Coach: Graham Clark
2006 Record: 10-1, 6-0
Offensive starters back: 4
Defensive starters back: 2
KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett’s list of experienced returnees is much shorter than usual. As a result, the Indians may have to hustle this year to be champion of the Class 5A Big East Conference they have so dominated in seasons past.
It’s difficult to determine the state of the program because Clark has a knack for putting out a smoke screen with his quips and quotes.
“Michael Vick has more new endorsements than we have returning starters,” Clark said. “I’m really excited about this group of young players. They all still have Gerber’s on their breath.
“Some of our offensive linemen aren’t tall enough to ride the roller-coaster at Dollywood.”
There are both pluses and minuses to D-B’s outlook.
The Indians graduated 31 players from last year’s team, which was ranked No. 1 in the state and went through the regular season undefeated before getting upset by William Blount in the first round of the playoffs.
Graduating 20 to 25 has been the norm for D-B in a typical year.
The Indians return just four starters on offense — one of whom is out with an injury — and two on defense. But there’s quite a population to choose from. D-B has more than 100 players in the three highest grades.
The word is out that Bearden and Sevier County could be the best teams in the Big East.
“Our players have a little chip on their shoulder,” Clark said. “They’ve heard everybody saying D-B football is down, and they don’t want to be known for that.”
Shifty 5-foot-10, 165-pound junior halfback Justin Sylvester heads the list of returnees.
“We have a lot of people fighting for positions,” Clark said. “I can see us playing a lot of folks on defense.
“Our biggest challenge is replacing three college linebackers. Just like in baseball, we’re good up the middle defensively with nose guard Daniel Preston and free safety Robert Hogg coming back.”
Experienced players joining Sylvester on offense are guard Alan Hinson and Preston, a tackle.
Zack Boggan, another offensive lineman with experience, will be out indefinitely with a broken ankle.
Bart Ring, who started one game two years ago when Bo Burton got hurt, has the nod at quarterback.
Jamie Crawford also is in contention to see some playing time under center.
The standout in preseason workouts has been Lane Taylor (5-10, 180, Sr.), a fullback/halfback. He showed flashes of greatness at times last season.
Other projected starters at the skill positions are Lane Dukart at X-wideout, Reed King at Y-wideout, Crawford at Z-back and Hogg at fullback.
On the offensive line, it looks like Will Bateman and Preston at the tackles, Hinson and Jordan Roop at the guards and Casey Halsey at center.
Jordan Edwards, heretofore known for his basketball prowess, is giving football a whirl. He stands 6-7 and provides a big target as a receiver.
Others high on the offensive depth chart are Eric Hammonds at wideout and Zack Fleming at tackle.
Crawford’s backups at Z-back are Austin Morrison and Matt Washington.
The kickers are Craig Mitcham and Hammonds. The punters are Joe Doran and Dylan Harvey.
D-B may change its image as a wide-open offensive team by implementing a ground-oriented style of play. But any Clark- coached team can always be counted on to roll the dice at unexpected moments.
Many of the same faces will appear with the defensive unit. Probable starters on the defensive line are Fleming and Edwards at the ends with Preston at nose guard. Taylor, Clayton Kilgore and Jason Michael are penciled in at linebacker, with King and Morrison at outside linebacker, Sylvester and Dukart on the corners and Hogg at free safety.
Others bidding for defensive positions are Halsey and Ben DeGreen at end, Will Clark at nose guard, Duke Tumlin, James Templeton and Craig Carter at linebacker, Mitcham and Washington at outside linebacker, Crawford at free safety and Sterling Throp and Hammonds at cornerback.
Teddy Gaines, a former D-B and University of Tennessee athlete who played briefly in the NFL, has been added to the coaching staff. He’ll be working with the running backs.
Since joining the Big East in 1993, D-B has won 12 conference titles while posting a 79-7 record against league foes.