Reaching such heights, however, requires a quick learning curve for a youthful offensive line.
“It will take the line a little time to catch up,” said coach Stacy Carter, who enters his 10th season at the Hilltoppers’ helm with a record of 73-33. “Even though they are big, strong kids, there’s nothing like experience.”
Competing for the Region 1-6A title is still a focus, said Carter — who has an overall career record of 136-48.
“I want to win the league,” he said. “That’s always your goal. I think with experience we can do that. We have to get experience. A sophomore is a sophomore. They will make good plays and bad plays. You have to take some lumps, but hopefully the older guys can overshadow some things.”
The skill positions are solid with Chris Thomas leading the way. The 5-foot-9, 205-pound running back is drawing major-
college interest, and Carter said Thomas is the best he’s ever had at that position.
“He’s faster and stronger this year,” Carter said. “He has another year of experience and that’s a big deal. He’s been in the system a long time.”
Complementing Thomas at the position is senior Malik Bowman. Braden Anderson fills the fullback role for the Hilltoppers’ bigger packages.
With quarterback Connor Batchelder poised for big things, Science Hill is likely use a lot of four-wide sets this year.
“I expect a great year,” Carter said of Batchelder. “He makes good decisions and gets the ball out of his hands quickly. And he can run, too.”
When throwing, Batchelder can pick and choose from plenty of weapons, among them Solomon Dunn, Joshua Santiago, Marquis Griffin, Cole Torbett and Amare Redd.
“We feel like we are really deep at receiver,” Carter said. “We have about six guys who can play in there. Some of them are big targets and some are shorter guys. There are a lot of weapons on offense. We have to get them the ball.”
Science Hill is relying on the run-pass option package while the offensive line gains experience.
“I think we will be a spread team that can go up tempo,” Carter added.
At the point of attack on the line is freshman center Kellen Hensley, whose been to every snapping camp in the country, according to his coach.
Joining Hensley are junior tackles Corbin Gerarde and Joseph Giturwa, senior guard Trenqual Williams and sophomore guard Lebron Riddle. Senior Matthew Burton is also in the line mix.
The Hilltoppers also are dealing with defensive inexperience.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back, but a lot of youth, too,” Carter said. “I’m very excited about the young linebackers.”
Sophomores Justus Sutton and Cade Fleeman are part of the youth mix, Sutton having already grabbed a starting role. Bowman is a big part of the linebacker group in the middle with Andrew Kanady on the outside.
One of the leaders on defense is senior safety Nicholas Copenhaver. He’s returning from an ACL injury last year and expected to be ready for Week 1.
Also in the safety mix are Griffin and Baylor Brock. Santiago and AJ Martin are at the corners. Anderson figures into the defensive back mix along with Redd.
Anchoring the Hilltoppers’ defensive line are Jaiden Miles, Jack Conkin, Alec Hillman, Ian McKinney and Gerarde.
One area the Hilltoppers have a big advantage over most teams is the kicking game. Junior Kade Hensley is a Power Five conference prospect with in-game field-goal range of 50 yards. He’s being courted by Clemson, Wake Forest and Tennessee.
“He’s one of the best kickers in the country,” Carter said. “He finished No. 1 in the Las Vegas camp and was top three in California with junior-college kids and everything.”
Also in the kicking mix is Connor Rutledge, who’s been getting Division III looks.
Aug. 23 Elizabethton
Aug. 30 at David Crockett
Sept. 6 at Hardin Valley
Sept. 13 Greeneville
Sept. 20 Jefferson County
Sept. 27 at Knoxville Catholic
Oct. 4 at Farragut
Oct. 11 Morristown West
Oct. 25 at Dobyns-Bennett
Nov. 1 Bearden