BAYLOR RED RAIDERS
Head coach: Erik Kimrey (11-2 here; 205-22 overall)
Returning starters: 6 offensive; 4 defensive
Last year's record: 11-2, won TSSAA Division II-AAA championship
Key players: Whit Muschamp (6-1, 190) Sr. QB, Amari Jefferson (6-0, 195) Sr. WR, Max LeBlanc (6-5, 225) Sr. TE, Zane Restelli (6-3, 185) Jr. WR, Jimmy Bryson (6-4, 280) Jr. OL, Cam Sparks (6-4, 215) Jr. WR, Josh Hampton (6-2, 180) Sr. DB, Domani White (6-0, 240) Sr. DE, Quincy White (6-0, 225) Sr. LB, Joel Lowenberg (6-1, 210) Jr. LB, Shekai Mills-Knight (6-2, 200) Jr. RB/LB, Cooper Keown (5-9, 170) Sr. K/P.
Season outlook: It's hard to imagine a better debut season than the one Kimrey put together last fall as he guided Baylor to its first state title in 49 years. Along the way, the Red Raiders also snapped a six-game losing streak to rival McCallie, earned their first playoff win ever over Brentwood Academy and ended a five-game losing streak against Montgomery Bell Academy by rallying for a four-point win in the BlueCross Bowl title game.
Replacing seven all-state players who graduated will not be easy, particularly running back Caleb Hampton, a Tennessee Titans Mr. Football finalist and BlueCross Bowl MVP.
"We will try to fill those shoes by committee," Kimrey said. "But it's the second year in our system for most everybody, so they know what's expected, and just having that familiarity with the offense should be a big help."
Muschamp, who has committed to Vanderbilt, returning to run the offense will be a significant boost to Baylor's chances of repeating. He also has the state's most talented group of targets back in LeBlanc, a tight end committed to Ohio State, and Jefferson and Sparks, two of the state's most sought-after receivers by college coaches. In addition, Restelli could be poised for a breakout season.
The defense must replace both inside linebackers, a lineman and a secondary starter, but several talented new arrivals should help fill those roles. Josh Hampton's return gives Baylor a versatile player who can lead at either safety or cornerback, while twins Domani and Quincy White bring a strong physical presence, as does Lowenberg, who transferred in during the offseason.
"Our overall speed and skill positions on both sides of the ball should be a strength," Kimrey said. "We've got to replace three offensive line starters and we're tweaking some things defensively, so those are concerns for now. But there is a lot of talent and potential, even among the guys who will be taking over new roles. I'm excited to see how they respond to accepting those challenges."
Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].