By Tim Chambers
Tomahawk Sports Editor
Some magical games were played inside of Paul McEwen Stadium last year, and the same bag of tricks that helped win those games will be on display once again in 2018. The Longhorns are coming off an 11-1 season and were ranked third in the state Class 3A football poll for eight weeks
The most successful football season in school history is now in the record books that included a perfect 10-0 regular season and a dramatic 21-20, win over Northview Academy in the first round of the playoffs.
Their lone loss was to Austin East in the second round in a game they led for three quarters.
Some of the graduating seniors made their way into the school’s record books, and all of them will be long remembered.
Gone is the school’s all time leading career passer Nathan Arnold who threw for over 5200 yards.
Arnold completed 152-of-245 passes for 2112 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2017.
Gone is their all-time leading receiver Shane Greer who logged 121 catches over a three-year span for 2311 yards. He had 55 receptions for 1102 yards and averaged 20 yards per catch in his senior campaign.
Also gone is Hayden Osborne who set the school record for the most tackles in a single season with 157. He and Arnold were named to the All-State squad.
The 15 other seniors all started or saw considerable action as well and the bulk of them were major contributors to the team’s success. That included Gage Hampton, who ran for nearly 800 yards, compiled over 1,100 all-purpose yards and was the team’s leading scorer.
But don’t think the well has run completely dry just yet.
The Horns return some quality football players including Tyler Norris (5-9, 190, Sr.) who could be one of the top players in Northeast Tennessee. Norris racked up 133 tackles last year and had the 98-yard fumble return against Happy Valley that pretty much allowed them to run the table.
Head coach Don Kerley knows that his squad will have a target on their backs when the season begins. He touched on what they would have to overcome to be a good football team.
“It’s hard to replace players like Nathan, Shane, and Hayden,” said Kerley. “They did so much for our team not only numbers wise but providing leadership as well. We lost our starting running back Gage and all our starting line except for one. The cupboard is not completely bare, but we are definitely rebuilding. We’ve got some good football players coming back. We just hope we have enough of them.”
Norris will guide the defense from his linebacker spot, which also includes key returnees Zack Eller (5-10, 140, Sr.) Nathan Lane (5-10, 165, Sr.) and Troy Arnold.
Eller had five interceptions last season and was the leading kickoff returner in the conference. He will also play wide receiver, and his speed makes him a threat to score at any time.
Arnold will be the starting quarterback and defensive end, a rare commodity among today’s players. Arnold (6’0, 215, Sr.) has waited three years behind Nathan Arnold now playing for the University of the Cumberlands. He threw two touchdowns in a recent scrimmage and picked up some valuable yardage running the football up the middle at Tennessee High.
Lane had six interceptions last year and will head up the secondary in addition to sharing some running back duties.
“Troy makes the good decision with the football like Nathan did,” said Kerley. “He’s a very good runner inside the tackles. Eller and Lane give us a lot of speed on both sides of the ball. Tyler is just a super leader and linebacker that has a nose for the football.”
The running back job will be handle by several players including sophomore Stacey Greer, Jared Kimble, juniors, Jisaiah Webster and Lane.
“All four are good backs and can play,” added Kerley. “It’s definitely going to be by committee. We have confidence in all of them.”
Lane, Kimble and Aric Neely will join Eller as their core of receivers.
Christian Kupsky (6-2, 275, Sr.) will head up the offensive and defensive lines. He was a starter last season. He’ll be joined by Logan Gilley (6-0, 310, So), Ricky Fenner (5-8, 230, So.), Colt Moody (5’11, 195, Jr.) and John Stout (6-2, 275, Fr.). Noah Cox (6-0, 195, Sr.) will also see plenty of action on both sides of the football in the line.
Steven Bunn (5-10, 170, Jr.) and Zack Parsons 6-0, 190, Fr.) will all see time at tight end.
Ethan Bower and Nathan Mink is a couple of players who could see time in the secondary. Kimble and Stacy Greer will be penciled in at linebackers.
New kids on the block
A pair of baseball players, Weston Troop and Tyler Phillips, came out for the team as seniors, and both have earned the right to see plenty of playing time.
Corey Neely (5-8, 140) is another freshman that Kerley likes. He could see time as a receiver, running back and defensive back. Freshmen Nate Rice at linebacker and Ethan Icenhour as a long snapper will both play.
Kerley is expecting a lot from fullback Curtis Lowe (5-10, 190, Jr.) and Will Henson 5’9, 160, Jr.), a wide receiver and defensive back.
Henson will miss the first four weeks with an injury.
“Those guys are good athletes that will help us wherever we put them,” said Kerley. “Will has plenty of speed that we can use on both sides of the ball when he gets back.”
Tyronne McFadden and Kimble will handle the kicking and punting duties. Connor McNutt and Lucas Walters are linemen, who should help shore up that area.
Kerley feels like Unicoi County will be the team to beat in the conference.
“They have a lot of players back including their quarterback and star running back. I think they’ll have a pretty good football team. Everyone else will be much improved plus our non-conference schedule is loaded with good teams.
Johnson County’s non-conference schedule includes Carter County foes; Hampton at home on August 24 and Happy Valley at home on October 5. They’ll travel to Cloudland on October 19 for the final regular season non-league game.