By Donovan Stewart
Tennessee Class 3A State Football Preview
Preseason Top Five
1. David Lipscomb Mustangs (14-1, defending 3A state champions)
Head Coach – Glenn McCadams
State Titles – 3, 1994, 2002, 2007
Top Players – Caleb Simpson, QB, Sr., Zach Rogers, WB/SS, Sr., Evan Webb, TE/LB, Sr., Harrison Daniel, RB/LB, Sr., Kyle Lehning, WR/K/FS, Sr., Andrew Quinn, LG, Sr., Dallon Hudson, C, Sr., Michael Saggio, MLB/RB, Sr., William Stevens, DE, Jr., Ben Brewer, LB, Sr.
Strengths – It starts with a good senior class that has compiled a nice resume so far. Rogers is a freak of nature athletically, while Webb is a stud linebacker with a great skill set. Simpson is solid at quarterback, Saggio is a hoss at linebacker and Lehning is a weapon in the kicking game. It would be a major shock if Mustangs aren’t in their fourth-straight title game.
Concerns – The Mustangs have a big target on their backs this season. Lipscomb also lost both starters at running back and three offensive linemen, but the Mustangs should have those positions plugged before the first game of the season.
2. Knoxville Fulton Falcons (13-2, 3A runner-up)
Head Coach – Buck Coatney
State Titles – 3, 2003, 2004, 2006
Top Players – Ben Winters, QB, So., Vincent Johnson, C, Sr., Jarius Johnson, LG, Jr., Mychal Cason, So., RT, Matthew Blasco, RG, Sr., Marco Golliday, RB, Jr., Demetrius Thomas, So., RB, Bart Satterfield, So., WR/DB, Antonio Barfield, Jr., WR/DB
Strengths – The offensive line was seen as a bit of a weakness last season but with four starters returning, the big uglies are the strength this year.
Concerns – The Falcons were decimated by graduation losses at the skill positions, especially on offense. Gone are quarterback Jonathan Blair, running backs Terrance Cobb and Bubba Stokes, wide receivers Vic Smith and Derrick Humphrey and left tackle Gary Gamble. Young, untested players will have to step up, but at Fulton they always do. The Falcons should be in the title hunt again.
3. Knoxville Catholic Fighting Irish (11-1, second round of playoffs)
Head Coach – Mark Pemberton
State Titles – None
Top Players – Daniel Hood, TE, Sr., Dorian Cozart, RB, Jr., Zach Vann, RB, Sr., Tyler Williamson, QB, Jr., Jordan Howanitz, DB, Sr., Will Coulter, OL, Sr., Nick Branum, WR, Sr., Spencer Mackle, WR, Jr., Jake Faris, WR, Jr.
Strengths – A ton of speed and athletic ability at the skill positions. Hood is one of the best tight ends in the entire southeast. The running back combo of Zach Vann and Dorian Cozart will be dangerous to opposing teams’ health. Quarterback Tyler Williamson has speed at wide receiver in Nick Branum, Spencer Mackle and Jake Faris.
Concerns – Inability to get a big win in the playoffs. Catholic has seen region rivals Fulton and Livingston Academy win state titles after Catholic won the region title. In three years in region 2-3A, Catholic has won three region titles only to see Fulton, Austin East and Livingston Academy take them out early in the playoffs.
4. Memphis Mitchell Tigers (10-4, 3A semifinalist)
Head Coach – Nathan Cole
State Titles – None
Top Players – Keiwone Malone, WR, Jr., Andrew Franklin, Sr., LB, Robert Redman, QB, Jr., Artaveous Gibson, RB, So., Larry Fitzgerald, FS, Sr., Gregory Peterson, DE, Jr., Rod Scruggs, Jr., OL/DL, Nicholas Cofield, Sr., LB, Veronoco Jenkins, Jr., OT/DE
Strengths – The Tigers have big-time playmakers in junior wide receiver Keiwone Malone (70 catches, 1,249 yards, 12 TDs) and linebacker Andrew Franklin (162 tackles, 17 sacks). The Tigers will also hit you with free safety Larry Fitzgerald, defensive end Greg Peterson and linebacker Nicholas Cofield.
Concerns – Inexperience at the quarterback position. Last season, Ken Torry made play after play for Mitchell. Junior Robert Redman will take over under center.
5. Dyersburg Trojans (11-1, second round of playoffs)
Head Coach – James Counce
State Titles – None
Top Players – Justin Whitfield, RB, Sr., Bobby Ellis, RB, Sr., Blake Thornton, DL, Sr., Patrick Walden, WR, Sr., Kyle Youmans, PK, Sr., Justin Click, RB/WR, Sr.
Strengths – The return of legendary coach James Counce after a year absence in which he helped Montgomery Bell Academy win a state title in Division II-Large.
Concerns – The Trojans lost a ton of starters on both sides of the ball and will have some unproven players at the skill position.
Five More That Could Surprise
White House, Station Camp, Austin East, Bolivar, Dyer County
Four Big 3A Questions
1. Can David Lipscomb make a fourth-straight title game? Unless something happens injury-wise, or it gets snake bit in the playoffs, look for Lipscomb to be in Murfreesboro to defend the title.
2. Can Knoxville Fulton make it to a third-straight title game despite heavy losses? A lot of people in the Knoxville area had already put dirt on the Falcons after their regular season loss to Catholic last year, only to see the Falcons get to Murfreesboro to compete for a state title. With three state titles in the last six years, I’m not betting against them.
3. Can Knoxville Catholic finally get a meaningful playoff win? Let’s hope so. Since 2003, the Fighting Irish have four undefeated regular seasons and one 9-1 season. That’s 49-1 during the regular season in the last five years. That run is unreal, but since joining Class 3A in 2005 they have been beat in the quarterfinals twice and in the second round once.
4. Who will emerge from the West between Dyersburg, Mitchell, Bolivar and Dyer County? This foursome represents the best of the west and one of them could present a big challenge for a state title. Dyer County beat Dyersburg in region play during the regular season. Mitchell outlasted Dyersburg in a playoff shootout and Bolivar and Mitchell both gave David Lipscomb all it wanted in the playoffs as well. Whoever survives to play in the semifinal will give probably David Lipscomb a test again.
Other Class 3A Superlatives
Toughest Shoes To Fill – Chris Pickett, Grundy County. The longtime Yellow Jacket had come back to his alma mater last season to be head coach again, but on Oct. 18 passed away after a battle with throat cancer. His team continued to compete with a heavy heart and finished with a 2-8 record. Now a year later, with a new coach in Jim Swafford, the Yellow Jackets will play in the memory of a man that left a lasting impression on the whole community.
Best Coaching Hire – Mike Martin, East Ridge. Martin made Meigs County competitive and will try and work his magic with the Pioneers, who are coming off a disappointing 4-7 campaign.
Best Rivalries – Knoxville Catholic-Knoxville Fulton, Knoxville Fulton-Austin East, Dyersburg-Dyer County, White House-Greenbrier, Covington-Crockett County.
Players Worth Price of Admission – Zach Rogers, RB/WR/FS, David Lipscomb, Evan Webb, LB, David Lipscomb, Daniel Hood, TE, Knoxville Catholic, Dorian Cozart, RB, Knoxville Catholic, Keiwone Malone, WR, Memphis Mitchell, Andrew Franklin, LB, Memphis Mitchell, Zach Ziegler, WR, Greenbrier, Gunner Miller, LB, East Ridge, Jebb Lenhart, OL, Pigeon Forge, Tony Vandergriff, RB, Union County, Jacob White, LB, Sequoyah, Hunter Tope, RB, Station Camp.
Most Competitive Region – Region 2-3A. This region is so stacked. Fulton, Livingston Academy and Austin East have all won state titles since 2001. Add juggernaut Catholic to the mix as well as Anderson County, it makes for the most cutthroat region in the state in 3A.
Toughest Places to Play – Knoxville Catholic, Knoxville Fulton, Dyersburg, Kingston, White House.