2021 Region Picks
2021 high school football is here, and this year, there is one thing on everyone’s minds: reclassification. Teams moving – both up and down – has created some new region rivalries that bring excitement to the Chattanooga football landscape. Here, local sports gurus Quake and Cowboy Joe share their take on the upcoming season.
Quake: Baylor will look to replace Neyland Jean (QB) and Elijah Howard (RB). The Red Raiders return three offensive linemen with starting experience and a bunch of skill players. The development of Cooper Wick (QB) or someone at quarterback will be paramount. We all know it comes down to THE GAME vs. McCallie. The Blue Tornado holds a five-year win streak against their Red rivals. Coming off a state title in 2020, coach Ralph Potter returns William Riddle at quarterback and Vanderbilt commit Kenzy Paul (WR) to an offense returning only one offensive lineman with starting experience. Friday, October 1 will loom large with the winner getting a leg up and momentum into the playoffs. Prediction: Until someone knocks them off, McCallie will win the region.
Cowboy Joe: This might be the most intriguing region for me. Boyd Buchanan will be looking to improve on their three-win season from a year ago. With Virginia commit Karson Gay (TE) and Colbe Haddox (OL/DL) on board, they’ll have some quality athletes to help get them back in the playoffs. Silverdale made their first playoff appearance since 2018 last season, and I know the Seahawk faithful are ready for a breakout season. Chattanooga Christian played strong and ended the season with a winning record. Coach Mariakis will always have CCS ready to play. Notre Dame has fallen on some hard times in the last two seasons, totaling only three wins. Notre Dame coach Charles Fant is one of the best football minds in this area. So, what is the problem with the once-powerful Notre Dame football program? I’m still looking for the answer. Keep your eye on this region. It’s going to be fun. CAK remains the favorite. Winner: Christian Academy of Knoxville / Contender: Chattanooga Christian
Quake: Since the April 2020 tornado, Grace Academy has been dealing with a lot. So since facilities and a number of students have been affected, the Golden Eagles and head coach Bob Ateca have decided to play 8-on-8 football against the likes of Zion Christian Academy and some other teams.
Quake: First, there is always Maryville. Bradley Central’s task is to replace the Burke twins, and that will be a huge task. Aiden McClary returns with some experience at the quarterback position. Also returning are two safeties that started as freshman last year in Tito Williams and Marcus Goree Jr. The Cleveland Blue Raiders lost some talent at the offensive line in Evan Neal and speedy wideout Deuce Flowers to graduation, so it looks like second-year head coach Marty Wheeler may lean on the talents of Tetoe Boyd (RB). Prediction: Maryville has been a bit more vulnerable recently, but until someone takes them out, it’s their region to win.
Cowboy Joe: This region welcomes newcomers Ooltewah and Howard to the fold. Unfortunately, this is one of the toughest regions in our area. Including Howard’s six wins and Ooltewah’s four wins from last year, it boasts 38 wins from a five-team region – impressive! Rhea Co. hopes to bounce back from an early playoff loss to Oak Ridge in 2020. The Wing-T offense will be rolling again in 2021. Walker Valley was only six points away from having an undefeated regular season, and coach Drew Akins will keep fine-tuning that program. Goose Manning was named the new football coach for Ooltewah; Manning will look to get the Owls back to consistent playoff football. The team that will take the biggest hit in 2021 is McMinn Co. They’ve lost offensive powerhouse Jalen Hunt, who averaged almost 10 yards per carry, to graduation. It will be tough to replace that much production. Will Howard have enough firepower to compete with these teams? Only time will tell. Winner: Rhea Co. / Contender: Walker Valley
Quake: Gone is Anderson Co., and there is not a coach around who will miss them. Red Bank and East Hamilton should be two of the best public schools in Hamilton County. The Lions will feature Reco Trimble (WR/DB), who was really high on NC State earlier in the year but has not committed as of publication time. East Hamilton will have to replace the big arm of Haynes Eller with more of a runner at quarterback in Jeremiah Flemmons. Defenses will be challenged by his speed. Soddy Daisy moving down to 4A will be interesting. The Trojans could compete for a region title if they can replace skill guys in Isaac Barnes (QB) and Will Ackerman (WR). East Ridge’s head coach Tim James always has a dynamic piece on offense. Central, Hixson, and Sequoyah will be playing catch up a bit. Prediction: East Hamilton vs. Red Bank on October 22 will decide region champs.
Cowboy Joe: The Brainerd Panthers had only one win during the 2019 season. They improved to a robust eight wins in 2020 with head coach Tyrus Ward. New Panthers head coach Stanley Jackson will have plenty of talent to work with in 2021. Signal Mountain intrigues me. Coming off back-to-back four-win seasons, Josh Roberts should have this team ready to take the next step. I expect the Eagles to show improvement in 2021. McMinn Central needs to show improvement to have a chance at winning this region. Red Bank has moved to 4A, so that opens the door for our local teams. Who will take the reins? Will Brainerd step into the role as the team to beat? Can Signal Mountain or McMinn Central improve enough to challenge for region supremacy? Can the season start already? Winner: Loudon / Contender: Brainerd
Cowboy Joe: There is renewed hope in Sequatchie Co. Rusty McIntyre takes over as the new head coach and brings with him an impressive resume. He was the offensive coordinator for the Fayetteville Tigers last year. Why is that important? Fayetteville defeated South Pittsburg in the 2020 Class 1A state title game. Expectations are high, but don’t expect a state championship run for the 2021 Indians. They must first improve on last year’s two-win season. Based on last year’s win total, Giles Co. would be the favorite to win this region. However, I think it’s wide open. Sequatchie County wins! Winner: Sequatchie Co. / Contender: Giles Co.
Quake: This new region alignment could be one of the most competitive around. An undefeated 2020 regular season set the bar high for Bledsoe Co., especially since they will return Harman Keith (QB) and Cadillac Siever (RB). The accomplishments of coach Jason Fitzgerald and his Meigs Co. Tigers have been remarkable, only losing two regular season games in the last five years. I know coming ever so close but losing in state title games the last two years will have them motivated for a gold ball. Marion Co. should be really good, as the Warriors return a ton of experienced talent. And then there is the unknown Tyner Ram train. For the first time in 30 years, Tyner will have a brand-new head coach in Scott Chandler. They always have talent and speed, so you have to expect that trend to continue. Polk Co. and Tellico Plains have their work cut out for them if they want to compete with this bunch. Prediction: Winner of Meigs vs. Marion Co. on October 29 will win the region.
Cowboy Joe: South Pittsburg is coming off a season that led them to the state championship game, coming up short in their bid for another title. Despite a coaching change, South Pitt remains the favorite of this region. Chris Jones steps in as South Pittsburg’s coach following Vic Grider’s resignation. He’ll need to replace Hunter Frame, but the Pirates have playmakers Gio Davis (OL/DT) and De’Andre Kelly (RB/DB) to help carry the load. Rocky Stephenson takes over as the new football coach at Whitwell. Can coach Stephenson return Whitwell to their winning ways? They have won just four games since the 2018 championship season. Copper Basin had an impressive season in 2020, but can they repeat an eight-win season? We round out this region with Lookout Valley and Sale Creek. The Yellow Jackets and Panthers won’t win this region, but they’ll hope to improve in 2021. Winner: South Pittsburg / Contender: Copper Basin
Quake: Dalton has a new coach in Kit Carpenter, but he is not new to the Catamounts. A 1998 Dalton grad, Carpenter has been a long-time assistant under former head coach Matt Land. Reports are they are not the biggest Dalton team ever, but they will be very active on defense, especially their defensive backs. The defense may have to carry them a bit before some offensive leaders emerge. They have their work cut out for them, as this region has some talent. Carrollton, Paulding Co., and Rome have dominated in recent years. Prediction: Carrollton to repeat.
Quake: Let’s start with Coahulla Creek. In their short history, they have never been better than 2-8, but who better to turn a program around than long-time coach Danny Wilson? Well, especially when he hires former South Pittsburg head coach Vic Grider! Look for a bunch of touches from Tyler Locklear and growth here. In LaFayette, the Ramblers come off their first playoff appearance in 27 years. They also have a new head coach in Andy Scott. Replacing Jamario Clements will be tough, but they return Jaylon Ramsey (QB), who threw and ran for 1,000 yards last year. Ringgold has taken its lumps the last two years, but that means a lot of young guys got experience. Three of those names are Mason Parker (QB), Kyle White (DB), and Kori Dumas (RB). Tigers were 5-5 last year, but let two games (vs. LaFayette and Sonoraville) slip away. Scoring won’t be a problem, and if the defense can improve, this might be the Tigers’ best shot at beast Rockmart. LFO could be better with a change at offensive coordinator. The Warriors’ hunt for points should improve if they lean on Trevon Gott, Benji Valdes, and Jamillion Womble. The offensive line returns four starters from last year. Prediction: I like Rockmart, Ringgold, and North Murray – in that order.
Quake: What a couple years it’s been for Trojan fans down at Gordon Lee. They have lost a ton of talent and experience, including Cade Peterson (RB). Peterson rushed for 2,700 yards and 27 touchdowns last year, so they will look to replace those numbers. Conner Whitman (QB), Nate Dunfee (RB), and three returning offensive linemen will be challenged to step up their games to equal recent success for Gordon Lee. Prediction: Bowden is the bully on the block. Trion has 18 seniors still upset since Gordon Lee took ‘em behind the woodshed last year, 50-13. Winner of Gordon Lee and Trion will be second in the region.
Cowboy Joe: When you think of North Georgia football, Ridgeland is usually one of the teams that pops into your head. Over the years, they’ve had their way with region opponents. What happened in 2020? The Panthers tallied only one win for the season, so I know that did not sit well with the Ridgeland faithful. I expect a much-improved squad in 2021, with college prospect Jacob Klein (OL) leading the way. This kid is a bulldozer, and after missing the latter part of the season due to COVID, he’s ready to get back on the field. I’m also excited to see Northwest Whitfield stud Ray Morrison (WR) in action. Morrison is the ultimate playmaker and will be a huge weapon for the Bruins. Will Heritage improve, and can Southeast Whitfield find enough playmakers? We need answers! Winner: Northwest Whitfield / Contender: Cedartown
Cowboy Joe: Year to year, I never know what to expect from the teams in 7-AA. I will say Fannin Co. was impressive; they finished the year at 11-1 and slowly improved from previous seasons. Can they keep it rolling after losing quality upperclassmen? Model seems to be trending in the right direction, while Chattooga and Gordon Central struggled with only three wins in 2020. Pepperell came in at 5-5. Dade Co. will look to improve on its two-win campaign. The Wolverines’ last winning season was 2015. I don’t think 2021 will be the year for Dade, but don’t count out 2022. Winner: Fannin Co. / Contender: Model
Cowboy Joe: We have all heard the phrase “beast mode.” I can tell you that Christian Heritage’s Solomon Locke (RB/LB) is the living, breathing definition of “beast mode.” He averaged 10 yards per rush in helping the Lions to a 10-win season. He will be playing on Saturdays. Will Darlington step up to the challenge this year? They won a respectable eight games last season, but will that be enough to win this region? North Cobb Christian will also be in the hunt. For Mount Paran Christian and Walker, it’s all about improving. I believe it will take at least a 10-win season to be crowned king of this castle. Winner: Christian Heritage / Contender: Darlington