Farragut High School football head coach Eddie Courtney knows the first game of any season is a voyage into the unknown.
“In the first game, you never really know what you’ve got but we’re going to keep it simple,” said Courtney, who will lead the Admirals into the 2017 opener Friday night, Aug. 18, at Bradley Central against a tough Bears squad. “We’re going to be a little conservative on offense and we’re going to be a little conservative on defense.
“We want our kids to just go out and play and we don’t want them to think about it,” he added.
Farragut, which went 14-1 and claimed the Class 5A state championship last season, the first in program history, won 12 consecutive games after losing to Region 3-5A champ Oak Ridge.
The Admirals will face the bears in Cleveland to begin defense of their state title. If FHS is to repeat as state champ, it will be in Class 6A. Bradley Central made a deep run in the Class 6A playoffs and finished 9-3 in 2016.
Courtney said he’s seen film on the Bears and he knows they’ll pose a tough challenge for his squad.
“Their coach, Damon Floyd, has done a good job down there,” Courtney said. “They have a philosophy on offense and they have a philosophy on defense. He’s built the program on those philosophies.
“They do what they do and I don’t expect that we’ll see them do anything different.”
The Bears lost to Hardin Valley Academy (14-13) and Maryville (48-21) in the regular season before being eliminated from the playoffs by Blackmon.
Bradley’s game against the Red Rebels was closer than the final score would’ve indicated.
“They played Maryville tough,” Courtney said.
Top players to watch for the Bears include: Dylan Standifer (a junior quarterback who stated the final five games last year); Jeffery Brewer (senior, defensive back); Devon Moore (senior, running back); Nick Howell (senior, wide receiver); Kahlil Lamberth (junior, running back); Saylor Clark (sophomore, wide receiver); Jake Pressley (senior, defensive back); Tray Curry (freshman, wide receiver) and Adam Mullis (senior, fullback).
Key Admirals returners include wide receivers Braden Collins [a senior who had 68 receptions and amassed 1,242 yards and scored 16 touchdowns in 2016] and Jaden Gibbs.
Tight end Jacob Warren [a senior who has committed to Tennessee. He had 39 receptions, including nine touchdowns, last season].
For Farragut, senior Max Travis replaces Adam Fulton, who had a breakout campaign before graduating after hoisting the state championship trophy in Cookeville. Juniors Kyle Carter and Isaiah Gibbs will likely split time at running back.
The Admirals will feature a veteran offense line including: Andrew Maxey (senior, offensive tackle); Keehan Terhark (senior, offensive guard); Jonathan Buchanan (senior, center); Cooper Mashburn (junior, offensive guard) and Jackson Powers (senior, offensive tackle).
Junior Wyatt Lucas will also see some playing time at wide receiver.
Farragut has depth on defense. Ethan Gossage and Anthony Lawson will both be featured at noseguard. Jake Rima, Nolan Davis and Nnambi McSwine will split time at defensive end.
Returning inside linebackers are Cade Burkey, Drew Butler and Devin Yarborough. Outside linebackers include Alex Williams, Caleb Kuhn and Neyland Harmon.
Collins and Isaiah Gibbs will be in the secondary along with Griffen Swicegood, Hunter Shopovich, Tanner Corum, Nathan Morgan, Jon Buell, Tucker Jones, Grayson Utterback and Santiago Matsumura.
The Admirals are looking to make another deep postseason run and Warren said that he thought Farragut could win it again. He admitted that it wouldn’t be easy.
“It will be tough, but I just think doing the same stuff we were doing last year, will really help us,” Warren said. “We worked hard during the season and during the season to stay in shape and stay focused.
“We also trusted each other and we trusted coach Courtney and our whole coaching staff.”