If the pundits are right, the Class 5A conference will have a new champion this year.
Bearden and Sevier County have been picked 1-2 in a preseason poll of coaches, with D-B projected to come in third.
That could change, however, depending on how Bearden’s team responds to a tragic situation. Coach Bill Wilson, who had that program on a sharp rise, died about two months ago of a heart attack. Brad Taylor has been hired to replace him.
Coach: Brad Taylor
2006 record: 7-4, 4-2
Offensive starters back: 8
Defensive starters back: 7
Outlook: With many experienced players back from an impressive season, Bearden should make things tough for opponents even if it doesn’t win the title.
Ten offensive starters are seniors.
Among the outstanding returnees on that side of the ball are quarterback Dawson Halliday, tailback Torey Works and fullback Brandon Pemberton.
Likewise, the defensive unit has a number of seasoned players, including standout linebacker Nathan Hamilton and cornerback Sean Cunningham.
With the bulk of its 2006 lineup coming back, Bearden could have one of the best teams in school history.
Coach’s comment: “There is potential but we’ve got to realize that potential. I think we can be improved on offense. But you are always concerned with your depth.”
Nickname: Smoky Bears
Coach: Steve Brewer
2006 record: 9-3, 5-1
Offensive starters back: 5
Defensive starters back: 3
Outlook: Sevier County, the 1999 state champion, is a perennial power that expects to be at or near the top every season.
Steve Brewer is one of the better coaches around and always seems to make his teams overachieve.
The Bears have the heart of their backfield returning — QB Taylor Helton, TB Shawn Hodge and running back Tyler Thomas. Three experienced linemen — tackle Will Hewitt (6-4, 285), guard Patrick Sutton (6-0, 250) and center Steven Michaluk (5-10, 210) — will block for them.
Sevier County’s defensive unit was hard hit by graduation. Only Hodge, a free safety, and linebackers Daniel Cotter and Andrew Feezel return.
Coach’s comment: “We’re looking for playmakers. We’ve got some people who can do some things with the ball. We’re stronger and faster, but we’re more inexperienced, too. We will be a lot smaller but quicker.”
Coach: Justin Anderson
2006 record: 3-7, 1-5
Offensive starters back: 8
Defensive starters back: 5
Outlook: Justin Anderson should know Jefferson County’s tradition well. He played for the Patriots and at nearby Carson-Newman College, and is the first former Patriot to become the coach.
He served three years on the Jefferson County staff and was elevated to head coach when Marty Euverard accepted the athletic director’s job at another school.
RBs Christian McFall and Will Brooks are still just juniors. QB Zac Long will be keeping the ball or giving it to them on triple-option plays. McFall was named sophomore player of the year in the Big East.
Jefferson County, once a state power, has won just five games in the last two seasons.
Coach’s comment: “What this place needed was a home-grown player to coach the team. If you show kids you love them, they’ll play for you. It’s a matter of coaching the way of life. X’s and O’s are second priority to me. We haven’t won many games the last three years and the kids have almost accepted losing.”
Coach: DeWayne Wells
2006 Record: 2-8, 0-6
Offensive starters back: 7
Defensive starters back: 8
Outlook: With a roster filled with experienced players, coach DeWayne Wells can be rather competitive. This should be an upbeat season for the Cougars if things fall into place.
Among seven returnees on defense are LBs Troy Arnold, Josh Woodward and Cody Franzman. The Cougars are looking for big things from Chris Bowlin, Blaine Loy, Cody Johnson and Chase Evans.
RBs Tyler Albright and Justin Young and FB Loy head the list of offensive returnees and are expected to give the ground attack quite a punch. Others to watch on offense are Preston Young, Phillip Wells and Stephen Wells.
Coach’s comment: “This is the most talent we’ve had since I’ve been here. We have more talent than we had back in in 2004, as far as athletic ability from top to bottom goes. It’s our depth that is really a concern. Most of the starters are juniors, with some key seniors. Our team speed is better on both sides of the ball. We put in a new offense in the spring to utilize our speed and get more ball control.”