School: Johnson County
Coach: Mike Atwood
2006 record: 8-3, 5-2
Offensive starters back: 7
Defensive starters back: 7
MOUNTAIN CITY — Johnson County, perhaps the biggest surprise in Northeast Tennessee football a year ago, should get plenty of respect this season.
The Longhorns would be one of the state’s smallest Class 3A teams in actual enrollment but they choose to play in 4A to avoid longer bus rides.
Last season, Johnson County lost only to Mountain Lakes Conference powers Sullivan South and Tennessee High in the regular season and pushed rugged Morristown East to the limit in a 17-14 playoff defeat.
Halfback Jesse Atwood’s loss by graduation was a blow, but the Longhorns have a capable runner in tailback Tyler Leonard. Atwood led the MLC in rushing and scoring. He gained more than 1,600 yards.
Coach Mike Atwood has switched the team from a power-I offense to a spread formation, hoping to make use of its above- average speed.
“Overall team speed and experience are our strengths,” he said. “We don’t have much size. Everybody in this league throws the ball around. We have to get as many athletes on the field as we can.”
Johnson County has had three consecutive winning seasons. The squad is enthusiastic about doing it again.
“The boys are confident,” coach Atwood said. “They’re not intimidated by anybody in the league.”
The Longhorns’ biggest challenge is developing the stamina to stay with schools that have more roster depth.
“We have eight boys who play both ways,” Atwood said. “We have to be in shape. But we work hard and expect to be competitive in the league. We could be pretty good.”
The Longhorns have three obvious standouts in Leonard, quarterback Austin Phipps and wide receiver Christian Prudhomme.
Leonard may be the team’s best player. Phipps is a productive runner and passer. Prudhomme — certainly the most versatile — kicks, returns punts, plays defensive back and catches passes. He could get some attention from college recruiters.
Starting on offense with these three will be wideout Ian Bellamy, tackles Nick Blackwell and Steven Robbins, guards Nick Reece and Mike Laws, slotbacks Luke Arnold and Adam Shelton and center Zach Yoggerst.
Defensively, Leonard will line up at free safety, Travis Grindstaff at strong safety, Prudhomme and Arnold at cornerback, Shelton and Seth Captain at outside linebacker, Dakota Grindstaff and Justin Stanley at inside linebacker, Ryan McQueen at end, Bronson Alexander at tackle and Jamie Lundy at nose guard.
“We must play well against the top teams to be in the Mountain Lakes race,” Atwood said. “We’ll have to win the games we’re capable of winning and play great in the big ones to be successful.”
Much of the Longhorns’ success may be determined by how well Reece and Stanley perform in their key roles.