Head coach Blake Butler and the football players at Trinity Christian Academy knew the 2015 offseason would be a time of transition for the program.
The class the team was essentially built around for the past four seasons is gone, taking with it 2014 All-West Tennessee Player of the Year and Class A Mr. Football Back of the Year Kyle Akin, multiple-time area first-teamer James Bond and the bulk of Akin’s favorite targets in the passing game.
That part Butler saw coming and was prepared for.
“We knew everybody outside the program probably thought TCA would have a drop-off because of the talent we lost in that class, but we haven’t seen it that way,” Butler said. “We have the potential to be just as good but with a different look.”
What Butler and the Lion fan base probably didn’t see coming was the change in the coaching staff. Butler is the only coach listed on the team’s staff at the beginning of last season still in the Lions’ fieldhouse this year.
Josh Zettergren, the team’s offensive coordinator since 2011, is at Ensworth after initially leaving TCA for St. George’s. Carson Hunter, who was the defensive coordinator for a season, is now the head coach at Rossville Christian.
“I really admire how the players have handled this transition,” Butler said. “When those changes were happening, we sat down together as a team and talked about how just because the coaching staff is changing doesn’t mean our standard is changing.
“I’m still here as head coach and plan on running things the way we’ve run them, and I expected the players to continue to work as hard as they have in years past if not harder. They did that.”
It’s not like the cupboard is bare at TCA. Andrew Goldsmith is a running back and linebacker with official college scholarship offers from all three military academies along with sincere interest by FBS programs like Vanderbilt, Memphis and Stanford. Different teams want him to play different positions.
Eli Parker has been the second-leading receiver in the Lions’ pass-happy offense the last two years behind alumni Chase Diggs and Grant Reviere. Getting the ball in his hands will be a priority for the Lions’ offensive coaches as well.
“Our philosophy is to do what highlights the talent of the players on the team, and that’s what it’s always been,” Butler said. “What the players do well, that might have changed. But the fact remains there are still things we do well.
“Does our offense change that much? Maybe, depending on the way you look at it. We still have the same offense in place, we just might not run the same plays we’ve been running. Will [Goldsmith] still get the ball a lot? Of course. I’d be a bad coach if he didn’t. But there will need to be young guys to step up and play key roles to help him and Eli get the job done this time around.”
As for that new coaching staff, there will be a few recognizable names on the sidelines and in the press box for the Lions.
Former TCA lineman Craig Key, who graduated from the school in 2012, will coach the defensive line. Rodney Clark Sr., who’s helped coach at Haywood and Jackson Central-Merry in recent years while his son (Rodney Clark Jr.) played for the Cougars, will help coach running backs.
Ben Johnson was a UT Martin football player who graduated in 2014. He’s joined TCA as defensive coordinator and strength and conditioning coach. Butler will take over sole responsibility for play-calling duties on offense.
“On the outside, it may appear that everything’s changed, but I don’t think it has nearly as much as some might think,” Butler said. “We plan on nothing changing on the field either as we still plan and expect to compete for championships and playoff runs and make TCA one of those programs people around here expect to be good every year no matter what kind of class graduates or comes back each year.”
Brandon Shields, 425-9751