Head coach: Sammy Seamster (first year here and overall)
Returning starters: 6 offensive; 9 defensive
Last year's record: 5-6, lost in TSSAA Class 3A first round
Key players: Jayun Smith (6-2, 180) Jr. WR/DB, Willie Graves (5-11, 165) Jr. WR/DB, Martavious Smith (5-9, 150) Fr. QB, E.J. Crumsey (6-1, 185) Jr. RB/DB, Terrence Lee (6-1, 185) Sr. WR/DB, Michael Brooks (5-9, 200) Jr. NG/RB, Jaquez Poole (6-3, 220) Jr. LB, Anthony Byrd (6-3, 165) Sr. WR, Marquise High (6-0, 195) Sr. LB, Jayden Chambers (6-2, 315) Fr. OL.
Season outlook: The staff and roster changed significantly just weeks before the season when Martels Carter Sr. resigned as head coach due to health concerns and his son, four-star junior athlete Martels Carter Jr., withdrew from school after the family moved to Kentucky to be closer to his father's physician.
Martels Jr., a defensive leader as an all-state safety, was listed as Brainerd's starting quarterback. He accounted for more than 1,800 offensive yards and intercepted four passes last season, returning two of those for touchdowns. Martels Sr., in his only season as Brainerd's head coach, not only guided the program back to the playoffs but also set a foundation for continued success.
The overall roster numbers improved and players dedicated themselves to the offseason weight and conditioning program, which should pay off on the field on Friday nights. With 15 total starters back, plus the addition of a few new players expected to make an immediate impact, expectations remain high that this team can compete for one of the top two spots in Region 3-3A.
Despite the loss of Martels Jr., plenty of the remaining Panthers are capable of changing momentum in a single play as Byrd, Graves, Lee and Smith bring gamebreaking ability at receiver and Crumsey could be in line for a breakout season as a featured ball carrier after transferring back to Chattanooga from Texas. Each of those players will also contribute in the secondary, where Lee is a lockdown cornerback with multiple college offers and Graves adds explosive speed, even by Brainerd's standard.
Seamster, who played defensive back for five NFL teams, coached that position for the Panthers the past two years.
"I think it will help the kids to have a familiar face overseeing things," Seamster said. "Obviously they will have a new guy as their head coach, but everything else will stay the same. It will be the same offensive and defensive system, so the kids shouldn't have to adjust to anything new."
Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].