2023 Region Picks
Annual Football Issue
The excitement for the 2023 high school football season is here. Georgia is set, and the TSSAA reclassified in Tennessee. Some regions will look different, and some rivalries will adjust accordingly. Here, local sports gurus Quake and Cowboy Joe take a peek at what to expect starting in August.
QUAKE: Baylor did it; the Red Raiders won the state for the first time in 49 years and reshuffled the deck in the highest classification in the state. With the addition of two-time defending state champs Lipscomb Academy, this region becomes the toughest to win in the entire state. Red Raiders boss Erik Kimrey was through the roof before last year, and to beat McCallie and win the state is truly remarkable. The returning talent is ridiculous starting with senior quarterback Whit Muschamp and his top two targets wide receiver Amari Jefferson and tight end Max LeBlanc. The Red Raiders will have to replace four on the offensive line, but defensively Baylor will have returning defensive back Josh Hampton along with twin brothers Domani and Quincy White, both defensive linemen. Also, super junior Cameron Sparks is considered one of the top prospects for the 2025 class in the state. Blue Tornado’s Jérémy St-Hilaire is a big guy at 6’4” who threw for over 2,300 yards, 25 touchdowns, and ran for 400+ yards. Carson Gentle will be called on to contribute both on offense and defense, and Marcellus Barnes Jr. and Carson Lawrence will be St-Hilaire’s top targets. Prediction: The winner of Baylor vs. McCallie will have a huge leg up, but I really think the question will be, can Lipscomb Academy dominate AAA like they did AA. I’m going McCallie to win the region simply because they host Baylor this year and will be playing with a monster-size chip on their shoulder.
COWBOY JOE: See ya, Lipscomb. I know the teams in Region II-AA are happy to see that menace move up to II-AAA. What does that mean for our local teams? It will be one less roadblock to the state championship, but it won’t be easy. Knoxville Webb seems to be one of the best teams in this region. They went undefeated in 2022 until a Lipscomb matchup in the semifinals. Locally, Boyd-Buchanan looks to improve in Gary Rankin’s second year. They’ll have a number of playmakers to rely on including Jaylon Sanderfer. Chattanooga Christian School will gain a new coach in Grant Reynolds. I think he will do great things at CCS. Silverdale, coming off an eight-win season, looks to replace quarterback Brett Rogers, and Notre Dame looks for their first winning season since 2018. Winner: Boyd-Buchanan, Contender: Knox Webb
QUAKE: Maryville is Maryville. Their dominance has been duly noted. Cleveland upset them last year to snap a 144-game region winning streak. Yeah, that’s not a typo. So let’s move to the two teams in our area. The rivalry that is Bradley Central and Cleveland ought to be a barnburner again this year. The Bears have quarterback and Rhea Co. transfer Kaleb Martin along with junior running back J’Alan Terry who ran for more than 1,100 yards last year. Blocking for those guys will be led by Luke Keith. One big storyline for Bradley head coach Damon Floyd will be the Vols’ commit Orlando “Boo” Carter. Carter transferred to Bradley to be paired with Marcus Goree Jr. Add in Tito Williams and junior cornerback Mason Goree, and the Bears should push Maryville to the brink this year. But don’t forget Cleveland – the Blue Raiders hired new coach Chandler Tygard from Murfreesboro Blackman. The Raiders want to run the uptempo, snap it every 10-13 seconds offense that we saw at the University of Tennessee last year. Led by two quarterbacks LJ Adams and Notre Dame transfer Cash Bandy, Cleveland returns 14 starters from a year ago and expects linebacker Camden Lockerby, who had over 100 tackles last year, to anchor the defense. The future for Cleveland looks magnificent with a sophomore class that explodes with talent. The matchup in this rivalry on October 20th will blow up the hype machine. Prediction: The winner of Bradley @ Maryville on September 1st will win the region. I’m going with Bradley.
COWBOY JOE: McMinn County was top dog in this region last year and they have a great shot at repeating in 2023. However, there is a new kid on the block. East Hamilton moves up from 4A and is expected to contend for the region title. They lose an incredible athlete in Juan Bullard, but head coach Aaron Nance will have plenty of athletes to work with. Rhea County looks to rebound from a two-win season and will have to do it without quarterback Kaleb Martin. If Ethan Davis can stay healthy at the running back position, Rhea County will fly high once again. Walker Valley hopes to get their first winning season since 2020, Howard looks for a multiple-win season, and Ooltewah looks for improved play in 2023. Winner: Rhea County, Contender: McMinn County
QUAKE: New to the region are Signal Mountain and Loudon. Brand new Hixson head coach Nick Rivers III has the Wildcat community excited about potential success. The Wildcats had a nasty defense last year holding five opponents to 15 points or less. Both East Ridge and Soddy Daisy look to shake last year’s efforts, only winning two games a piece a year ago. Signal Mountain returns quarterback Cash Keene, who threw for over 1,600 yards last year, and four offensive linemen return along with wide receivers Blake Wolfard and Chris Kennedy. The Eagles will have to replace almost the entire defense if they want a playoff spot. Sequoyah will try to snap a 44-game losing streak, and it won’t be easy. But to be the man, you’ve got to beat the man, as Ric Flair once said. Red Bank is the man. Coach Ted Gatewood’s Lions return Kobe Smith, who had 83 tackles, 11 sacks, nine forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries, two blocked kicks, and four touchdowns. Now that’s stuffing the stat sheet. After playmaker Duane Morris transferred out, the Lions will have someone step up to replace his high volume of output. Prediction: The Red Bank @ Loudon game on October 27th will decide the region title. I like Red Bank.
COWBOY JOE: Tyner and Meigs County move up from 2A to battle for the top spot in 3-AAA. Christian Mainor takes over as the head football coach for Tyner, and Tommy Bunch replaces Jason Fitzgerald at Meigs County. Coach Mainor will have a number of athletes to replace from 2022’s state champion team. Quarterback Josh Jackson will be tough to replace, but the Ram Train will have athletes to choose from. Sweetwater is coming off a 10-win season, so it will be interesting to see if they can continue their winning ways. I’ve
heard some good things about Brainerd and Chattanooga Central. Both teams will have athletes all over the place. Winner: Tyner, Contender: Chattanooga Central
COWBOY JOE: This region is all about Giles County. They won the region last year and made it to the semifinals before meeting eventual state champ Alcoa. You can guess how that went. They will be the favorite once again in 4-AAA. Watertown moves up from 2-A. Grundy County can’t seem to get over the hump. It has been many years since we’ve seen anything close to a winning season. I’m hoping for a big turnaround for this team. Sequatchie County is coming off a six-win campaign in 2022. They were ousted by McMinn Central in the playoffs. Can they improve that record in 2023? We shall see. I do know Coach McIntyre will have his team ready to go every Friday night! Winner: Giles County, Contender: Sequatchie County
QUAKE: Marion County finds itself in a new region for 2023. Unfortunately, that means a lot of travel for the Warriors. Marion County joins Cascade, Cannon County, Fayetteville, and Forrest. Fayetteville will be the team to beat. They have been on a mission since 2020 – winning a state championship and making deep playoff runs. Can Marion County compete? You know the Marion boys will be hungry after missing the playoffs last year. I’m not sure it will be enough. Winner: Fayetteville, Contender: Marion County
COWBOY JOE: Chattanooga Prep joins the party in Region 3-A. Of course, this region includes the likes of South Pittsburg. South Pittsburg’s resume is well known. A season without a state championship is not good enough. Quarterback Kamden Wellington accounted for 38 touchdowns last year and will have transfer AJ Wallace to help boost an already talented offense. Whitwell will return a number of players on both sides of the ball and hope to upend their county rivals’ hopes of a region title. New Sale Creek coach Jason Fitzgerald will bring a winning resume to the Panther sideline. Give him time, and the Panthers will become a team to be reckoned with. Lookout Valley bounced back from a winless season in 2021 to win five games last year. Will they improve on that mark? Will Copper Basin and Chattanooga Prep be competitive in their region games? Plenty of questions that will soon be answered. Winner: South Pittsburg, Contender: Whitwell
COWBOY JOE: Grace Academy’s head coach Bob Ateca can coach. He’s led his team to a state title and an eight-man national championship. Grace is coming off a six-win season in 2022. Franklin Christian Academy will be the toughest test for the Golden Eagles. I expect a competitive Grace Academy team in 2023. Winner: Franklin Christian, Contender: Grace Academy
QUAKE: This region is one of the toughest in the state of Georgia. The recent success of Calhoun and Cartersville have been remarkable. Calhoun won the region in 2022 with a 4-1 region record and an exciting road victory against Cartersville. The top 5 teams in this region averaged 32 points per game in 2022. Closer to home, the Catamounts’ third-year coach Kit Carpenter will look to return to the playoffs as they lost in the second round last year to Creekside. Returning is a ton of experience up front on the offensive line with four returning starters – Michael Nguyen, Riley Souther, Stryker Woods, and Peyton Starling. Tight ends Bannon Phalen and Jeffson Locke will be asked to make plays on offense. Replacing the quarterback is always tough, so the question is whether or not junior Ethan Long will be handed the reins to the offense. Prediction: Dalton, Hiram, and Cass all seem to be improving but every year it’s the winner of Cartersville @ Calhoun (September 29th) that will be region champs.
COWBOY JOE: Cedartown dominated in every aspect during the regular season but came up short in the state championship game. They lose a lot but will have plenty of athletes ready to make their own mark. Heritage is coming off an eight-win season, and coach EK Slaughter will be wanting more in 2023. The Generals will need consistent play at the quarterback position. Northwest Whitfield will have to replace long-time starting quarterback Owen Brooker. If the Bruins can find the right guy, the offense will be fine. Southeast Whitfield hopes to increase their total in the win column in 2023. Can Central-Carrolton continue their success from last year? Will Sonoraville capitalize on the skillset of quarterback Jaxon Pate? This region will be fun to watch. Winner: Cedartown, Contender: Heritage
QUAKE: Adairsville comes in as region champs, rushing for over 4,000 yards as a team in 2022. Gone are a lot of star players from all teams, so a reboot of sorts will happen everywhere. The LaFayette Ramblers seem to have a future star with Khalas Finley, who was doing some great things before his injury last year, so getting him going is a priority. Ramblers also return AJ Thompson, a big guy that makes plays. Ringgold replaces legendary Robert Akins after 17 years as head coach for the Tigers. They give the keys to assistant coach Austin Crisp to keep the continuity going, but the Tigers have only four returning starters on offense and will lean heavily on linemen Bryce Hart and Travis Talley. Coahulla Creek turns to Drew Carter as their new head coach. The Colts lost so many guys last year, so it will be a total rebuild for Coach Carter. The Colts will expect big things from Chase Ward and Nate Tilley on defense. Colts wide receiver Marc Solis and offensive lineman Chevy Joyce are returning starters. As for LFO coach Mac Bryan, the Warriors were 2-8 last year and are still in the middle of their rebuild. Reports are that quarterback Darian Keefe is improving greatly and will have some great Friday nights. Ridgeland was so dominant 10 or so years ago but has fallen on tough times as they went 0-10 last year. Panther tight end Parker Metcalf will be called on to make some plays to get this turned around. Prediction: Other than defending champs Adairsville, this thing is wide open for the other playoff spots. A big night will be September 22nd with Adairsville @ Ringgold and Gordon Lee @ LaFayette. Adairsville will repeat as region champs.
Quake: Darlington’s dominance last year was impressive. Graduating seven all-region first-timers will make it more interesting this year. Trion should be the favorite to win this region. The Bulldogs return the most talent of all these teams. But let’s focus on our closest team in Dade County. The Wolverines, 3-3 in region play last year, return leading rusher Braylon Edwards along with three starters on the offensive line. Head coach Jeff Poston also returns athletes Evan Koger and Eli Kimball to help get the ball to paydirt. Defensively, one of the most physical players in this region returns in Landon Williams along with Jax Guinn to anchor a bunch that wants to be stingy about stopping the ball. Prediction: Dade County will be pretty good this year, but I think Trion returns to glory and wins the region for the first time since 2003.
Quake: Only a three-team region in which Bowden won a state title last year but graduated a ton of talent for this season. Let’s focus on Dalton’s Christian Heritage. The Lions went big with the hiring of new head coach Frank Barden. He led Cartersville to the 1999 class AA state title. On offense, the Lions return quarterback Carter Triplett, running back Jaylon Gay, and wide receivers Charlie Idom and Donte Crowder to give Christian Heritage some offensive explosiveness. The defense will be the question, looking for young guys to step up. The Lions will lean heavily on experienced returners in linebackers Duncan Carpenter and the aforementioned Jaylon Gay. Max Moore will give experience to the defensive line. Prediction: I’m going with Christian Heritage to pull the upset on the road October 13th at Bowden to win the region.