While the start of the 2016 high school football season is still several months away, most Midstate programs are — or soon will be — suiting up for spring practice with hopes of getting a head start on the upcoming campaign.
“I was brought up with old school football, so it’s really a lot of fundamentals,” said Franklin coach Donnie Webb, whose Rebels begin spring practice on Wednesday. “It’s about giving young players the opportunity to fill holes that we can see right now, and, as a coaching staff, it’s about either, one, tinkering with some new things or, two, honing in on the basics of what you like to do.”
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association allows teams up to 10 spring football practices and two scrimmages over a 15-day period, and schools may practice anywhere from Jan. 1 until the end of the school year.
Here’s a look at some key things to watch as schools begin suiting up for spring practice:
While several schools will be starting spring practice within the next week, a large portion of them won’t begin until the first week of May. Some, like Ensworth (May 24) and MBA (May 27), start even later.
In fact, Metro Nashville Public High Schools aren’t even allowed to begin spring practice until after May 1.
“Generally most will start the first day that they can, and that would be May 2,” MNPS athletic director Roosevelt Sanders said. “I wasn’t there when that decision made, but what I’ve been told is the main reason we do that is to make sure that it doesn’t conflict with spring sports.
“We have the date at May 1 because that way most of the spring sports will be pretty much concluded.”
For several Midstate coaches, like first-year Father Ryan coach Brian Rector, spring practice will present them with their first chance to see their players in action.
With that being the case, Rector, one of 14 Middle Tennessee coaches leading different programs in 2016, will have almost as much learning to do as his new players.
“The first year at a new school is always different because you’re just trying to figure out positions, names, people and you’re trying to get a feel for the type of tempo you can set,” said Rector, who compiled a 41-20 record in five seasons at Centennial (65-36 overall). “It pretty much is a day-by-day learning experience, but we’re looking to have a ton of energy, a lot of fun and a lot of hard work.
“We want to come out of it with a good idea of knowing where we need to get better before the fall.”
Other first-year Midstate coaches include Centennial’s Matt Kriesky, Riverdale’s Will Kriesky, Ravenwood’s Ritchie Wessman, Antioch’s Mike Woodward, Stewart County’s Chanz Swartz, Jackson County’s Sean Loftis, Dickson County’s Randy Murphree, White House-Heritage’s Hunter Hicks, Forrest’s Brent Johns, Moore County’s Jason Dobbs, East Hickman’s Brian Pence, Spring Hill’s Jay Emmons and White County’s Jeff Lowery.
Holes to fill
Three Williamson County schools — Independence (5A), Ravenwood (6A) and Brentwood Academy (DII-AA) — are coming off state championship campaigns in 2015. However, all three will have some sizable holes to fill as they prepare for the fall.
For Indy, it starts under center.
While the Eagles bring back several key pieces on defense, including second-team All-Midstate linebacker Hunter Dupree, the reigning Class 5A champions will need to find a replacement for standout quarterback Andrew Bunch, who threw for a state-leading 3,395 yards in just 11 games last season.
Brentwood Academy, on the other hand, should once again be loaded at the skill positions.
The reigning Division II-AA champion Eagles welcome back dual-threat quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall, a 2015 Mr. Football semifinalist, along with two of his top receivers in Camron Johnson and Gavin Schoenwald. However, most of their blockers from a season ago, including Bryce Mathews (Ole Miss), Ryan Johnson (Tennessee) and Brandon Adams (Georgia Tech), have since moved on.
In addition to breaking in a new coach in Wessman, the reigning Class 6A champion Raptors will also be breaking in an almost entirely new defense. Senior linebacker Tahj Williams is the lone returning starter from last year’s unit, which allowed just 13 points per contest.
While a big portion of spring practice is about finding new players to step up, the state’s top returning talent will also be getting work in over the next several weeks.
The three stars are Overton safety Theo Jackson, East Nashville linebacker Jacob Phillips, La Vergne wide receiver Princeton Fant, Davidson Academy offensive lineman Obinna Eze, Riverdale defensive back Gentry Bonds, Lipscomb defensive lineman Rutger Reitmaier, Stratford defensive back T.J. Carter, Oakland safety Kaleb Oliver, Ensworth safety Rodney Owens, Kenwood running back Antwuan Branch, Dickson County wide receiver Caleb Rozar, Hillsboro defensive linamen Ben Hutch, Huntland linebacker D.J. Taylor, Pope John Paul II safety Chris Bell and quarterback Ben Brooks, Blackman tight end Joseph Sewell and linebacker Anthony Ochoa, Wilson Central defensive back Ray Coggins, Independence defensive back Landon Guidry, Smyrna linebacker Daylon Williams and running back Casey Perkins, Brentwood Academy quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall and safety Josh Smith and Page kicker Brent Cimaglia.