The anticlimactic ending to Gallatin’s 4-6 season last year may have put a chip on the shoulders of Green Wave players.
Head coach Mark Williams would certainly like to see them play with one.
After suffering a five-game losing streak to conclude the season – for the first time on the field since 1972 – Gallatin returns a wealth of experience for Williams’ fifth season as the Green Wave head coach.
The experience of last year’s second half losses should still be in their minds.
“We didn’t let them get it out of their minds,” Williams said. “We have to understand and remember that at one point, we were 4-1 going into the second half of the season. That kind of sticks in our craw a little bit. We had a lot of games there toward the end that we could have won and should have won. I want them to remember that.”
One focus for the Green Wave is to improve in the passing game to take pressure off senior tailback Jordan Mason, who rushed for 1,606 yards and 19 touchdowns in his junior campaign.
With colleges keeping their eye on Mason, so too will opposing defenses, which means the Green Wave are looking for more balance in order to avoid seeing nine- and 10-man fronts from the other side.
“We’ve really put in some work on the offensive side of the ball in terms of being multiple and not being one-dimensional,” Williams said. “We’re trying to open some things up.”
The quest for balance begins at quarterback, where senior Wyatt Hayes and junior Collin Minor once again are battling for playing time. Both passers played last season, either coming in and out on different series or when the other quarterback was banged up.
“We’ve got two kids who are really battling it out right now,” Williams said. “Both of them really bring some good qualities to the position, but we’ll let that play out. They’ve done a good job battling at quarterback, and we’ll let them continue to do that.”
Mason will start at tailback, with classmate Johnny Waters and junior Jalen Porter providing support in backup roles.
Senior Marcus DeVault transferred from Station Camp in the offseason and will also play some at tailback, but can also move to wide receiver as well.
DeVault joins senior Dezmond Chambers as main targets on the outside, while seniors Chase Dowell, Keshawn High and Matthew Knight provide both depth and experience at the receiver position.
“They just need to be good route-runners,” Williams said. “Being where you’re supposed to be, being accountable and being good blockers (helps). A lot of times, the best way to get open is being a good blocker, and that’s what we’re trying to impress on them right now.”
Three starters return on the offensive line – junior left guard Archellous Turner, junior center Brandon Claud and senior left tackle Wyatt Tabor. Senior Zach Howell has been working at right tackle in the preseason, while junior John Austin Birdwell has been at right guard.
“We feel better about our experience and knowledge right now than we did at this time last year,” Williams said of the offensive line.
Senior Gatkek Keuth started a couple of games last season at tight end, and is expected to take over the role full-time this year.
Gallatin’s defense enters its third season in its 3-4 defense, which gives Williams a reason for optimism.
“You want to be able to see players for whom it’s second nature to them, where they don’t have to think as much,” Williams said. “Our defense seems pretty simple. You just want to see them be at ease and let it come naturally to them. Being in our third year in the defense, they should be able to play faster.”
Junior Shy Rickman is expected to start at nose guard, while seniors LaMarious Majors and C.J. Mullins will occupy the starting defensive end spots.
At linebacker, Porter and junior Drew Warren should start on the outside, with Waters and Birdwell at inside positions.
One key will be for the Green Wave defense to finish opportunities for defensive stops.
“We talked about not giving up big plays, and we’ve still got to continue to do that,” Williams said. “We had people in third-and-medium or third-and-long situations last year and couldn’t seem to get off the field.”
DeVault and Chambers are the projected starters at cornerback, while Hayes and Mason will play at the two safety positions.
Dowell is the frontrunner to handle all kicking and punting duties, with sophomore Austin Wright as his backup.
Mason, DeVault and Chambers may all see opportunities to return kicks – or to have kicks directed away from them.
Gallatin’s non-region schedule, like last year, provides a good opportunity for the Green Wave to get off to a strong start. However, the first two weeks are road contests at Mt. Juliet and Springfield – and both are seeking revenge for last year’s losses at Gallatin.
Eliminating the long road trip to Henry County certainly eases travel burdens, but the Patriots will visit the Wave Yard with intentions on repeating last year’s shutout.
“We’ve got to come out and compete and be consistent,” Williams said. “We’ve got a tough schedule, but everybody’s got a tough schedule. We’re not the only ones.”
Gallatin could use a reversal of last year’s loss to Station Camp, but they’ll have to make that happen on the Bison’s home field.
The final four games – all region contests – provide the toughest closing schedule of any team in the region, as Gallatin plays last year’s top four finishers in the season’s final five weeks.
The good news for the Green Wave, however, is that three of those games are at home, including a televised game against Beech on Sept. 30.
If the Green Wave wish to return to the postseason, they cannot repeat last year’s five-game slide to end the campaign. Wins in at least two of those five games will likely be necessary to lift Gallatin into the top four.
“I think we’ve got a lot of great teams in the region this year,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of great talent. It’s going to be an interesting year this year. We’ve got one of the better regions in the state as far as competitiveness and great coaching all around.”
Reach Chris Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 615-575-7118. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @CB_SumnerSports, and on Snapchat @cbrooksgne.
34…vs. Mt. Juliet…31
54…at Hunters Lane…6
0…at Henry County…42
19…vs. Station Camp…27
34…at Cane Ridge…40
Aug. 19 at Mt. Juliet – 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 at Springfield – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 2 Hunters Lane – 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 Henry County – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 16 at Glencliff – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 23 at Station Camp – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 30 Beech – 7 p.m.
*Oct. 7 Hendersonville – 7 p.m.
*Oct. 21 at Hillsboro – 7 p.m.
*Oct. 28 Cane Ridge – 7 p.m.
* – denotes Region 6-5A game