Finally, the real season begins
When the whistle blows for the start of the 2016 gridiron season Friday night, the Forrest Rockets and Cornersville Bulldogs will be on home turf, while the Class 4A semifinalists Marshall County Tigers will be at Winchester, taking on Franklin County.
"I believe our kids are itching to take the field this Friday. You never know exactly what will happen in a first game but I'm excited about all the experience that we have on both sides of the ball," MCHS coach Thomas Osteen said. "Hopefully that will pay big dividends for us this Friday night."
There is much expectations from the Tigers to advance even further in the playoffs as they sport one of most talented squads in the state, especially at the skill positions.
"Nobody's gonna put any more pressure on us than we are ourselves," Osteen stated. "We believe that we have raised the "The Tiger Standard" very high and our goal is to play to that standard each Friday night this year no matter who the opponent is."
The Tigers mauled Franklin County 63-20 last year at Lewisburg, but they are not overlooking the Rebels, who have a decent running game and will stick with it all night.
"We have had a physical week of practice. We expect Franklin County to run downhill at us all night," Osteen said. "We must stop their running game. They have three great runners that can take the ball outside or get hard yards in between the tackles."
Osteen wants to run the football too, throw the pigskin a lot and wear the opponent down and Marshall County has a very deep roster that plays into the game plan.
"Offensively we must take care of the football, not force things, and make the most of our opportunities, Osteen stated. "And, we have got to be great defensively in the trenches if we are going to slow them down."
The Forrest Rockets won their first region title in 29 years last year but lost a dozen starting players and head coach Matt Kriesky, who went to Centennial.
Brent Johns has the reins at Forrest and the Rockets are in good hands with the hard-working meticulous coach, who learned from playing experience under Murrey Holton that the way to win, whether it be 80's or 2016 is to run the football and run it all night.
Forrest hosts long-time rival Huntland and Johns has not really even thought about what it will be like to take the field at his alma mater as head coach for the first time on a field named after his beloved friend and coach Holton.
"I really haven't had time to think about it yet, I'll probably be more concerned with what my first offensive play call is gonna be more than anything," Johns said. "I remember back four years ago being really nervous before the first home game versus Collinwood, but I'm way more comfortable now and I think the feeling will be one of relief that we actually get to play a game that counts."
Run and stop the run has been the mantra all summer for the Rockets, who beat the Hornets 35-0 on the road last year in the season opener.
"The team has been preparing for Huntland every day since January," Johns said. The morale and team spirit in practice this week has been incredible. My only concern now is that we don't spend too much energy early in the week---we need to save a little for Friday night."
Eyes on Taylor
The Hornets have one of the top recruits in the state at the running back positon in DJ Taylor, who has committed to Wake Forest and the Rockets have had a bullseye on the Huntland ball carrier all summer.
"The key to winning this game for us will be to stop the run on defense, especially DJ Taylor," Johns said. "He's the best back we've faced in the four years I've been at Forrest."
The Rockets have a potent offensive unit, almost six or seven deep at the running back position and sport one of the best kickers in the state in Javier Rios.
"We will need to play sound in the kicking game and on offense the plan is to be very physical and let our backs do their job over and over," Johns said.
A freshmen laden Cornersville Bulldog team struggled through a 3-7 season last year, but those field lessons and invaluable playing time made this experienced sophomore squad a much better team, a lot earlier than folks in Frog Bottom expected.
"I have witnessed quite a bit of improvement from our team since last year and the biggest thing that I have noticed is the guys being confident in their assignments," Cornersville coach Gerard Randolph said. "Guys have been able to react and make plays this fall instead of thinking about messing up. We are definitely taking steps in the right direction as a football program to compete on a high level.
The Bulldogs only have two seniors on the team and when they open up against a Mt. Juliet squad at home this week, they will have big payback on their minds after getting trounced 36-6 on the road last year versus the Saints.
"The guys have a bad taste in their mouth with the performance that we gave last year," Randolph said. "That is motivation in itself."
Gerard believes the home field advantage and the hard work the Dawgs have put in over the fall and summer will pay dividends in a big win Friday night.
"It will be a feeling of anxiety at the beginning, (I'm) just trying to be confident and trust that our team will come out and compete at a high level," Randolph said. "The guys have come in this week and turned the intensity up each day that we have practiced. I explained to the team how important it is to get off to a good start this year. I think they understand how important it is to go out and set the tone from the first whistle to the last whistle."
It should be clean sweep for the county Friday night as the Bulldogs win 27-12 in Frog Bottom, the Rockets will take a hard fought 17-7 win and the Tigers totally outman the Rebels 55-6.