By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
The middle school Longhorns were ten seconds away from going undefeated and winning the sectional championship last year until Church Hill scored on the final play of the game to win 28-24. It was another storybook year for head coach Devin Shaw whose team finished 7-1 including wins over Rogersville Middle School 8-0 in the sectional semifinals and Hampton 40-8 in the championship game of the Little Watauga Conference.
Gone off that squad are four freshmen who saw a considerable amount of varsity playing time at Sullivan East on Thursday in Johnson County’s 14-0 win.
Shaw knows his team has many hurdles they will have to clear to win some football games. Things did not begin well either, thanks to starting quarterback Tanner Marshall out for two-three weeks with an injured foot.
“We have 26 players; 18 of them have never played before,” said Shaw. “The remaining eight other than Nick Speed didn’t play very much varsity last year. We have a large group of seventh-grade players that have to learn quickly, so it’s going to take a little time before they can figure it all out. I think they can be good, but we didn’t have a pee wee youth football league team last year, so that also hurt us a great deal.”
Shaw thinks his team can be pretty good on defense and will run the 3-5 as the high school does. The young talents of Conner Simcox, Daniel Stout, and Hank Sauer will start on the defensive front despite being seventh graders.
“They really played well in a recent scrimmage game, so we think they all three are capable,” added Shaw. “We will throw them into the fire early and see what happens.”
Marshall will slide back to the quarterback spot when he returns. Isaiah Willis will lead the backfield at tailback.
“Isaiah is somebody we are really going to depend on,” said Shaw. “He is super quick with lots of speed. He’s learning how to turn up into the right holes and runs extremely hard. He has done a good job of learning how to read his holes.”
Tyler Bouchelle is another seventh grader who will carry the ball some. The offensive line will consist of Simcox, Aidan Sluder, Nick Speed, Jason Faulks, and Sauer.
Speed will lead the linebacker corps in addition to Willis.
“Those two are our leaders,” said Shaw about his backers. “They have the most experience. Speed played in the defensive line last year, but he is much quicker. The rest of the lineup will be by committee.
“We need for all our kids to step up,” said Shaw. “Speed is our vocal leader and Willis and Marshall lead by example.”
Shaw agreed that this year could be one of those trying seasons where you hope your team gets better as the season progresses.
“We won’t base our success off of wins and losses this year due to having so many inexperienced players.” Shaw added. “I’m not sure about how deep we can go, but our main concern is to get our kids a lot
of experience and see what happens. In football, you have two types of players. You have the ones who get hit and the ones who love to hit. We’re learning how to hit right now and play the game right. Hopefully, we can get some wins out it.”