By Tim Chambers
Area coaches agree that Johnson County could have one of the best offenses in Northeast, Tennessee with the return of its top four players from last year. Nathan Arnold, Gage Hampton, Bud Icenhour and Shane Greer provided Longhorn fans with plenty of big plays in 2016 but the team came up short in their bid for a playoff berth.
The Longhorns are hoping that two “big” linemen can pave the way for a “big” season in 2017. And both have the experience to do so.
Seniors Nate Shepherd and Tristan Dishman will help provide the blocking for the four “Stud Steers” listed above. And each of them feels like they’re up for the challenge.
Shepherd returns at center while Dishman will start at one of the tackle slots. Each of them knows that the offensive line’s play will be a huge factor in their bid for a playoff run.
“We are working hard to get all the plays down and know our assignments because our backs and receivers can do the job,” said Shepherd. “They’ve been playing since they were sophomores so it’s our job to get it done up front. It’s on our shoulders to open up the holes for our backs and give Nathan the protection he needs. We’re going to win a lot of games if we are able to do that.”
Dishman agreed with Shepherd especially about the running game. He said it’s all about having a good mix on offense.
“We have to get the running game established early,” said Dishman. “We feel like we can throw on any team if we give Nathan the time but breaking off some big plays on the ground would be huge. Our offense is talented with a lot of speed and size. We have six or seven guys who are capable of making big plays. I’m excited to be a part of that.”
Shepherd recalled the loss to Unicoi County last year that cost them making the playoffs. He feels good about the team’s chances now that Elizabethton has moved up to 4-A.
“We’ve got high expectations because we’ve got so many returning seniors,” added Shepherd. “It left a sick feeling inside when we didn’t go last year. The players, coaches and fans will be disappointed if we win only three or four games. Our goal is to win the conference and win a home playoff game.”
The line will consist of three new starters along with Dishman and Shepherd. They like the way the trio is coming along.
“It’s so important that we show some leadership on this team,” added Dishman. “We aim to be good examples for our younger guys because they might have to step up and play too. Our line might be lacking game experience in some places but we’re ready. We’ve all got something to prove.”
Dishman went on to say that the “beefy boys” have formed a close bond both on and off the field.
“We hang out and do things together,” added Dishman. “We all talk about what to do on this or that assignment. I feel like all of them are picking it up well. It all starts up front and we’ve got to be ready to play.”
Shepherd got excited when asked about the team’s outlook.
“We’ve got some studs on this team so we won’t be overlooking anyone this year,” said Shepherd. “We’ve got a great quarterback who can throw and three or four very good receivers. We’re working hard on the running game because we’ve been challenged by our coaches to step up that part. We don’t want to be second, third or fourth in the league. We want to leave here with a conference championship and host a home playoff game. We won’t be satisfied with anything else.”