“We feel really confident in our offensive and defensive lines,” said coach Justin Hilton. “That’s probably where our most depth is, along with running back.
“We would like to take the next step and win a second-round playoff game and move these guys forward a little bit.”
To get there, the Rebels need one of the three players vying for time at quarterback to step into the lead role. Eli Jones, Ethan Bergeron and Austin Riner are in the mix.
“I see those guys pulling for each other,” Hilton noted. “They are quality people. Bergeron is a bigger kid, while Jones and Riner are smaller guys. Jones is a good runner, and Riner knows the offense. He’s an intelligent kid.”
Whoever takes the role, he has support from an offensive line that weighs 260 (Jimmy Morris), 265 (Hunter Smith), 270 (Tyler Cline), 270 (Grayson Smith) and 300 pounds (Camden Necessary) from tackle to tackle.
“It’s definitely the biggest line we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Hilton said. “These guys worked real hard in the weight room and got a whole lot stronger. And it’s not just big kids. We think some of them have good athleticism, too. We’re really counting on those guys up front.”
Necessary is the standout of the bunch.
“He has really good feet,” the coach said. “And the other guys respect his work ethic. He’s a vocal leader and a physical presence. He’s a big part of the team and guys look up to him.”
Hilton said Morris stepped up in the offseason.
“He really changed his body,” Hilton said. “He invested in the weight room.”
Those guys should make life easier for Julian Reed, who was one of the area’s top running backs last season. Reed fits well into Hilton’s main strategy.
“We’re going to try to control the line of scrimmage,” he said. “We need to be able to run the ball and defensively stop the run.”
At receiver, Blake Candler, Brody Ratliff and Damien McClain are in the mix.
“Brody is a jump-ball guy,” Hilton said. “He’s one of those guys who can go get it, and he’s a deep threat. Candler is a big, strong, athletic kid.”
Defensively the line is headed by Nathan Harkleroad, who will get help from 295-pound Deacon Bragg, Blake Tipton and Hunter Smith.
Leading the way at linebacker is Eli Topping, an all-conference selection as a freshman.
“He’s a special talent,” Hilton said. “He’s a throwback guy. He loves to hit people.”
Joining Topping in the starting lineup are Noah Drumwright and Eli Jennings.
In the secondary are Candler and Cody Pugh at corner, Asa Munson at strong safety and Lance Pollack at free safety.
Handling the kicking duties is Colby Light with help from Eli Iacino.
Overall, Hilton said he is excited for the season.
“I think the excitement level is always high around here,” he said. “We’re blessed with two communities, Colonial Heights and Sullivan Gardens, that really support us. We get the things we need from the community.
“But we have to do the things to meet expectations. We can’t expect things to just fall into place.”
Aug. 23 Daniel Boone
Aug. 30 Cherokee
Sept. 6 at Grainger
Sept. 13 at Gate City
Sept. 20 Sullivan Central
Oct. 4 Union County
Oct. 11 at Greeneville
Oct. 18 Sullivan East
Oct. 25 at Elizabethton
Nov. 1 at Tennessee High