Their picks last year were ON POINT! Local sports gurus Quake and Cowboy Joe are back and looking to up the ante with bold picks and predictions for this year’s regions.
Quake: Let’s start with the men in blue since they host the annual rivalry this year. McCallie is loaded with talent up and down the roster. Quarterback Robert Riddle has a unique skillset – a mix of athleticism, arm strength, and touch – and will be surrounded by size and speed. Giovanni Hightower (TE/DE) might be our area’s top college prospect, and the speedy Shawn McColley (RB/LB) will be a go-to back in coach Ralph Potter’s offense. With the addition of former Marion Co. head coach Ricky Ross as defensive coordinator, the Blue Tornado could be special this year. Now, the men in red at Baylor will try their dead-level best to stop ‘em. The Red Raiders welcome junior transfers Trusten McArtor (QB) and Emanual Williams (WR). If Baylor can find chemistry early and that massive offensive line can stay healthy, Baylor could do damage in the postseason.
Cowboy Joe: We’ve all heard the saying, “If you can’t hang with the big dogs, get off the porch!” We know that Maryville is the big dog of 6A. I expect a salty Maryville team in 2016. They ran through the regular season and playoffs in 2015, but lost to Ravenwood in the state championship game. Maryville has played for the championship every year since 2004. They’re that good. There are only two teams that could possibly compete with the Rebels: Science Hill and Bradley Central. Science Hill is coming off a 9-3 year with plenty of talent returning. Can the hometown boys at Bradley Central step up and challenge for the region? Coach Damon Floyd certainly hopes so. It will depend on their stud quarterback Cole Copeland. It’s gonna take his best year to date to unseat Maryville as region champs. Winner: Maryville; Contender: Bradley Central
Cowboy Joe: South Pittsburg wins. South Pittsburg wins a lot. They went 9-4 overall and 5-0 in the region in 2015. So what team in this region will challenge the Pirates? The Whitwell Tigers have plateaued at the .500 mark in recent years. Can they upset the Pirates? Grace Baptist finished the 2015 regular season at .500 before falling in the first round of the playoffs. I don’t see Sale Creek or Lookout Valley doing much to take down the 2015 region champs. What about Copper Basin? Last year was a bad year for the Cougars. However, 2010, 2012, and 2014 were really good years for them! What’s in store for 2016? A Copper Basin region championship? A new 2Pac album? I lose weight? Nah. It’s South Pitt. once again. Winner: South Pitt.; Contender: Whitwell
Quake: The more things change, the more they stay the same in this region. Two head coaching changes: former college coach Carter Cardwell takes over for Grant Reynolds at Boyd-Buchanan and Joey Mathis takes the helm at Marion Co. Boyd will have a nice quarterback competition with Kohl Henke and Ross Wortman. At Marion, the Warriors have linebacker Alex Kirkendoll as a defensive stalwart. He and his fellow returners come back with a whole lot of swagger, as they come off back-to-back state title game appearances. Tyner legend Wayne Turner continues his hardnosed ground-and-pound style with some aggressive hitters on defense and a multitude of running backs to carry the load. Coach Brian Gwyn returns three starters on both sides of the ball at Brainerd. Silverdale Academy returns a veteran team with a 12-man senior class.
Cowboy Joe: I think this will be one of the more competitive regions in our area. New coaches headline the story. Coach Mark Mariakis replaces Rob Spence at Chattanooga Christian, Tim James returns to East Ridge, and John Starr takes over as head coach at Howard. The big question is: Can East Ridge repeat their 2015 performance? Can running back Traneil Moore bounce back from his knee injury? If Moore is healthy, expect another fantastic year from East Ridge. Notre Dame will be neck and neck with the Pioneers. With athletes like Patrick Johnson (TE/LB) and Cameron Wynn (WR/CB), Notre Dame hopes to claim the region. Can CCS surprise everyone? Coach Mariakis has a nice resume and nice athletes. Should be fun to watch. Signal Mountain, Howard, and Red Bank all struggled last year. Improvement is a must in order to compete! Winner: East Ridge; Contender: Notre Dame
Cowboy Joe: Stone Memorial came out of nowhere to win this region last year! They took an undefeated regular season into the playoffs, but were sent home by East Hamilton in the second round. Expect more of the same in 2016. East Hamilton is coming off a nice playoff run and will have plenty of upperclassmen to lead the way. The Hixson Wildcats struggled last year, going 2-8 after a 9-3 record in 2014. Can Myles Ratliff (RB/LB) help the Cats regain their swagger? Central is an interesting team. I know what you’re saying: What’s interesting about a 0-10 team? New Central head coach Cortney Braswell is the real deal. His staff is top notch. Look for new offensive coordinator Chuck Hudson to make a splash. Central will be in the win column this year. The question is how many times. Winner: East Hamilton; Contender: Stone Memorial
Cowboy Joe: Upperman was at the top of the class in 4-AAA when it was all said and done last season. Will it be the same in 2016? Sequatchie Co.’s head coach Adam Caine came in last year and took them to a 7-4 record in his first year. I’m not sure they will be able to repeat that performance. Sequatchie Co. loses one of their key players in Brandon Rudd (RB) to graduation. It’s possible that Sequatchie Co. can get back to that seven win mark but some of the underclassmen will have to step up for the Indians. Ok, so I was wrong about Grundy Co. last year. I predicted them to compete for the region title. They won only one game. I can’t be right all of the time! DeKalb Co. and Smith Co. will be decent. York, Cannon, and Grundy will struggle to find the win column in 2016. Winner: Upperman; Contender: Sequatchie
Quake: This region was fantastic last year. Ooltewah beat Rhea Co. in the regular season, but the Golden Eagles returned the favor in the playoffs when it counted. Rhea Co. returns a core group of experienced players in Cody Bice (RB/DB), Mason Stephenson (RB/LB), and Jared Edwards (TE/DL) and will be tough. Ooltewah loses a ton of talent, but coach Mac Bryan has always got players in the wings. The dark horse here is Walker Valley. I think the Mustangs will be exceptional in coach Glen Ryan’s fifth year. Junior quarterback Kolten Gibson will lead an offense that lost only two starters from last year. Cleveland will rely heavily on playmaker Skyler Davis (WR) to get the ball in the end zone. Soddy Daisy returns quarterback Justin Cooke who threw for 27 touchdowns and over 2,200 yards last year. The Trojans’ Ty Boeck (TE/LB) may never come off the field except for halftime; he played 98% of all snaps in 2015.
Quake: Gordon Lee finished 4-6, good for fifth in region 7-AA in 2015. With realignment in play in the state of Georgia this season, the Trojans have dropped down a classification and will play in region 6-A this year. Gordon Lee is led by head coach Greg Ellis, who is heading into the second season of his second stint with the Trojans. The 2016 season will see the Trojans return key starters, including Evan Fraley (DT) and Jared Spradlin (OL) who bring some size and experience up front. The key for coach Ellis will be to find a replacement for quarterback Caleb O’Neal, who graduated in 2015, and find senior leadership if the Trojans are looking for a great season.
Quake: LFO and first-year head coach Bo Campbell struggled last year, but the warriors return a number of young players who gained experience. Another year in the weight room under coach Campbell’s staff and there is only one way to go in 2016…UP! Ringgold loses a lot of experience at quarterback, but they return good speed on the roster to build around. They also bring back lineman Braxton Stewart and super-sophomore Andre Tarver (WR/DB). Coahulla Creek fans have been frustrated that they haven’t had more success, but this is the year. The Colts’ facilities are second to none, and with a little confidence this team can go places. This region has been dominated by Calhoun in recent times and probably will again this year.
Quake: Northwest Whitfield turned a corner last year. Everyone on the Bruin offense returns but three linemen, so they should be locked and ready to roll. Ridgeland coach Wesley Tankersly found some chemistry towards the end of last year. The Panthers have the talented Skye Wilson (RB/DL) who is two years removed from an ACL tear and has likely regained the confidence in cutting and contact that he showed early in his career. Heritage returns three-year starting quarterback Corbee Wilson for his senior year. The Generals really played great in some tough losses last year and that should build character. E.K. Slaughter has improved this program in his two seasons as head coach. Southeast Whitfield and Lafayette are in the same boat – both lost senior leadership and will look for young men to step up into leadership roles. The winner of the Northwest-Ridgeland game will have a leg up for the region championship.
Quake: Traditional power Dalton is the only school in our readership area in this region. Catamounts coach Matt Land will be happy to see the return of wide receiver Zeke Cobb, who had an early season-ending injury last year. Quarterback JP Tighe returns for his junior year. With a traditionally strong offensive line, Dalton’s offense can put some points on the board. Defensively, the Cats will have five returning starters, including Kyric McGowan (WR/DB) who has incredible potential to play on Saturdays next season. Dalton has a great mix of size and speed and should make a deep run in the playoffs in 2016.
Cowboy Joe: Realignment reigns, so it’s a new look for 7-AA this year. Darlington and Gordon Lee are out. Pepperell, Rockmart, and Gordon Central are in. Who is gonna be the top dog of this new group? Pepperell brings a seven win record from last year. Rockmart and Gordon Central bring three combined wins. Pepperell, Model, and Chattooga seem to be the top three of the group. Dade Co. is not too far behind. Coosa, Rockmart, and Gordon Central need to find the win column more this year if they are going to compete for the region. At least the remaining members of 7-AA don’t have to worry about Darlington. Model will keep up their winning ways. Dade Co. had some tough losses last year. If the younger guys step up their play, it could be a six or seven win season for Dade Co. Winner: Model; Contender: Dade Co.