Ooltewah and Cleveland are the early-season favorites to win
the District 5-AAA football race if predictions at Wednesday’s media day are
The Owls and Blue Raiders finished in a three-way tie with
East Hamilton last year as all finished with identical 5-1 district
records. But that was then and this is
now, so what happened last year has very little bearing to what may happen when
the season starts on August 22.
Cleveland and Ooltewah both received six first-place votes
in the media poll, but Cleveland got the top spot with 89 points. Ooltewah was next with 88 while East Hamilton
was third with 74.
McMinn County, Bradley, Walker Valley and Soddy Daisy
Ooltewah got five of the seven first-place votes in the
coaches poll, so the Owls are number one with 46 points and Cleveland second
with 37. East Hamilton is again third.
The rest of the poll includes Bradley, McMinn County, Walker
Valley and Soddy Daisy.
All seven coaches got a chance to preview their team and
what they expect as the new season approaches.
It was a unanimous statement that developing depth and limiting injuries
will be the key for them all.
“It is what it is, but all of that is based on what we did
last year,” Cleveland coach Ron Crawford said afterward.
“We still have to prove ourselves, but we’ll do our best to
live up to those expectations. They
haven’t passed out the championship trophy yet,” he added.
“It will be a very close race, just like last year, but
everything has to do with injuries,” Ooltewah coach Mac Bryan responded to his
team being picked at the top.
“There’s no question we want to win and I feel like we have
the talent to be a pretty good football team, but if we don’t play well, we’ll
get beat. We just have to limit our
mistakes and be ready for a battle every Friday night,” he added.
Here in alphabetical order are those seven teams and what
their coaches had to say. Those two
polls will be listed at the end.
BRADLEY CENTRAL: The Bears are looking to improve on last year’s 5-6
record. Bradley ended the year with five
losses in its final six games, including a 42-21 defeat against Maryville in
the first round of the playoffs.
Coach Damon Floyd has four returning starters on both sides
of the ball and the Bears will be breaking in a new quarterback in sophomore
Cole Copeland, but the strength will be the offensive line.
Daniel Clark may be the best player on the team and will be
counted on as a returning starter at wide receiver and strong safety. Clark had 38 catches for more than 500 yards
a year ago and he had 45 tackles on defense, including five for lost yardage.
“Daniel will be our big-play guy this year and we have
another Copeland at quarterback,” Floyd said as the leadoff speaker.
“Cole brings a lot of positives to the position and he has
plenty of ability to play quarterback.
Our offensive line is our strength.
We have some good players at our skill positions, but most are pretty
inexperienced. We’ve got to get better
fast as we play in a tough district and we also have a tough non-district
schedule. We have to stay healthy,”
The Bears open at home against Polk County on Aug. 22 while
other non-district games include Riverdale, Hixson and Signal Mountain in the
next three weeks.
CLEVELAND: The Blue
Raiders had an outstanding season in 2013 as they finished at 10-4
overall. However, several key players
have moved on, so the Cleveland team has a new set of challenges.
Cleveland has six returning starters on offense and three on
defense, but the biggest challenge for coach Crawford will be finding the
effort they displayed a year ago.
“We’ve played a lot of close games in my two years at
Cleveland and we’ve been fortunate to win most of them, but things could go
either way this year. We’re down on
numbers and we lost some outstanding players from last year,” Crawford nodded.
Replacing quarterback Austin Herink will be tough, but
senior Austin Massey has jumped from linebacker to the QB and should do
okay. He’s 6-2 and 235, so he’s certainly big enough to
handle the job and he has a strong arm.
“We graduated two guys who had more than 1,000 receiving
yards, but our passing game should be solid.
Our running backs and our offensive line will be our strength, but survival will be the key for us. To be good, we need to be more consistent and
we haven’t been so far,” the third-year head coach said matter of factly.
T.J. Parker picked up more than 1,200 yards on the ground a
year ago while Raekwon Bunion added almost 800 yards and was outstanding at
defensive corner. They could make life
tough for opposing defenses.
Four offensive linemen return, including John Gaither at center and Koran Kennedy at
tackle. Kennedy is also outstanding at
linebacker and is a four-year starter. He could be a huge key to Cleveland’s success
on both sides of the ball.
The Blue Raiders open their season on Thursday, Aug. 21 with
McCallie at Finley Stadium. Other
non-district foes include Wilson Central, Cookeville and Knoxville West.
EAST HAMILTON: The Hurricanes lost some talented players to
graduation and many don’t figure these guys to be a contender for district
honors, but if you know coach Ted Gatewood, you know that anything is possible
with this team.
The Hurricanes advanced to the third round of the playoffs
last year, but a painful loss to Cleveland ended their season at 10-3. But this is a new season and Gatewood’s
hopes are as high as normal for a team that has really developed into a
powerhouse in a relatively-short time of existence.
East Hamilton has nine returning starters, including four on
offense. Sophomore Nick Woods has
emerged as the starting quarterback and he should be well protected as center
Demetrius Morgan is a four-year starter.
At 6-3 and 380, he’s also one of the biggest and strongest players in
“We try to add a few new wrinkles every year, but we’re just
trying to find a way for us to get better.
There are no off weeks in this district.
We’re young in places, but these guys have been working hard and have
been active in the off-season,” Gatewood said with confidence.
“Nick Woods is just a sophomore, but he has the ability to
make all the throws and he has good feet.
He’s also patient, which is a big asset at that position.
“We feel good about our receivers as we have good depth
there, but we also have good experience on defense. That will be the key for us,” Gatewood
The Hurricanes open at home against Signal Mountain on Aug.
22. Other non-district games will
include Dobyns-Bennett, Riverdale and Rhea County.
McMINN COUNTY: The Cherokees missed the playoffs last season, but coach Bo Cagle is hoping his team can return to the postseason in 2014.
McMinn was 4-6 a year ago, but hopes are high that a solid
group of a dozen seniors can provide the leadership so they have a chance in
“The key for us will be how quickly our young guys grow up,
but this is probably the best group of kids I’ve ever been associated with,”
Cagle said in a serious tone.
“We have six returning starters on offense, including four on
the line, while we have three on defense.
We lost all four of our receivers.
We have a lot of good ones there, but they’re all sophomores. We don’t have a lot of experience on defense.
“The Lord willing, we’ll be able to kick an extra point this
year as a soccer player named Liam O’Malley has decided to kick for us. We still have no clue who our punter will be,
but at least we’ll be able to kick an extra point,” Cagle laughed.
“We just want to get better each week and to give ourselves
a chance to win,” the veteran coach concluded.
Senior Corbin Powers return as the starting quarterback and
is looking to go out with a bang after passing for more than 1,000 yards
last year and rushing for an additional 800.
Junior D.J. Kimpson , who didn’t start until midway through last year,
added more than 600 yards on the ground and should have a big year as well.
The Cherokees open with McMinn Central on Aug. 22 with other
non-district foes including McCallie, Alcoa and Oak Ridge.
OOLTEWAH: The Owls will be looking for a new quarterback,
but there’s plenty of experience returning on defense, so the team in Red
should be just fine.
Ooltewah has five returning starters on offense, but most
replace three reliable linemen. However,
with nine returning starters on defense, things are looking good from that
“Most of our experience is on defense where we have all
three linebackers and our entire secondary back,” said coach Bryan.
“We lost our quarterback, but Kelvin Leon is a senior and London
Elrod is a junior. They should both be
okay, but neither have ever started a game under the lights.
“The key for us is staying healthy and we have to keep
getting better. We think we have the
opportunity to have a good team, but we have to bring our ‘A’ game every Friday
night,” Bryan concluded.
The Owls host Brainerd for their season opener on Aug. 22
while other non-district games include Siegel, Tyner and Dobyns-Bennett. Ooltewah was 9-3 a year ago, losing to East
Hamilton in the second round of the playoffs.
Second-year coach Justin Barnes must feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of
District 5-AAA. All he wants is a little
respect, but he knows that his team is the one who dictates that.
The Trojans started off on the right foot last year as they
beat Hixson on the road for Barnes’ first win.
However, things went downhill in a hurry as they lost eight of their
next nine games.
Barnes is hoping that things will be better this fall.
“Last year didn’t go so well, especially on the defensive
side of the ball. We’re trying to be
better tacklers this year as we’re looking for a lot of improvement. We also want to improve our running game as
we’ve got to make those short-yardage, third-down conversions,” the former Red
Bank and UTC quarterback expressed.
Senior Hunter Maynor returns as the starting quarterback
after passing for more than 1,700 yards last year. He has a host of talented receivers in
seniors Levi Thornton, Blake Smith and Logan Sutherland while junior Tre Carter
may just be the best of the group.
“Our passing game will be our strength on offense while we
still have questions at running back.
But we do have big expectations and we feel like we can be successful.
“One thing about these guys is they don’t quit, but we just
need to limit our mistakes. We have to
learn how to take that next step and not be satisfied with being just good
enough,” Barnes concluded.
The Trojans open at home on Aug. 22 against Hixson while
other non-district games include Red Bank, Tyner and Rhea County.
WALKER VALLEY: Coach Glen Ryan is like Soddy Daisy’s Barnes
when it comes to respect as his Mustangs are looking to improve on last year’s
4-6 record, including 1-5 in 5-AAA.
“We want to be part of the top five instead of the bottom
two, but we feel good about where we are right now. We still have a long way to go with a lot of
work to be done, but we’re stronger and faster than we’ve ever been. The only problem is that all these other
teams are too,” Ryan laughed.
“We’ll spread the ball around on offense as we have good
depth at running back and receiver, but they’re still young. We’re thin on the offensive line, but we have
a good group battling for starting positions, so we hope to be okay there.
“We are really inconsistent right now and we have to be
consistent to be good. We’ve changed to
the spread offense, so we’re looking for bigger and better things this fall,”
Josh Jones is a junior who’ll be the starting quarterback
after starting the final game last fall.
“He started that last game, but he’s had a good off-season. He’s gotten stronger and he has a lot more
confidence,” the coach concluded.
The Mustangs will host District 6-AA favorite East Ridge on
Aug. 22 before going to Sequoyah the following week. Other non-district foes include Rhea County
and Polk County.
COACHES POLL (First place votes in parenthesis)
East Hamilton (2) 74
Bradley Central 47
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)