LOOKOUT VALLEY YELLOW JACKETS
Head coach: Josh Payne (7-33 here and overall)
Returning starters: 6 offensive; 8 defensive
Last year's record: 5-6, lost in TSSAA Class 1A first round
Key players: Christian Chandler (6-1, 175) Sr. QB/S, Namarian Talley (6-1, 180) Jr. RB/LB, Devon Cooper (6-2, 165) Jr. WR/DB, Dayon Cooper (6-2, 170) Fr. ATH/S, Hunter Holland (6-1, 195) Sr. OL/DE, Aiden Hood (5-9, 205) Sr. OL/LB, Thaxton Fowler (6-3, 305) So. OL/DL, Gabriel Laymon (5-11, 320) So. OL/DL, Rylan Collins (5-11, 180) Sr. RB/LB.
With so much starting experience returning, coupled with a friendly schedule that includes Grace Academy (which competes in an eight-man league) followed by matchups with Mt. Juliet and Grundy County (which were a combined 2-19 last year), another solid start to the season is a very real possibility.
"Our guys gained a ton of confidence from the success we had last season, and I believe that should carry over into this year," Payne said. "I'd like to have more bodies, but our 11 can play with just about anybody. And with the experience we have back, we won't be scared when the game-time lights come on.
"We were hoping to win in my first four years, but last year we started to believe we could win, and now we want to take the next step to where we expect to win."
Because of the influx of skill position talent on offense, the Jackets will transition from the wing-T to the spread. Chandler, who missed all but the final three games last year with an injury after missing his sophomore season with a torn ACL, is healthy and will play both quarterback and receiver.
Devon Cooper will also take some snaps and play other skill positions, and Talley is a three-year starter who will be used in a different role after losing 30 pounds to improve his speed. Three offensive line starters return, and Payne said he expects big things from Fowler and Laymon, the two sophomore starters up front.
"Having Chandler back is a huge plus because he's so versatile and also because he brings a lot of leadership," Payne said. "We two-platooned a lot last year, so now we've got good game experience, but overall depth and injuries will determine our success."
Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].