With nine championships up for grabs, plenty of teams have high hopes for grabbing a title in Chattanooga this season.
The Middle Tennessee area has several teams that might fall under the “contenders” category. For this exercise, we’re highlighting teams that have a reasonably good chance to not only reach the BlueCross Bowl, but win it.
Two more of these groups will come this week, with Sleepers (Tuesday, Aug. 16) and Noisemakers (Wednesday, Aug. 17).
Oakland: Until they prove otherwise, the Patriots remain in this position despite graduating several key contributors both in the backfield and on defense. Even though Eric Taylor is recovering from a shoulder injury, his return will only serve to improve both sides of the ball, and opponents won’t be happy about that.
Ravenwood: Entering last season, Region 7-6A appeared like the most competitive region in the state. There ended up being a clear-cut top team in Summit, but the Spartans graduated the key contributors that made them the top team out west in 6A. The baton should be passed on to the Raptors, with new Mississippi State commit Chris Parson back aiming for a state title.
Independence: Ravenwood’s biggest challenge could come from Independence, as the Eagles’ offense should be capable of putting up plenty of points. Between Cody Pagach, Tre’ Hartwell, Ty Lockwood, and others, there are enough weapons to contend.
Green Hill: The Hawks have been building toward 2022 with a senior-laden group set to lead Green Hill into its third season with big dreams. Kaleb Carver and Braiden Staten are two likely targets for Cade Mahoney, while Brax Lamberth is an underrated running back in the area.
Nolensville: Defensive improvement is key for the Knights to resume their run of deep playoff trips because the offense should be able to provide enough scoring behind Coby Walton, Chance Fitzgerald, Samson Johnson, and Dylan Northcutt among others.
Page: It’s hard to replace an All-State quarterback like Jake McNamara, and the Patriots understand it. But another All-State recipient in Colin Hurd – who got that honor at linebacker – seems very much up to the task. It’s a younger team overall, but there are some upperclassmen who can rely on last year’s experiences to lead Page back to a good playoff run.
Pearl-Cohn: Losing a Mr. Football winner in Barion Brown always puts pressure on the next ones up, but the Firebirds return quite a bit of experience otherwise, and might just possess one of the area’s best running games. With Tullahoma coming back to earth this season, the region – and a potential BlueCross Bowl bid – is theirs for the taking.
East Nashville: The Eagles didn’t back down from Alcoa and certainly have reason to believe they can get another shot at a ring in 2022. Zacc Beard is back at quarterback and Frank Gordon is a tough cover for most cornerbacks in general, let alone in 3A.
Gordonsville: One of the biggest coaching moves was Oakland defensive coordinator Stephen Jackson coming over to lead his hometown team. Given the stability of that coaching staff, plus the returning starters who have a wealth of experience already, the Tigers have a realistic shot at winning a title in Class 2A.
MBA: Marcel Reed has been around forever, it seems. But the Big Red senior has one more shot to snag a title before heading to Ole Miss. Though MBA has to replace a stalwart at left tackle in Grayson Morgan, the things they do well – run the ball and play defense – should be as much a part of their 2022 effort as ever.
Pope Prep: The window is open for the Knights to get to Chattanooga with their current core of skill players and front seven on defense. Where they’ll need to find answers is along the offensive line and in the secondary, but if they can under new head coach Brian Sneed, they have the firepower to crash the party in December.
Lipscomb Academy: The unquestioned top team in Division II-Class AAA entering the season, anything short of a repeat will be a disappointment for the Mustangs despite losing a Mr. Football winner (Alex Broome) and finalist (Luther Richesson). Hank Brown takes over at quarterback and will have Nate Spillman and Junior Sherrill at his disposal in the passing game. Kaleb Beasley and Edwin Spillman are making names for themselves on the defensive side along with several seniors who want to back-to-back to close out their runs at Lipscomb Academy.
DCA: With a small roster, losing 15 seniors is tough on a program and that’s DCA’s big change entering 2022. However, nearly every starter on both lines returns, a leader on both sides of the ball in Brady Russell is back and a healthy Ashton Jones should be a Mr. Football candidate. They might not blow as many teams out as they did last year, but they’re in the mix again as long as they remain relatively healthy.
Friendship Christian: The last couple of years haven’t lived up to Friendship Christian standards, but there were signs the Commanders were starting to head back in the right direction late in 2021. Fifteen starters return including quarterback Grant Weekly, running back Tyson Wolcott and senior defensive tackle Reid Powers among others. In what should be a tightly-contested class, Friendship Christian should be right there in contention.
Nashville Christian: The same goes for Nashville Christian, however, they’ll have to replace eight offensive starters including our Small Class Player of the Year in Josh Strickland. The defensive line remains largely intact, anchored by Kevin Bradley. The Eagles do need to decide on a starting quarterback as well.
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