By: Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
Like a nest of yellow jackets, talk is swarming among Johnson County fans and the buzz is about the 2017 Longhorns. Johnson County enters the season as one of the favorites to win the league title.
The Horns have gone through some growing pains under head coach Don Kerley for the past two seasons, but that’s no longer the case. Eighteen seniors will lead the way in addition to some talented underclassmen.
“We had a lack of depth and experience for the past couple of seasons, but that’s not the case this year,” said Kerley. “We went through some but now our kids are bigger, stronger and faster. They know what’s going on and they know the schemes. We went over some things the first day and looked better than we did last year. We’re excited about the first game because the kids want to prove themselves. We can’t be looking past anyone.
Apparently that was the case on Thursday night against Sullivan East in their 34-0 lopsided victory. Kerley knows that it’s only one game.
“I believe that our conference could be pretty even from top to bottom. It was always Elizabethton or Sullivan South before, but now it’s more balanced. You could see somebody different win this thing year in and year out. But everyone has a chance at being a contender.”
The Longhorns are definitely that as they are returning all their big guns from last year.
Senior quarterback Nathan Arnold leads the way after throwing for 16 touchdowns and over 1600 yards. He also completed 59% of his passes and is listed as a 2-star quarterback and the 89th best prospect in the State of Tennessee.
“He’s a great leader that sees the field very well,” said Kerley. “He’s a special kid that has worked hard to get where he’s at. We know what he we can do and expect him to make some big plays for us.”
Shane Greer is back at wide receiver and will also get some looks from area colleges. He caught 40 passes for over 800 yards last year and 10 touchdowns.
“We looked quite a bit at Shane last year, but he’s got some good players around him now who can catch the football,” said Kerley. “I think we can cause our opponents some problems because we can run the ball and have a lot of capable receivers with speed to throw to. Hopefully we can score a bunch of points.”
Gage Hampton returns at running back after rushing for more than 600 yards last year. Senior speedster Caden Arnold and his bruising brother, Troy Arnold, give the Horns two more lethal weapons in the backfield which should complement the other three studs.
The Longhorns also return big play threat Bud Icenhour, one of the top athletes in the conference. Icenhour proved his worth against Sullivan East by stopping their scoring drive with an interception in the end zone. He also had three catches on offense.
Zack Eller is another big play threat. He will log a lot of time at receiver and is penciled in to start in the defensive backfield.
Jordan Edes gets the nod at tight end and will also see plenty of action at defensive end. He had a 38-yard catch against East in addition to logging six tackles and a sack on defense.
“We have a lot of kids who are very athletic,” added Kerley. “We need to share the ball with our playmakers, but most teams will stack the box in our league. That’s okay because we throw the ball a lot anyway.”
The offense line will be led by seniors Nate Shepherd and Tristan Dishman.
“Both of them started last season and they’ve gotten bigger and stronger. Nate and Tristan are definitely the leaders there.
Christian Krupsky, Dylan Shepherd and Hunter Wright will start in the offensive line. Kerley loves what he has seen from them.
“They too have gotten stronger from working hard in the weight room,” said Kerley. “Dylan is a newcomer that is smart and picking up things well. Hunter and Christian both have good speed and are quick.”
The defense is where you’ll find speed and quickness as well.
Hayden Osborne will captain that side after logging 100 tackles as a middle linebacker last year.
“He’s like Nathan is to our offense,” said Kerley. “He’s great about getting to the football and nearly always makes the right reads.”
Cameron Clawson is slated to be other starting defensive end with Sam Kerley set to log a lot of playing time. Tyler Norris and RJ Snyder will start at linebackers. Will Kerley, Nathan Lane, Josh Herman and Jimmy Bower will round out the starters in the secondary.
“We’ll try and start 22 kids, but we’ll play some of our skill people both ways,” said Kerley “We definitely want to keep our offensive and defensive lines fresh.”
Jared Kimble will handle the punting and kicking duties. Eller and Icenhour will be the return men on the punt and kick receiving teams.
“We’ve got so many kids that have worked hard. We have a few kids who won’t start that would have in past years.”
Sophomores Tyrone McFadden, Will Henson and Jisaiah Webster along with freshmen Stacey Greer and Logan Gilley are players that have definitely being looked at as contributors.
“Our kids are excited because we play a lot of local games in addition to being in the new conference,” said Kerley. “We’re hoping that it brings more fans and more revenue. These are the rival games that our fans have watched since youth league. We’re glad to have Hampton, Cloudland and Happy Valley on our schedule.”
Kerley said the conference race could be a toss-up.
“West Greene has the premier player in Julies Lane and Unicoi has some good players along with Chuckey Doak. I believe that Claiborne County could be a top team with all the size, speed and experience they return along with a new coaching staff. I’m hoping that some will pick us to be in that mix too.”
Pick up a copy of The Tomahawk to see Comments from five of the senior leaders and pictures of both the Offensive and Defensive Starters