JOHNSON CITY — Science Hill isn’t likely to win its first nine games of the season like it did last year.
But most seem to think it’ll be favored to beat the team responsible for its lone loss in the 2012 regular season.
Coach Stacy Carter’s Hilltoppers must tackle a stringent schedule, particularly early, while replacing exceptional contributors such as quarterback Reed Hayes, Will Adams, Grant Janeway, Tre Webster and O’Ryen Scott.
Science Hill opens against Elizabethton on Aug. 30, and the daunting non-conference schedule includes games at Murfreesboro Siegel and Morristown West and at home against Brentwood Academy during a 15-day span beginning Sept. 13. Siegel and Brentwood Academy each lost close games in the state semifinals last season.
A game at Tennessee High follows the 15-day gauntlet, and the Vikings have arguably the Big 7’s most impressive quarterback and receiver.
“It definitely doesn’t benefit us at all having to travel to Murfreesboro to play one and then Brentwood Academy,” Carter said. “The Siegel game … you’re driving there in one day and playing, you know, one of the best teams in the state, and then the next week you’ve got Brentwood. And then Tennessee High’s going to be tough, too.”
Still, Carter would have difficulty finding sympathy from area coaches. Headed by junior quarterback Malik McGue, he has a considerable collection of athletes that has many picking the Hilltoppers to beat Dobyns-Bennett for the first time since 1994 and win the Big 7.
The 5-foot-7, 160-pound McGue doesn’t offer the offense the type of balance it had with the strong-armed Hayes, but the elusive junior should produce even more exciting plays with his feet than his entertaining predecessor did.
Expect McGue to also line up at receiver occasionally with quarterback Tucker McPherson in the game. Carter and McGue have been impressed with McPherson, who hasn’t played football in three years. Carter is also high on sophomore Justin Bedard, but clearly McGue is expected to be the catalyst.
“I think he’s the best player around, for sure,” Carter said.
Senior running backs Addison Adams (5-8, 230) and Gad Nagba (5-9, 210) pose a heavy burden for defenses. Carter is also high on leading returning rusher Chance Pierce, as well as T.J. Delaney, Trey Sutton and Elijah Mathes.
The receiving corps, fast but inexperienced, is led by Malik Stephens, 6-foot-2 Mikey White, Mathes, Xavier Driver and Karson King. McPherson should also see time in the slot.
Senior Isaac Story (6-0, 196) and sophomore Ian Martin (6-3, 197), a regular in the rotation as a freshman on the basketball team last season, are the top tight ends. Senior Aaron Adams (5-11, 205) is getting work there, too.
“It’s probably the best bunch of receivers, collectively, that I’ve ever had,” Carter said.
Carter is also encouraged by a relatively inexperienced offensive line. Demetri Kalogeros (6-1, 250) and Malcolm White (6-5, 250) start at tackle, Cory Johnson (6-0, 255) is the center and Dylan Miles (5-11, 230) and Ethan Morelock (5-11, 260) start at guard.
“I feel good about this bunch,” Carter said. “Coach (Andrew) Beck’s had time to mold these guys, and I think you’re going to see them get better and better as they go.”
The hard-hitting Story and Nagba headline the defense at linebacker, where Aaron Adams and Sutton have also played well. The top down linemen include Chad Backus, Addison Adams, Quintin Alibocus and Cameron Burress.
Carter described Stephens’ ability at free safety as “phenomenal.” McGue and White are also slated to start in the secondary, where Driver and McPherson should see time.
Carter has two experienced kickers in Alex Rinella and Adam Moorleghen. Rinella begins the season handling the placekicking and punting, and Moorleghen is kicking off.
“Both of them have the ability to kick it in the end zone about every time,” Carter said. “I feel very fortunate right there.”
McGue figures to handle most of the kick and punt return chores, though Carter says there are many options.
“About six of them are dangerous,” he said.
Indeed, Carter is quick to concede his Hilltoppers are talented, but he’s concerned about an inexperienced team learning on the fly against a taxing schedule, which, by the way, has another wart. D-B has an off week in advance of the Science Hill game, which will be the Hilltoppers’ 10th in as many weeks. But that’s the least of Carter’s worries these days.
“Once we get that experience we’re going to be a real good football team,” Carter said. “But you don’t want to lose games and get your confidence down before you’re able to do something.”