From a competitive standpoint, Class 5A is the best of eight classifications in the state of Tennessee when it comes to football. 5A has some very good teams but not the big time 800 pound gorilla that the other classifications do have.
That balance makes for great football when the playoffs roll around. Where as the seven classifications have had a back to back state champions since the playoffs were expanded to eight classifications in 2009 (1A- Union City in 2013-14; 2A- Friendship Christian in 2011-12; 3A- Alcoa in 2009-10; 4A- Fulton in 2012-14; 6A-Maryville in 2010-11 and 2013-14; Division II-A- Knoxville Webb in 2012-14 and Ensworth in Division II-AA from 2010-13), 5A has had no such luck.
Since 2009, 5A has had five different state champions with Beech (2009 and 2012) and Henry County (2011 and 2013) winning twice but never in consecutive years. Columbia and Knoxville West have made back to back 5A state title games but lost the first meeting before winning the title the second time around as Columbia lost in 2009 but won in 2010 and West lost in 2013 and rebounded to win the title in 2014.
So what’s the odds of Independence, the defending state champions making a return trip to the title game in 2016? History shows they can make it back but the real question is will they go back to back and make TSSAA history?
For the fifth straight year, I will offer my Spring Top 10 teams in each classification looking at Class 5A this week.
My Top 10s are based on conversations with coaches in 5A across the state as well as returning personnel that the teams have back in 2016.
10. Campbell County Cougars
Last Year’s Record- 5-6, lost to Rhea County in first round
Head Coach- Justin Price (30-25 in five years at Campbell County)
Offensive Coordinator- Justin Price
Defensive Coordinator- Matthew Price
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 10/10
Key Returnees- Peyton Webb (OL/DL, Sr.), Mike Rhoades (OL/DL, Sr.), Tanner Boston (OL/DL, Sr.), Seth Roberts (WR/DB, Sr.), Josh Lay (QB, Sr.), Landon Reese (WR/DB, Sr.), Zach Rutherford (QB, Jr.)
Key Losses- Austin Raines (LB), Jacob Bunch (WR/DB),
Player(s) Looking To Step Up- Landon Reese. Reese is being expected to be the go to receiver for the Cougars offense that will play a two quarterback system.
Spring Practice- May 2-19
Spring Optimism- The Cougars return 20 starters (10 on each side) from a five win team last season but coach Justin Price is really excited about the strength of his defensive line as they return every starter and most are three year starters.
Spring Concerns- Campbell County will have to use spring practice to identify depth issues in the offensive line as well as depth all over the field.
9. Ooltewah Owls
Last Year’s Record- 10-3, lost to Rhea County in Quarterfinals
Head Coach- Mac Bryan (30-7 in three years at Ooltewah)
Offensive Coordinator- TBA
Defensive Coordinator- Doug Greene
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 4/2
Offense- Multiple/One Back
Key Returnees- Cameron Turner (RB/LB, Sr.), Scottie Strickland (WR, Sr.), Joseph Norwood (WR, Jr.), Will Whitson (DE, Sr.), Avery Black (OL, Sr.), Josh Myrick (OL, Sr.), Ethan Wall (WR, Sr.), Kendall Robinson (DB, Sr.), Gene Myers (LB, Sr.), Collin Thurman (QB, Sr.)
Key Losses- Jeremiah Jackson (LB), Rashun Freeman (DB), Nick Putman (DL), Adrian Hall (DB), Tyler Reid (LB), Lorenzo Pickett (DL) AJ Diggs (DB), Taylor Stutz (LB), Chris Smith (OL), London Elrod (QB), Peyton Oliver (WR), Dazion Taylor (WR), Robbie Garren (OL)
Player(s) Looking To Step Up- Collin Thurman. Thurman will start at quarterback this season after backing up Landon Elrod last season, the Owls offense will rely heavily on the decisions of Thurman.
Spring Practice- April 27- May 16
Spring Optimism- The Owls will return a talented offensive line that helped Ooltewah make the Quarterfinals last season.
Spring Concerns- Ooltewah has some good skill players returning but the problem for coach Mac Bryan is the players returning do not have a ton of game experience.
8. Morristown West Trojans
Last Year’s Record- 10-3, lost to Sevier County in Quarterfinals
Head Coach- Lamar Brown (104-54 overall, 61-31 in eight years at West)
Offensive Coordinator- Chris Thacker and Alvin Sanders
Defensive Coordinator- Barron Chandler
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 6/7
Offense- Multiple I
Key Returnees-Daymion Blevins (RB, Sr.), Bryson Blevins (DL, Sr.), Thad Simerly (LB, Sr.), Elijah Brown (LB, Sr.), Hezakyah Rudolph (S, Sr.), Luke Phillips (WR, Sr.), Jacob Metler (WR, Sr.), Shane Knight (DL, Sr.), John Foreback (QB, Jr.)
Key Losses- Aaron Jones (QB), DeAndre Delaney (RB), Michael Woods (OL), Sawyer Bruce (LB), Calvin Smith (S), Preston Long (DB), Wesley Russell (OL), Enoch Vannoy (OL), Dawson Stanton (FB), Nick Smelcer (WR), Korey Kinsler (DL), Thaddeus Grothe (LB)
Player(s) Looking To Step Up- Daymion Blevins. The senior running back will be the feature back for the Trojan running game after watching DeAndre Delaney tear up opposing defenses last year.
Spring Practice- April 28th -May 13
Spring Optimism- Coach Lamar Brown likes his wide receiving corps led by seniors Luke Phillips and Jacob Metler especially with junior quarterback John Foreback running the offense.
Spring Concerns- Like every team in Class 5A, Brown is worried about creating enough depth at every position and is hoping for a clean injury free season for West in 2016.
7. Henry County Patriots
Last Year’s Record- 10-3, lost to Centennial in Quarterfinals
Head Coach- James Counce (10-3 in one season to Henry County)
Offensive Coordinator- Steve Summers
Defensive Coordinator- John Harrison
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 4/2
Key Returnees-Clay McCord (RB, Sr.), Darren Russell (S, Sr.), Savon Stewart (QB, Jr.), Caleb McCutcheon (RB, Jr.), Knox Davis (S/WR, Sr.), Seven Stewart (S, Jr.), Grey Gardner (QB, Jr.), Ethan Thompson (WR, Soph.), Jarvis Bowen (LB, Jr.), Dalton Dyer (FB/LB, Jr.), Parker Piskos (LB, Sr.), Nathanial Owens (OL, Jr.), Jordan Harrod (OL, Sr.), Blair Robbins (OL, Sr.),
Key Losses- Brevin Odom (FB), Gunner Osborn (DE), Tanner Beasley (LB), Evan Harrison (DB), Mathew Counce (DE), Tommy Thompson (RB), Luke Reed (OL), Hayden Walker (OL), Ben Scarbrough (LB), Alex Scrabrough (LB), Perry Atkins (S)
Player(s) Looking To Step Up- Savon Stewart. The junior quarterback will be the trigger man for the Patriots pro offense and will need to make Playa to keep defenses off of the Henry County running game.
Spring Practice- April 4-22
Spring Optimism- The Patriot secondary is where the two starters on defense return and coach James Counce is excited about the athletism of the secondary.
Spring Concerns- Henry County will use the spring to create competition and find starters all over the field as they only return six starters.
6. Hendersonville Commandos
Last Year’s Record- 10-2, lost to Independence in second round
Head Coach- Bruce Hatfield (146-74 in 18 years at Hendersonville)
Offensive Coordinator- Kris Bundy
Defensive Coordinator- James Beasley
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 5/7
Offense- Wing T
Key Returnees- Jordan Amis (TE/DE, Sr.), Anthony Hughes (RB/LB, Jr.), Reggie Harris (RB/LB, Sr.), Daly Cull (OL/DL, Sr.), Emmitt Richardson (OL/DL, Sr.), Frankie Small (RB/DE, Sr.), Brett Coker (QB, Jr.), Weston Schwerdt (RB/DB, Sr.), Brandon Dove (OL/DL, Sr.), Luke Carver (WR/DB, Sr.), Caleb Thorton (WR/DB, Sr.)
Key Losses- Jack Towe (RB), Terrell Carter (RB/DB, transferred to Stratford), Alex Tate (OL/LB)
Player(s) Looking To Step Up- Brett Coker. The junior will take over the Commandos wing T offense and reading the offense will be a huge key for a Hendersonville offense that return five starters.
Spring Practice- May 2-13
Spring Optimism- The Commandos will return a large senior class (30 seniors) and coach Bruce Hatfield is very optimistic that the leadership will take them deep into the playoffs.
Spring Concerns- Hendersonville will have to find depth on both sides of the offensive and defensive line as well depth at linebacker.
5. Hillsboro Burros
Last Year’s Record- 9-4, lost to Independence in Quarterfinals
Head Coach- Craig Clayton (266-124 overall, 36-16 in four years at Hillsboro)
Offensive Coordinator- Craig Clayton
Defensive Coordinator- Dustin Lopez
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 5/5
Key Returnees-Ben Hutch (DT, Sr.), Julian Houston (OL, Sr.), Javonte Wiggins (LB, Jr.), Jon Beets (SS, Sr.), Javonta Payton (ATH, Sr.), Trevon Smith (OL, Jr.), Matthew Jackson (DB, Sr.), Damon Hodge (DB, Sr.), Kenshaun Starks (WR, Sr.), Alex Smith (LB, Sr.), T.J. Neal (RB, Jr.), Jeremiah Edwards (ATH, Jr.), Trevon Brashers (OL, Jr.), Kevon Williams (OL, Jr.)
Key Losses- DeAndre Alexander (RB), Malcolm Swann (DE), Malique Fleming (SS/TE), Jay King (WR), Chris Chapman (OL), Maurice Shaw (OL), Jeremy Hill (RB), Daylon Murphy (QB), Randolph Wilkerson (RB), Roy Hunter (DE), Anthony Allen (DB), Isaiah Hall (DL), Junior Jumeau (OL), Nathan Berry (OL)
Player(s) Looking To Step Up- Darius Smith, Gyasi Mattison and JaVonta Payton. The three players are dueling to see who will be the Burro starting quarterback as Payton is the senior while Smith and Mattison are both sophomores.
Spring Practice- May 2-17
Spring Optimism- The Burros will bring back four starters on a veteran offensive line, as well as an athletic secondary and linebackers.
Spring Concerns- Hillsboro will have to break in a new quarterback and new skill players so patience will probably be tested in spring practice on both sides of the ball.
4. Oak Ridge Wildcats
Last Year’s Record- 10-2, lost to Ooltewah in second round
Enrollment- 1, 419
Head Coach- Joe Gaddis (287-119 overall, 29-7 in three years at Oak Ridge)
Offensive Coordinator- Brian Wyatt
Defensive Coordinator- Jeff Miner
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 4/6
Offense- Flex bone
Key Returnees- Tee Higgins (WR, Sr., Tennessee commitment), Jordan Graham (RB, Soph.), Chase Kimbro (LB/S, Sr.), Kyndall Clark (LB, Sr.), Caleb Jackson (RB, Sr.), Jaret Miner (DB, Sr.), Adarius Simpson (DB, Jr.), Caleb Brinkman (OL, Sr.)
Key Losses- Adam Manookian (RB/LB), Brandon Nickle (PK/P), TJ Allison (RB/LB), Jordan Dunbar (ATH), Darel Middleton (DE/TE), Matt Warmbrod (TE/LB), Gavin Warrington (RB/DB), Alex Alcorn (OL/DE), Jared Verner (OL/DL)
Player(s) Looking To Step Up- Jordan Graham. The sophomore made a splash as a freshman last season especially in the second half of the season. For Oak Ridge to have a special season, Graham needs to step up and have a huge year.
Spring Practice- May 2-19
Spring Optimism- The Wildcats are set at the skill positions with Graham and senior Caleb Jackson at running back and game changer in Tennessee commitment Tee Higgins to stretch defenses at the wide receiver position.
Spring Concerns- Oak Ridge will use spring practice to find combinations they can live with on both the offensive and defensive lines as well as create depth there as well.
3. Rhea County Eagles
Last Year’s Record- 10-4, lost to Sevier County in semifinals
Head Coach- Mark Pemberton (196-75 overall, 33-7 in three years at Rhea County)
Offensive Coordinator- Mark Pemberton
Defensive Coordinator- Taylor Ownbey
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 6/6
Offense- Wing T
Key Returnees-Cody Bice (RB/DB, Sr.), Mason Stevenson (FB/LB, Sr.), Tyler Brown (OT/DT, Sr.), Jared Edwards (TE/DT, Sr.), Eddie Davis (RB/LB, Sr.), Jawan Martin (LB, Jr.), Chris Sturgeon (RB/DB, Jr.), Chandler Kaylor (TE/LB, Soph.)
Key Losses- Daniel Dotson (QB), Noel Patterson (WR/DB), Tyler Pendleton (LB), Jonathan Shoemake (OL/DL),
Player(s) Looking To Step Up- Braxton Dickhaus and Zack Pemberton. The quarterback battle between Dickhaus, a senior and Pemberton a sophomore will rage on in spring practice.
Spring Practice- May 2-20
Spring Optimism- The Golden Eagles are set at running back as seniors Cody Bice and Mason Stevenson as well as junior Chris Sturgeon will make Rhea’s ground game solid yet again.
Spring Concerns- Rhea returns six starters on both sides of the ball and they really don’t have any glaring weaknesses but they will try to establish depth on both sides of the ball.
2. Knoxville West Rebels
Last Year’s Record- 9-3, lost to Morristown West in second round
Head Coach- Jeff Harig (100-61 overall, 9-3 in one year at West)
Offensive Coordinator- Jeff Harig
Defensive Coordinator- Kevin Lane
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 6/9
Key Returnees-Eric Middleton (LB, Sr.), Christian Romines (RB, Sr.), Tyler Jones (NG, Sr.), Leonard Humphrey (DE, Sr.), Hayden Shymlock (DB, Sr.), Juan Davis (DB, Jr.), Jermaine Buchannon (WR, Sr.), Cabot Boyd (OL, Jr.), Zack Stokes (DL, Jr.), K.J Jefferson (RB/LB, Sr.), Demarcus Smith (WR, Sr.), Zach Harshey (QB, Sr.), Devante Patrick (RB, Jr.), Decosio Clark (DB, Jr.), Andrew Howard (OL, Sr.)
Key Losses- Cole Skavara (LB), Cameron Trainer (TE), Rob Williamson (OL), Isaiah Mobley (OL), Kay Waefter (K), Corbin West (DE),
Player(s) Looking To Step Up- Christian Romines and Devante Patrick. The Rebels lost both star running backs to ACL tears within the first two months of last season and both are looking to make up for lost time in 2016.
Spring Practice- April 18th-May 6th
Spring Optimism- The Rebels are ripe with skill players with Romines and Patrick at running back while linebacker Eric Middleton and defensive end Leonard Humphreys will lead a stout defense that returns nine starters.
Spring Concerns- West will have to find quality offensive lineman as they will have to replace four starters from last year’s nine win team.
1. Independence Eagles
Last Year’s Record- 15-0, beat Sevier County for state title
Head Coach- Scott Blade (102-29 overall, 30-9 in three years at Indy)
Offensive Coordinator- Scott Blade
Defensive Coordinator- Lance White
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 3/6
Key Returnees-Hunter Dupree (LB, Sr.), Michael Pierce (DL, Sr.), David Demke (DE, Sr.), Cole Huner (FS, Sr.), Logan Guidry (SS, Soph.), Montray Steele (WR/DB, Sr.), Austin Copps (OL, Sr.), Michael Weathers (OL, Sr.), Isaiah Demello (OL, Sr.), Alan Watson (DB, Sr.),
Key Losses- Andrew Bunch (QB), Nate Johnson (WR), Seth Hunter (WR), Adam Swayze (WR), Daniel Wright (WR/RB), Pete Dorsten (OL), Chris Weathers (OL), Chris Beavers (DL), Jacob Stoney (LB), Kylan Stribling (DB) Keegan Hudson (DL), Jordan Pope (DL)
Player(s) Looking To Step Up- Brandon Hines, Ryan Smith SR, and Nathan Cisco. The Eagles will use the spring practice to sort out the lucky quarterback to replace star Andrew Bunch as seniors Hines and Smith will battle with sophomore Cisco for the starting job.
Spring Practice- April 27-May 12
Spring Optimism- The Eagles will be very good on defense as they return six starters led by Michael Pierce and David Demke on the defensive line, Hunter Dupree at linebacker and three starters in the secondary led by seniors Cole Huner and Montray Steele.
Spring Concerns- As good as they will be on defense, Indy will have to find starters in the skill positions as they have to break in a new quarterback, running back and several wide receivers.
Eight More Teams To Keep Your Eye On: Brentwood, Centennial, Clarksville, Gallatin, LaVergne, Memphis Central, Southwind and Stewarts Creek
Contact Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at Examine_Stew