After suspending longtime Raiders coach Jim Adams in July pending an investigation into a personnel matter, the Norton School Board named Caudill interim head coach.
“I’m not going to get into all the political stuff on that. I’m not in a position to do so,” Caudill said. “I’m just here for the kids. When they asked me to step in as interim head coach, I said yes because I didn’t want to turn my back on the boys.”
Caudill stepped into a good situation, and he’s helped grow the Burton roster to 36 players — one of the biggest squads at the Class 1 school in several years.
The Raiders lost only three seniors to graduation and have plenty of experience back heading into the season.
The offensive front is big, strong and seasoned.
Senior Canaan Stacy Lawson mans the center position. Junior Kaleb Mink is at guard and senior Tyler Spriggs at tackle on the right side, and junior Austin Jones is at guard and senior Dauntay Woods at tackle on the left.
Sophomore Jaymen Buchanan steps into the quarterback position, replacing three-year starter Houston Thacker, who graduated in the spring.
Returning in the backfield are seniors Mikey Culbertson and Najee Steele. Junior Elijah Lovell, sophomore Esau Teasley and senior Tyrell Ingram are the receivers.
Caudill said Lonnie Lindsey, a sophomore, is adding depth to the receiving corps.
The defense is built around Culbertson at middle linebacker. During his junior season, the reigning Cumberland District defensive player of the year made 137 tackles, including five sacks, recorded two interceptions and was an all-state pick.
“(Culbertson) doesn’t really say a whole lot. He’s not really a vocal leader,” Caudill said. “He’s more of a guy that leads by example. He does the right things in school, does the right things in the locker room. He comes to work every day.
“When he gets on the field, he just turns that switch on.”
Joining Culbertson in the linebacking corps are Steele, Mink, sophomores Jayquan Frazier, Seth Huffman and Xadrian Tabron, and junior Camden Kennedy.
Expect to see a slew of players get playing time on the defensive front, including Spriggs, Jones, Lawson, Woods, junior Adran Smith, sophomores Caleb McCurdy, Johnny Williams and Jermaine Forney, and freshman Dantae Teague.
In the defensive backfield, Caudill is looking at Ingram, Lindsey, Teasley, Lovell and freshman Trey Keys.
The larger numbers afford the coaching staff the luxury of looking at players at a variety of positions.
“It’s a good thing when you get up close to 40 like that. You’ve got some guys who push other people and, like I told them at the beginning of camp, competition breeds success,” Caudill said.
The Raiders open the season at home on Aug. 29 against Class 2 power Ridgeview.
Aug. 29 Ridgeview
Sept. 6 Chilhowie
Sept. 13 at Lee High
Sept. 20 at Twin Springs
Oct. 4 Eastside
Oct. 11 Honaker
Oct. 18 at Grundy
Oct. 25 Castlewood
Nov. 1 at Rye Cove
Nov. 8 at Thomas Walker