GATLINBURG –Gatlinburg-Pittman’s offense seemed to spread the ball around at will Tuesday as the Highlanders hosted more than a dozen schools in 7-on-7 play on their home field and Rocky Top Sports World.
That’s what happens when you return most of your skill players off a 7-5 team that lost to Austin-East in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs.
This appears to be the season that third-year Highlanders coach Derek Rang has been pointing to.subscribe to read full article
“We probably have 90 percent of our offensive production back,” said Rang.
“We have eight starters back on offense and we have a lot of kids back who played significant time last season.”
Senior quarterback J.D. Shults (6-1, 180) has started every game that Rang has coached at G-P.
“J.D. is a three-year starter who has started 23 games,” said Rang.
“He is poised to have a big year.”
Shults has a wealth of veteran receivers and running backs to throw to, as was evident Tuesday.
“We’ve got seven of our top eight receivers back,” said Rang.
“They had a really good offseason in the weight room and they’re more focused with things like running their routes with four of them being seniors. We have a lot of depth there.”
Included in the deep pool of receivers are seniors Ethan Estabrook, Trevon Faulkner, Carlitos Lopez, Jayden Schober and junior Ethan Stinnett.
Likewise, the Highlanders have depth and experience at running back.
Bryce Akey (5-9, 190) and Pierce Hammonds (6-1, 215) combined for 1,626 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns last season.
Of course the Highlanders face the annual region gauntlet, which includes defending state champion Alcoa and always-tough Austin-East.
“Taking the next step for us is competing in the region,” said Rang.
Highlanders breakout player: Rang said 220-pound sophomore inside linebacker Jacob Ferguson is a player to watch on defense this season.
“He has a lot of tools, moves well and I think he can be a really good football player for us.”
Sevier County quarterback update
Longtime Smoky Bears coach Tony Linginfelter hopes a 2018 season of discontent is behind his team.
After finishing 2-8 in an injury-riddled season, Sevier County has new hope and a new quarterback.
“We had a lot of starters coming back last year, but we had some injuries and just didn’t perform,” said Linginfelter.
Collin Shannon (6-1, 180), a sophomore transfer from G-P, takes over for Cam Burden (Alcoa transfer) at quarterback as the Smoky Bears try and return to form.
“He (Shannon) is athletic and he throws the ball well,” said Linginfelter.
“He just lacks experience, but he’ll get plenty of that this fall.”
Freshman Tyson McFall (6-1, 180) is penciled in as the No. 2 quarterback.
“He’ll be a backup, but he has a chance to play some too,” said Linginfelter.
Smoky Bears breakout player: Sebastian Nelson (5-7, 160) saw significant playing time last season at running back and cornerback, but Linginfelter expects the senior to take his play to another level this season.
“He’s a really tough guy. He should be one of our best defensive backs, if not the best.”
Expectations high at Austin-East
With two of the ringleaders back from last season’s 9-4 team that lost 24-6 to Alcoa in the state quarterfinals, Roadrunners coach Jeff Phillips has reason for optimism once again.
Seniors Trey Foster (QB 6-0, 210) and Isaiah Ligon (RB/FS 5-9, 190) look to be poised for monster seasons once again for the Roadrunners.
“They’re gonna be big time,” said Phillips.
“Trey has gotten stronger, faster and the best thing is he is really understanding the position.
“Isaiah is a three-time all-state player who will be a dynamic player for us.”
Foster ran for 1,237 yards and threw for 1,834 yards (21 TDs) a year ago.
Roadrunners breakout player: Add junior Ke’on Smith (5-11, 175), a receiver and safety, to the list of potential game breakers for A-E this fall.
“He could be one of the best receivers in the area,” offered Phillips.