The Indians finished 4-6 last season but back-to-back wins over Morristown West and Jefferson County closed the year on a high note. Now, they turn to a different set of characters on offense to keep the momentum going.
Playing behind all-conference quarterback Lendon Redwine, junior Zane Whitson attempted only 14 passes last season. The 6-foot right-hander has plenty of confidence, as does backup QB Nick Blackwell, a 5-8 senior.
Likewise, the graduation of running back Ian Hicks — who compiled 1,687 yards in 2018 — means juniors Phillip Armitage and Tyler Tesnear, with 32 rushing attempts last season, are to carry the bulk of the load. Josh Romero is also on the depth chart.
“Losing a good quarterback like Redwine and a good running back like Ian, it’s a task we’ve got to do,” coach Joey Christian said. “About 45 percent of roster turns over in a year, but with that, we have 7 percent of our offense coming back.
“It is what it is, but I like the kids in our backfield.”
Several players have added weight and speed through the team’s workout program.
Slot receiver Cameron Williamson had 16 receptions a year ago and Dalton Harkleroad made 14 catches. Braden Marshall is also listed as a starter, and there’s plenty of depth with Rayshawn Simmons, Trent Cody, Isaac Ratliff and Nacir Sensabaugh, a cousin to NFL alumni Gerald and Coty.
“We don’t have that one or two silver bullets that we usually have in the program,” Christian noted. “But our team speed is a lot better. Last year, we only had one or two guys run a sub-4.9 40, and one of those quit halfway through. This year, we had 15 or so.”
Ben McCluskey and Nate Whitley also give D-B a couple of big targets at tight end.
The offensive line lost last year’s conference lineman of the year, Cade Salyers, and all-conference pick Nick Starke to graduation, but it features depth.
Caleb Burleson is the starting center, and Zack Ferguson and Aiden Neale start at guards. Kyler Banks is at left tackle with Ethan Murray or Caden McNabb at right tackle. There is depth with Tucker Herald, Fonzo Booker and Seth Hale in the mix.
“Coach (Ty) Hayworth has done a fabulous job,” Christian said. “We have 10, possibly 11, guys who could play offensive line. The competition is one of the strengths of our team.”
No question, the strength of the team is the defense. The Indians return their top eight tacklers from last season.
It starts with Jet Harris, who plays at defensive end in a 4-3 lineup with Jackson Martin or Aiden Neale on the other side. McCluskey also gets time at defensive end.
Other times, Martin and Harris are linebackers, along with Whitley, the team’s leading tackler from a year ago, and the hard-hitting Braxton Kulbacki. Josh Romero and Chase Jenkins also are at Sam linebacker.
Up front are solid defensive tackles. Blake Collier, Ricky Wagner, Jessee Greer and Booker all should see extensive playing time.
“If we have 7 percent of our offense back, we have 78 percent of our tackles back,” Christian said. “We’re going to have to lean on our defense more this year. We have our top seven tacklers back and, let’s be honest, when you get to the eighth, it’s a cornerback.”
Christian is excited about the improved speed at corner and in the secondary overall. Williamson and Sensabaugh are competing for one starting spot, while Cody and Jenkins are on the other side. Harkleroad, Isaac Ratliff, Caleb Fields, Thomas Church and Simmons are the safeties.
Jaden Alderson, also a standout on the baseball diamond, is back to handle kicking and punting duties. There is added explosiveness in the return game that boasts Sensabaugh, Harkleroad, Cody, Ratliff and Simmons.
Aug. 23 Tennessee High
Aug. 30 Oak Ridge
Sept. 6 at Bearden
Sept. 20 Hardin Valley
Sept. 27 at Daniel Boone
Oct. 4 at Jefferson County
Oct. 11 Farragut
Oct. 18 at Morristown West
Oct. 25 Science Hill
Nov. 1 at Alcoa