COWBOY JOE: This region is brutal! Baylor and McCallie will still see the same schools on their schedules. These two teams join Brentwood Academy, Ensworth, Father Ryan, MBA, and Pope John Paul II in the new region. Baylor made a deep run in the playoffs last year but lost to eventual state champion Brentwood Academy in the semifinals. Baylor will need to replace wide receivers and defensive linemen. Coach Phil Massey will have the Red Raiders ready to go in 2017. McCallie will be looking for a new quarterback. However, Ralph Potter will always have the Blue Tornado ready to play. Questions remain to be answered with Baylor and McCallie. Brentwood remains solid. Winner: Brentwood Contender: MBA
QUAKE: Traditional power programs Boyd Buchanan and Notre Dame join Silverdale Baptist Academy and Chattanooga Christian in the move to DII-AA. These moves have been talked about so much and for so long that I’m sure these teams are just happy to be done with the move. The cost of traveling further on some road games may be higher, but the competition should be stronger. Notre Dame Coach Charles Fant’s Fighting Irish look to put the ball in the air early and often this year. The Irish will be anchored by Sam Stovall (OL) at 6’4” and 280 lbs. to protect that Irish air raid. The Bucs of Boyd Buchanan return seniors Kohl Henke and Mike Mincey to a stingy defense. Boyd Coach Carter Cardwell will have to find a quarterback between sophomore Griffin Broome and freshman Eli Morris. Chargers Coach Mark Mariakis will need to find a quarterback early in camp so they can build the offense with guys like senior Dylan Clark, freshman Sam Hall, and sophomore Jeff Weisel. Silverdale Baptist Coach Al Rogers has a tall task ahead with numbers and finding the right guys to lead the Seahawks into the future in DII-AA. Prediction: Wide open! Notre Dame ought to have the speed to compete at the top, but this new region is the great unknown.
QUAKE: Our only school in this division is Grace Academy. The Eagles have been in a tough spot for a number of years, and the move to DII-A should be a welcomed one. Coach Bob Ateca should find more comparable competition, but they will have to go on the road a lot to find it. If the Eagles are to be successful, they’ll need juniors Cade Tinsley, Ross Adams, and Ryan Merritt to step up. Jimmy Green also returns from a broken hand last year. Prediction: There are some stud programs in this class. Grace needs to get some momentum early on, and we’ll see how it plays out.
COWBOY JOE: When you talk about 6A football in Tennessee, the conversation usually begins and ends with Maryville. Through the magic of reclassification, some of our local teams will now compete in the same region as Maryville. Cleveland, McMinn Co, and Ooltewah now join Bradley Central, Heritage, Maryville, and William Blount. Bradley will need to find a replacement for Mr. Everything Cole Copeland. Ooltewah returns 29 seniors. They did lose their quarterback but replace a 1,000-yard rusher with another 1,000-yard rusher in Sincere Quinn. McMinn County Coach Bo Cagle will return his quarterback Bradley Hayes as they go into the second season of the Wing-T offense. Cleveland is the wild card. I think the Blue Raiders will surprise some teams in this region. Winner: Maryville Contender: Cleveland
QUAKE: This new five-member region has loaded Knoxville powerhouses Catholic and Lenior City joining Chattanooga powerhouses Rhea Co., Walker Valley and Soddy Daisy. Talk about depth – fourth-year Rhea Co. boss Mark Pemberton has returned the Eagles to their lofty standards of years past with a 135-man roster. Eagles will always be a run-first, Wing-T type of team, but Rhea Co. returns coach Pemberton’s son and quarterback Zack Pemberton, who can throw the ball more with a couple more targets from the basketball team out this year. Coach Justin Barnes’ Soddy Daisy squad suffered through so many injuries last year that they had to play young guys, which should pay off for the Trojans this year. One thing’s for sure: they’re going to want to get all-everything Ty Boeck involved in the offense. Boeck played five different positions a year ago but will be featured at running back for 2017. And what about Glen Ryan’s high-flying Walker Valley Mustangs? The ‘Stangs return veteran duel-threat quarterback Kolten Gibson to the Mustang offense that averaged 42 points per game last season. Prediction: It’ll be tough to catch Knox-Catholic, and I think Rhea Co. will have the best chance to do it.
COWBOY JOE: This could be one of the most competitive regions in our area. Anderson County and Sequoyah call it home. Local teams Chattanooga Central, East Hamilton, East Ridge, Hixson, and Howard reside here as well. East Ridge had the best record last year at 7-6 with Mr. Football Running Back Traneil Moore. I think East Ridge will take a half step back this year considering they are the smallest 4A team in the state. I do expect improvement from Central and Howard. Central returns most of their starters, and Howard hopes to break through in 2017. I expect a .500 season for East Hamilton and Hixson. Hixson is looking for a QB and East Hamilton lacks size. Winner: Chattanooga Central Contender: Howard
QUAKE: This region’s new lineup is one that everyone is looking forward to, and it should be very interesting. With Loudon and Sweetwater added to what have been some of the newer rivalries in the Chattanooga area, like Brainerd vs. Red Bank and Red Bank vs. Signal Mountain., now you see what all the excitement is about. Red Bank’s head coach Chad Grabowski has announced that last year’s starting quarterback, speedster Calvin Jackson, has been unleashed to play RB, WR, some safety, and even cornerback, return punts and kickoffs. Red Bank believes that strong armed sophomore Maddox Wilkey will add another wrinkle with the ability to get the ball into the hands of the speedy play makers. Former Brainerd Panther quarterback Tyrus Ward returns to coach his alma mater, and the enthusiasm has been through the roof. The Chargers of McMinn Central will be tasked with finding a replacement for last year’s leading rusher, Jackson Long, along with 23 seniors.Signal Mountain. has had depth issues the last couple seasons, so they’ll face some challenges as well. The Eagles return six starters who played both sides of the ball and may have to again this season for new head coach Josh Roberts. Prediction: This region is Red Bank’s to lose, and everyone will be trying to knock them off the perch.
QUAKE: Sequatchie County was one of the best teams in our area in 2016, making it all the way to the 3A semifinals. Head coach Adam Caine has a lot to replace especially in the experience department. The Indians return just 6 starters and only 4 on defense. Coach Cain believes there is size and promise to this year’s squad; they just lack reps and experience playing together as a unit. The big factor for success this year is returning senior duel-threat quarterback Ethan Barker. His leadership will be huge for the Indians’ success in 2017. Prediction: Sequatchie jells as a team and wins this region.
COWBOY JOE: Sometimes realignment can really change the outlook for a team. When it comes to Marion County, it really doesn’t matter. They would be the favorite in 99% of the 2A regions. Nothing changes in 2017. Marion will be a strong favorite in a region that includes Bledsoe County, Polk County, Tellico Plains, and Tyner. Marion returns stud senior RB Jacob Saylors and a stable of athletes at every position. Polk County is one year away from contending but could make some noise in 2017. Bledsoe is looking for a playmaker. Tyner is looking for depth. Tellico Plains is looking to contend. Three straight trips to the title game doesn’t lie. Winner: Marion Contender: Tyner
QUAKE: As much as change dominates, some things will stay the same. The Pirates of South Pittsburg are still the bully on the block until someone knocks them off. South Pitt will once again be the favorites this year, but they’ll have to replace a ton of talent starting with their quarterback. Sophomore Jaylin Hubbard and freshman Braden Sanders will battle to see who is named starter. Pirates are as deep along the OL and DL as they have been recently. They also return All-State caliber players Sawyer Kelly (FB/LB) and Cade Kennemore (WR). Lookout Valley and Whitwell will have new head coaches this year, as long-time Jackets head coach Tony Webb stepped down and will be replaced by Lookout Valley alum Lance Rorex. Whitwell’s new boss Randall Boldin has as much returning talent (20 of 22 starters from last year’s squad) as the Tigers have seen in a long time. Copper Basin and Sale Creek will try to make noise every Friday night. Prediction: When the dust settles, I like South Pitt and Whitwell to finish 1 and 2 and host home games in the playoffs in November.
COWBOY JOE: In 2016, Dalton was the story. The Catamounts made an impressive run to the semifinals only to have their season end against the eventual state champion Valdosta. They lost just about every offensive skill position from that team. They will also have to find replacements on the defensive line. Will they have a similar season in 2017? No. I think there will be a slight drop off in production. However, Coach Matt Land is one of the best in the business. He will figure it out. Even with a drop in production, I think Dalton will still be in the driver’s seat. Winner: Dalton Contender: Harrison
QUAKE: Our local teams in this region are Heritage, LaFayette, NW Whitfield, Ridgeland, and SE Whitfield. Let’s start with the Heritage Generals. E.K. Slaughter’s bunch will return 18 starters from the team that got the program’s first playoff win in an eight-win season. The Generals have three candidates to replace starting quarterback, Corbee Wilson. Depth and experience should be a staple with Heritage returning 24 seniors. LaFayette’s Ramblers return 17 starters, but they’ll have a quarterback battle between Vyshonn Daniel and Ty Fisher to see who starts. NW Whitfield returns quarterback Luke Shifflett, who is committed to MTSU, so the Bruins are trying to find some weapons to surround Shifflett. Look for Jaret Staten (WR/RB) and Sebastian Orozco (WR/RB) to be main targets in the high-flying Bruin offense this year. Ridgeland is simply loaded with skill-position talent, returning Naval Academy recruit Jalyn Shelton, two-way starter Markeith Montgomery, and talented Stephon Walker (WR), who injured his knee in the playoffs last year but is back with a vengance. The panthers have got to find O-line depth with only one returning starter. SE Whitfield coach Sean Grey had his big three weapons injured in spring, so getting them back to health is the number one priority. A close second will be finding players on defense, especially the secondary. Prediction: I think winner of the Ridgeland vs. NW Whitfield game will be the region champ.
COWBOY JOE: Six out of the 10 teams in this Region had a .500 mark or better in 2016. Calhoun led the pack with an 11-3 mark. North Murray and Sonoraville both ended with eight-win seasons. Coahulla Creek hopes to enter the win column this year. They lost some players in key spots so it will be a tough task for the Colts. LFO could have the most-improved team with a good number of seniors expected to be on the roster. LFO Head Coach Bo Campbell expects to improve on a one-win season from last year. Ringgold will have some solid talent. They were close to a seven-win season. Coach Robert Akins will have his team coached up and ready to compete for the district. Winner: Calhoun Contender: Ringgold
QUAKE: Gordon Lee spent the majority of last year hovering around .500. Coach Greg Ellis returns veteran players Braden Jarvis (RB), Jared Spradlin (OL), and linebackers Harrison Moore and Caleb Vines as a good nucleus to build around. The Trojans always play a tough schedule with a lot of teams from higher classifications. Prediction: Their record may not be outstanding at the end, but Gordon Lee will get a good shot at the playoffs.
Georgia Region 7-AA
QUAKE: Dade County’s Wolverines were a disappointing 3-7 in 2016 coming off a playoff run in 2015. With all the experience the young players got last year, they should be closer to playoffs than not. The Wolverines have tremendous size up front which should translate into a nice running game. The region they play in has some tough teams and the Wolves’ schedule is always a tough one. Prediction: Dade Co. takes some lumps but gets into the playoffs in 2017.