“If you can’t get excited about playing at J. Fred Johnson Stadium, you’re probably not going to have a good honeymoon,” quipped Indians head coach Graham Clark, whose team kicks off the 2013 season with Farragut at home tonight.
“There is no other place you can go to see about 500 people trying to be great. With the football team, the band, the cheerleaders, the Spirit Shakers ... even our student body is trying to be the best they can be,” Clark said.
In other Northeast Tennessee openers tonight, Sullivan North takes on Seymour at Benny Compton Field without running back Jacob Jasper, Sullivan East confronts a stronger, more physical David Crockett at Jonesborough and Tennessee High takes the bull by the horns when Johnson County stampedes into the Stone Castle.
Big games on tap tomorrow night: Cherokee’s war path begins at Sullivan South; Daniel Boone marks the first blaze of the trail at Elizabethton; Happy Valley tries to hog the football versus speed-laden Volunteer and Sullivan Central looks to establish an upbeat rhythm at South Greene.
D-B’s renewed two-year contract gave the Indians their second consecutive home date with the Admirals. Farragut coach Eddie Courtney is eager to return to the Model City. Last year’s 42-14 loss amid the grand spectacle that is J. Fred fails to dampen his enthusiasm for the rematch.
“We love putting our kids in these kinds of environments. We do that for a reason,” said Courtney, who returns five starters from both sides of the football.
“We feel like we have a good home crowd. But when you go to places like Kingsport, or Oak Ridge or Riverdale — those are regular season games with playoff environments,” he said.
Games like that provided the only playoff atmosphere breathed by the Admirals last year. The defeat at D-B kicked off a 3-7 season, Farragut’s worst in 16 years. Two very good things came out of it. Both will return for tonight’s kickoff.
The first is uber-athletic senior quarterback Bryan Phillips, who passed for more than 1,800 yards and rushed for more than 800 after his underwhelming appearance in Kingsport. The second is Phillips’ favorite target: Billy Williams, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound pass catcher with terrific hands and great speed for his size.
Williams is on the NCAA Division I radar as a probable tight end. He’ll show up in all kinds of guises tonight.
“We move him around a lot. He can move out to second position, or a slot. Or we can put him in the backfield and motion out,” Courtney said. “We challenged him in spring practice and he’s become a much better blocker.”
At 6-2, 180, Indians free safety Josh Holt may be the most potent countermeasure in Clark’s secondary. Which means Holt can’t expect much rest on defense.
Nor very much on offense. Skylar East is sure to get his share of reps at QB, said Clark, but the exceedingly athletic Holt has a a winner’s knack for “making the best out of a bad situation,” Clark said.
Last year, Foreman and Swofford — both with chances to play at Tennessee as true freshmen this season — made the best out of just about any situation.
Those were two phenomenal football players for whom few people could expect replacements. Yet Clark has eager young players on his squad vying for the opportunity to fill those shoes.
“I think we’ve got more threats than people think we have. This team has some weapons,” Clark said. “We’ve got some guys with a little chip on their shoulder ready to step up and let it be their time, too.”