Now in his second year of his second time around as coach of the Eagles, Osborne is hoping to see marked improvement.
“We’re excited,” said Osborne, a two-time Cumberland District player of the year at Rye Cove who graduated in 2000.
He coached the Eagles from 2012-14 then returned to the role last season.
“There’s a difference this time around,” Osborne said. “I’m a better person.”
As a teacher at the high school, he interacts daily with his players outside the football environment.
“That’s very important,” Osborne said. “If you don’t have a good relationship with your players, then it’s not going to work.”
The coach has a bigger roster to work with this season.
The small VHSL Class 1 school has a 25-player roster that — while not impressive numbers for some schools — offers a marked improvement compared to recent years.
“Our numbers are up. I think that’s just the ebb and flow of how things are here,” Osborne noted.
And it’s not just the numbers. The Eagles also have a good crop of football players.
“They’re hard-working kids,” Osborne said. “They’re not afraid to work.”
Opponents are likely to see a lot of wildcat from the Eagles with the snap going to either Mason Hardin, a 5-foot-7, 220-pound junior; 6-foot, 220 senior Matthew Hardin; or 6-foot, 195 senior Tyler Darnell.
Darnell mans the quarterback position when the Eagles are not lined up in the wildcat, with the Hardin brothers shouldering the bulk of the offensive carries.
Mason Hardin rushed for 1,079 yards on 134 carries, an average of 8.1 yards per carry, last season. Matthew Hardin, an excellent complement, totaled 416 yards rushing.
Donovan Mullins, a 5-9, 160-pound junior, is getting looks at tight end along with junior Jesse Barnette (6-0, 185) and sophomore Andrew Jesse (6-1, 175).
On the offensive line, Osborne is looking at center Caleb Starnes (6-2, 190) and tackle Chris Duty (6-4, 280), both juniors, to serve as anchors. Dylan Vanzant, a 6-foot, 170-pound senior, also could move to the O-line.
On the other side of the ball, Matthew Hardin returns at defensive end and 5-9, 160-pound junior Donovan Mullins is back on the line.
Mason Hardin anchors a linebacking corps that includes Barnette, sophomore Ashton Starnes (6-2, 190) and freshman Jonathon Howell (5-7, 160).
As is the norm at most small schools, one of Osborne’s biggest concerns is depth.
“When have we ever had depth? That’s just what we deal with,” he said.
Rye Cove opens its season with two road games, against Jenkins (Ky.) on Aug. 30 and Hurley on Sept. 6.
The Eagles’ first home game is Sept. 13 when Hancock County crosses the Virginia-Tennessee state line to pay a visit.
Aug. 30 at Jenkins, Ky.
Sept. 6 at Hurley
Sept. 13 Hancock County
Sept. 20 at Thomas Walker
Sept. 27 Castlewood
Oct. 11 at Eastside
Oct. 18 Unaka
Oct. 25 Twin Valley
Nov. 1 J.I. Burton
Nov. 8 at Twin Springs