counting freshmen, but it all starts with defense.  We have seven or eight young men who will play both ways and we don't have anybody less than 315 on the line.

"Everything starts up front, but our players must be disciplined.  We'll see what happens," Teague nodded.

RED BANK: Assistant coach Matt Bowman represented the Lions in Grabowski's absence.

"Our motto for the year is 'Restore The Roar,'" he began.

"We're hungry to win and we've had a great attitude so far.  We have 50-60 out so far, but we just want to do things the right way.  We've tried to make it fun while at the same time create competition among ourselves.

"We aren't huge, but we won't be undersized on the line.  Our skill guys are coming along while the linemen aren't far behind.  We have some pretty good athletes and our goal is to use them to our advantage," Bowman nodded.

MONDAY, JULY 28 is the first official day of practice while all of these teams will be in action at the annual jamboree, which will be held at Finley Stadiuim on Friday and Saturday, August 15-16.

TYNER TOPPED THE media poll while East Ridge was second and Hixson third.  Red Bank, Central, Brainerd and Howard followed.

EAST RIDGE AND HIXSON tied for the top spot among the Coaches poll.  Tyner was selected third, followed by Howard, Red Bank, Central and Brainerd.

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)

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