There were free video games, bowling, billiards and more.
And yes, there was even some conversation about football.
Area players and coaches representing about 40 area high schools turned out Wednesday for the inaugural 5Star Preps football media day at Main Event Entertainment in West Knoxville.
While the casual get together offered a brief respite for players and coaches to unwind after kicking off fall practice this week, there was also plenty of football chatter.
Enthusiastic first-year Halls coach Jeremy Bosken seemed like he couldn’t wait for the regular season to start.
And who could blame him, with players like rising junior quarterback Caden Tollett returning.
“Caden’s like the Johnny Manziel of East Tennessee,” said Bosken, who was the offensive coordinator at Cleveland last season.
“I don’t know how many combines he’ll win, but he’s tough and he’s a football player.”
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Tollett took over quarterback duties early in the season in 2017 and put on a show the rest of the way as he helped Halls to a 6-6 finish.
Tollett, a fierce competitor and strong runner, was at his best in a must-win, late-season game against Sevier County.
He rushed 32 times for 200 yards against the Smoky Bears and scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 36 seconds left to play.
It was hardly your typical 1-yard quarterback dive.
On the play, Tollett broke two tackles as he retreated to the 4 and then shrugged off another Sevier County defender at the 1 to score the game winner.
Bosken said he’s determined to find even more ways for Tollett to impact games this season.
While Tollett will line up at quarterback most of the time, you might see him anywhere on the field.
“We don’t want to limit his playmaking ability,” explained Bosken.
“Caden is a guy who may line up at quarterback, running back or wide receiver. We’ve tweeked the offense to allow him more freedom.”
Bosken said sophomore Ty Humphrey (5-8, 200) will back up Tollett at quarterback. Freshman Simon Williams (5-8, 135) is another promising quarterback prospect.
“We’ve got three good quarterbacks in our system,” said Tollett.
Hidden gem at A-E: Austin-East coach Jeff Phillips is a big fan of Isaiah Ligon.
Phillips unequivocally called the rising junior the most underrated player in the area. He also said Ligon was the best player on the field on most Friday nights last season.
“His ability to make plays on offense and defense is among the best in the area,” said Phillips, whose Roadrunners finished 10-3 last season with a quarterfinal loss to eventual 3A state champion Alcoa.
“I truly believe, any time (Ligon) steps on the field, he’s arguably the best player on the field.”
The 5-8, 205-pound Ligon is a two-time all-state selection at safety. He has started every game in the secondary since he was a freshman.
“I know how to read the field,” said the personable Ligon, who runs a 4.5 in the 40.
He was pressed into full-time duty at running back late in the season a year ago and responded with a 200-yard night against Johnson County in a 30-21 second-round win.
Phillips predicted Ligon will be the first Roadrunner to rush for 1,000 yards in a season in his six years as coach at A-E.
Given Ligon’s responsibilities on defense, Phillips said he didn’t want to put too much of a burden on him on offense.
“My goal has always been to bring him along slowly,” said Phillips.
“He had 100 tackles last year and 98 as a freshman. I don’t want to burn him out. I would like Isaiah, in 10 games, to get about 140 carries. In the playoffs, all bets are off.”
Hopes high at G-P: Derek Rang beings his second year as head coach at Gatlinburg-Pittman with raised expectations after going 5-6 in his inaugural season with the Highlanders.
“I really think we can take that next step and compete for the region championship,” said Rang.
“We’ll see if we can get to a 9- or 10-win season. I think it’s very attainable.”
Rang pins much of his hopes for enhanced success on the return of a pair of rising juniors, quarterback J.D. Shults (6-2, 175) and running back/free safety Bryce Akey (5-9, 176).
“J.D. started every game for us as a sophomore and threw for 1,851 yards with 21 touchdowns and nine picks,” said Rang.
“We feel like he’ll be one of the better quarterbacks in the area as far as throwing the football.”
Akey returns after missing the entire season with a broken ankle in 2017.
“We expect him to have a big year,” said Rang.
“Pound for pound he’s one of the strongest kids in the area. He squats 420, benches 235 and power cleans 245.”
Akey said he became a workout warrior while recovering from his broken ankle.
“When I got hurt I believed I needed to get bigger, stronger and faster,” said Akey.
“I started working out six days a week and I love it.”
Region 5A pecking order: Campbell County coach Justin Price said Region 5A should be loaded the season with Fulton, Oak Ridge and West leading the pack.
He said it’s not farfetched that any of the three could make it to the state championship game.
The Wildcats were region champs a year ago. Fulton, West and Campbell County rounded out the four playoff qualifiers in order.
“Fulton, on paper, has got the most returning,” said Price.
“Their linebackers are as good as any around and in Xavier Malone you’ve got a dynamic guy at quarterback.
“Oak Ridge is going to have the talent to compete with them. West, on all three levels from line to linebackers to the secondary, probably has the best defense.”
Price said his Cougars figure to be in the hunt for that fourth and final playoff berth with Powell, Karns and Clinton.
Price’s hopes are buoyed by what he calls the “five best offensive linemen we’ve had. I think we’re going to be really good up front.”