Central broke a 36-game winless streak last October with a 51-42 win over rival Sullivan East. With several juniors and seniors on the roster, fourth-year coach Chris Steger feels more success could be headed to Blountville.
“We have a lot of experience, a lot of kids who have played football,” he said.
Central returns seven starters on offense and six on defense.
One place the Cougars lost experience is quarterback, where Will Nottingham takes over for the graduated Jackson Harrison. Steger has confidence in Nottingham, a 5-foot-9, 166-pound junior who likes to throw it long.
“Will likes to crank it deep,” Steger said. “He hasn’t seen a deep ball he doesn’t like.”
Senior Jacob Fields is the backup at the position.
The Cougars are strong at running back. The dynamic Joey Byrd, who gave Central the lead against East last season, returns with a stronger frame. Now 5-9 and 190 pounds, he squats 430 pounds in the weight room. He’s joined by Nick Harrison, who has the same competitive qualities as older brother Jackson.
Nottingham spent much of his summer passing to a group of receivers that includes Connor Wilson, Preston Staubus, Bryson Crabtree and Cameron Lambert.
When in a set using a tight end, senior Austin Bibee — described by Steger as a player with a lot of potential — fills the role.
Alex Booher, who moved from guard to center last season, remains there. Though a bit undersized at 5-10 and 160 pounds, Booher plays with good leverage. Benji Novak also fills in some when needed.
Guards are Zack Strouth and Grant Cornett, two guys who enjoy the weight room. The tackles are experienced players in Jacob Wise and Caleb Bates.
On the other side of the ball, Central has a 4-3 base defense in which Fields and Bibee are the starting defensive ends. Blake McConnell and Will Horner are defensive tackles.
Nick Harrison, known for his intelligence, runs the defense at middle linebacker, while Jay Moody offers him some relief. Seth Burke and Byrd are the starting outside linebackers; freshman Roy Moody also is expected to make an impact.
In the secondary, Lambert and Wilson are the starting corners and the safeties are Staubus and Nathen Moody. Gabe Blessing is adept at playing throughout the secondary.
Lambert handles kicking duties, but the Cougars have been trying out different players at punter. They have some speed in the return game with Nathen Moody and Landen Locklear.
Though recent years haven’t yielded many wins, several players were talking league championship at the team’s media day. Steger has no problem with that talk, understanding where it comes from.
“That speaks to how hard these kids work and what they desire for the return on their investment,” Steger said. “I have a business degree and I often turn talk to about money. Reps are like currency and you’re putting the reps in. It’s like the currency you’re investing. Obviously, we have to turn some of those tight games this year.”
Aug. 23 Sullivan North
Aug. 30 at Volunteer
Sept. 13 at Pigeon Forge
Sept. 20 at Sullivan South
Sept. 27 David Crockett
Oct. 4 Greeneville
Oct. 11 at Sullivan East
Oct. 18 Grainger
Oct. 25 at Union County
Nov. 1 Elizabethton