BLOUNTVILLE — “A work in progress.”
That’s the way Sullivan Central coach Jeff Fox described his Cougars team.
“We had a good spring and a good offseason. There is definitely some momentum,” Fox said. “It’s not where we want to be yet, and you can see the gain in confidence among the kids.”
Most of that confidence and momentum comes from last season’s 4-6 record — a good rebound for a school that lost all 10 games in 2011.
“We got a lot of people patting them on the back and the tendency is to think we’ve made people happy. But we continue to let them know that every day we come in, we try to make the program better,” Fox said.
An experienced offensive line is a key piece for the Cougars.
Holding ground at tackle are senior Todd Fox and 6-foot-2, 226-pound junior Connor Duncan. Juniors Brenten Jones and Jacob Worley man the guard slots and senior Dillon Sutherland is back at center.
Trey Pope, a 6-foot, 170-pound junior, takes over signal-calling duties. He’s handing off to running backs Matt Kinkead and Ethan Krtausch.
“Trey has had a really good preseason and Krtausch is just a sophomore but we have high hopes for him,” Fox said.
Junior Hayden Rhymer returns to the fullback spot.
Topping the receiving corps are Ro Collins, a 6-2, 200-pound tight end, and wide receiver Jordan Candler.
The Cougars return with a 3-5 defense and, with more experience, they have the ability to try different sets.
“Depth is something that we’ve not had in the past and this year we will be able to play upwards of 16 kids one way,” Fox said. “We’ve gotten better with capable kids, but they are going to have to grow up quick to get that depth.”
Comprising the defensive front line are Duncan and Chris Trivette (6-1, 230) at tackle and 5-10, 220-pound junior Trey Rupe, who lines up at nose tackle.
A new set of linebackers roams the back side, including Collins, Jones, Caleb Shaffer, Jacob Maine and senior Hunter Hoback.
The secondary boasts seniors Brandon Locklear, Dalton Henkle and Mitchell Fuller.
Senior Jordan Edwards returns to hold down kicking duties.
“These kids have always worked hard, in practice and in the weight room,” Fox said. “Since we’ve started to win, they see where the work pays off and with that comes confidence and everybody knows what that does.”
The redrawing of the districts by the TSSAA was not kind to Central, the smallest AAA school in the state. The Cougars had hoped to drop down a division.
“We quit talking about it. I just talked to the coaches last night and it is what it is,” Fox said. “The talk has pretty much died down around here about not dropping down. And over time the TSSAA numbers will fluctuate.
“We just know that we are in this league and we have to be ready to play.”