Hendersonville High celebrated its 75th season of Commando football last season, and while it was a successful one, it also ended with a second-round exit in the playoffs for the second straight year.
Independence avenged playoff losses to the Commandos in 2013 and 2014 by handing Hendersonville a 38-7, season-ending loss in round two of the Class 5A playoffs. While the Commandos finished with a 10-2 record, the Eagles eventually won the state championship.
That’s where the Commandos ultimately want to end up, but the task begins with a schedule that looks to be more challenging than last season, if only because Region 6-5A figures to be even more competitive.
Head coach Bruce Hatfield believes he has a squad that can compete for the region title, but – as always – is focused on the day-to-day improvement of his team.
“We are excited,” Hatfield said. “But what I’ve told our players is that we want them to maintain the excitement and the momentum. And you do that by how you practice.”
Hendersonville lost 25 seniors to graduation, including senior Jack Towe, who finished with the second-most total touchdowns (35) and points scored (212) in school history.
Another key loss came in the form of Terrell Carter’s transfer to Stratford after he was dismissed from the team in December for violating team rules. Carter was last year’s All-County Player of the Year.
The Commandos fared well at home, winning all eight games at Memorial Stadium, including a 43-20 victory over Shelbyville in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Commandos have 27 seniors, with the majority of them gaining some experience last season.
The offensive and defensive lines retain a lot of that experience, as Daly Cull, Emmitt Richardson, Damien Legg and Brandon Dove all return as seniors to help with Hendersonville’s front lines.
Hatfield said being a cohesive unit up front is one of the keys to the Commandos’ continued success.
“Being together and begin closer, Daly’s got to establish that,” Hatfield said. “We want them being a presence that our skill guys know that they’re the toughest guys around and they have to establish the tone for us.”
Senior Jordan Amis returns at tight end to help the offensive line with blocking and could also become a bigger threat in the passing game. He only caught two passes last season, but both went for more than 20 yards and one of them went for a touchdown.
Junior Brett Coker returns at quarterback after throwing for 505 yards and seven touchdowns last season, and will also compete for playing time as a defensive back as well.
Hendersonville has no shortage of running backs, though the Commandos lost their top three rushers from last season.
Junior Anthony Hughes rushed for 371 yards on 37 carries last season, scoring six touchdowns. He also collected 70 tackles at linebacker and figures to be one of Hendersonville’s key players on both sides of the ball.
It also stresses another imperative for the Commandos – two-way play from most of their experienced players.
“A lot of our guys will have to play both ways until we can get consistent help across the board,” Hatfield said. “That’s what we need – we need depth.”
Senior Weston Schwerdt will also get carries in the Commandos’ traditional wing-T offense, along with seniors Eric Tilson, Jacob Eicher and others.
Senior Jonathan Burton (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) is a potential starter at split end and on defense, but Hatfield said Burton would have to earn those positions.
“He was gone for a while,” Hatfield said of Burton. “He rejoined the team July 11. He’s got to continue to prove himself to his teammates and to us coaches, but he’s done fine so far.”
On defense, senior Reggie Harris – who also figures in at fullback – is projected to start at linebacker alongside Hughes, and seniors Bryan Strahm and Christian Bozeman are also expected to contribute.
Coker and Schwerdt figure to start in the secondary, along with seniors Caleb Thorton and Luke Carver, who tied for the team lead with three interceptions last season. Carver also figures to be in the mix to return kickoffs, punts and play at running back as well.
With three seniors as potential starters in the secondary, Hatfield hopes that the back end is as solid as the front end of the defense.
“We’re going to be sound in the box and good on the back end,” Hatfield said. “That’s the part that everybody sees – the defensive backs.”
Senior Jacob Harris is expected to handle kickoffs and place kicks once again this year, while senior Hunter Foster and junior Jonathan Lisbona will likely battle for punting duties and add depth at kicker.
Hendersonville opens at McGavock on Aug. 19, one of three away games in the first four weeks of the season.
The Commandos’ lone home game in that stretch comes against Siegel on Aug. 26, before they travel to Cane Ridge and Beech for region games in the following two weeks.
“It’s unbelievably hard, I think,” Hatfield said of the first three games. “That’s what we want (the players) to understand. We have to open up at McGavock, then we get Siegel at home and we have to go to Cane Ridge. I think (Cane Ridge has) circled that game. We have to do a good job of understanding just how good everybody is in our region, because they are impressive.”
It is undoubtedly the most pivotal part of the Commandos’ schedule, as wins in those first two Region 6-5A games would likely set Hendersonville up for a potential first-place showdown with Hillsboro on Sept. 16.
From there, the Commandos’ final four games are against region foes. Station Camp (Sept. 30) and Glencliff (Oct. 21) visit Memorial Stadium, while Hendersonville travels to Gallatin (Oct. 7) and Hunters Lane (Oct. 28).
42…vs. Cane Ridge…25
28…at East Nashville…13
31…at Station Camp…0
45…vs. Hunters Lane…8
Class 5A Playoffs
Aug. 19 at McGavock – 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 Siegel – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 2 at Cane Ridge – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 9 at Beech – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 16 Hillsboro – 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 East Nashville – 7 p.m.
*Sept. 30 Station Camp – 7 p.m.
*Oct. 7 at Gallatin – 7 p.m.
*Oct. 21 Glencliff – 7 p.m.
*Oct. 28 at Hunters Lane – 7 p.m.
* – denotes Region 6-5A game