Stop me if you have heard this before: Alcoa is the overwhelming favorite in Class 3A.
That statement is again true going into spring practice for the 2017 as the Tornadoes are coming off a 14-1 season and their fourth state title in the last seven years and third in the last four years.
3A will have a different look to it this year after reclassification as two time defending 2A state champion Trezevant saw an increase in enrollment and moved up to 3A along with North Greene, Austin-East, Gatlinburg-Pittman, Sweetwater and Brainerd.
Powerhouse programs in Pearl Cohn and Giles County are both dropping down to 3A this season after having successful seasons recently in 4A and both teams should do very well dropping down in classification this year.
For the sixth straight year, I will offer my Spring Top 10 teams in each classification starting with Class 3A this week.
My Top 10s are based on conversations with coaches in 3A across the state as well as returning personnel that the teams have back in 2017.
10. Fairview Yellow Jackets
Last Year’s Record- 11-1, lost to Goodpasture in second round
Head Coach- Chris Hughes (71-24 in eight years at Fairview)
Offensive Coordinator- Chris Hughes
Defensive Coordinator- Ron King
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 12 (5 on Off/7 on Def)
Key Returnees- Brendan Nardozzi (LB, Sr.), Khristian Harris-Lusk (RB, Sr.), Eli Clifton (RG, Sr.), Hiller Gray (C, Jr.), Corbin Hughes (WR, Sr.), KK McKinney (DE, Sr.), Tristan Morton (LB, Sr.), Andrew Vanover (DE, Sr.), Blake Russell (DB, Jr.), Reid Bierly (S, Sr.), Tony Torres (DB, Sr.), Kam Harris-Lusk (QB, Jr.), Jackson Clevenger (OT, Jr.), David McNeil (LB, Sr.)
Key Losses- Hunter Caldwell (RB), Daniel Conrad (OL), Josh Ortiz-Derrick (LB/FB), Sam Sanborn (LB), Mckenzie Viau (OL), Chase Myatt (WR), Jake Beathard (RB)
Players Looking To Step Up- David McNeil. The senior will get the first crack to replace four year starter Josh Ortiz at linebacker for the Yellow Jackets.
Spring Practice- May 1-16
Spring Optimism-The return of junior quarterback Kam Harris-Lusk (1,588 passing, 12 TDs) after a solid sophomore campaign is encouraging as well as returning starters in the defensive secondary.
Spring Concerns- Uncertainty at running back is a concern as Khristian Harris-Lusk will get the first shot of cementing the spot after graduation hit the position hard.
9. Stratford Spartans
Last Year’s Record- 11-1, lost to CPA in second round
Head Coach- TBA
Offensive Coordinator- TBA
Defensive Coordinator- TBA
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense-12 (6 Off/6 Def)
Key Returnees- Jaalon Gupton (OL, Jr.), Alexender Kelly (DL, Sr.), Lacorey Buchanan (LB, Sr.), Ledarius Haynes (DL, Sr.), Michael Williams (LB, Sr.), William Davis (OL, Jr.), Rod Reed (DB, Jr.), Roderick Owens (WR, Jr.), Robert Lilly-Sneed (WR, Sr.), Deairrus Waller (OL, Jr.), Calvin Farmer Jr. (RB, Jr.), Raymon Mitchell (QB, Sr.).
Key Losses- Josh Trueheart (QB), Greg Smith (OL), Artavus Kelly (OL), Kieshawn Gaddes (OL), William Cruz (LB), Bradley Jones (DB), Winston Hooten (DB), Zyshaun Simmons (DL), Terrell Carter Jr.(DB)
Players Looking To Step Up- Calvin Farmer Jr.- The junior running back takes over at running back where T.J. Carter thrived last year.
Spring Practice- TBA
Spring Optimism – The Spartans return a good group of offensive lineman which will make Farmer Jr. and new quarterback Raymon Mitchell jobs easier while they learn on the fly.
Spring Concerns- Not having a head coach is the first concern although defensive coordinator Jerrell Cogmon has been running things and should be the pick. Having players take over new positions is also a concern.
8. Trezevant Bears
Last Year’s Record-10-5, defeated Marion County for 2A state title
Head Coach- Orentheus Taylor (7-24 overall, 0-0 in first year at Trezevant)
Offensive Coordinator- Orentheus Taylor
Defensive Coordinator- Larry Franklin
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 13 (5 Off/8 Def)
Key Returnees- Marquell Dailey (FB/LB, Sr.), Joshua Reed (RB/LB, Sr.), Tyrez Johnson (WR/DB, Soph.), Jcori Jolly (WR/LB, Jr.), Antwan Hopkins (OL/DL, Sr.), Jaylon Hopkins (OL/DL, Jr.), Jewa Fredrick (RB/DB, Sr.), Brian Tillman (FB/LB, Sr.), Tavarious Hunter (WR/RB/DB, Sr.), Traven Pulliam (WR/DB, Sr.), Marterio Richardson (WR/DB, Jr.)
Key Losses- Cordarrian Richardson (RB), Antonio Nelson (OL), Tywon Johnson (QB), Tijuan Mason (DL), Wanya Thomas (DL), Justin Shelton (OL), Jaylen Morman (OL), Jondarius Smalls (LB)
Players Looking To Step Up- Joshua Reed. Reed stepped in for an injured Cordarrian Richardson and played well as he ran for over 200 yards against Waverly in the 2A semifinals. Now all the carries will be his so can take his play to the next level for the Bears who are coming off back to back 2A state titles.
Spring Practice- May 1-19
Spring Optimism – The Bears again are stacked with athletes especially at running back, linebacker and the defensive secondary, so first year head coach Orentheus Taylor has plenty of positives going into spring practice.
Spring Concerns- Trezevant will have to replenish both their offensive and defensive lines as graduation depleted both sides.
7. Red Bank Lions
Last Year’s Record- 8-4, lost to East Ridge in second round in 3A playoffs
Head Coach- Chad Grabowski (51-37 overall, 18-17 in three years at Red Bank)
Offensive Coordinator- Drew Adkins
Defensive Coordinator- Charles Weems
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 14 (7 Off/7 Def)
Key Returnees- Ivan Young (DE, Sr.), Calvin Jackson (ATH, Jr.), Mike Porter (DB, Jr.), Zay Brown (RB, Sr.), Kedric Richardson (LB, Sr.), Jordan Douglas (ATH, Sr.), Jamel Davis (DL, Sr.), Madox Wilkey (QB, Soph.)
Key Losses- Courvoisier Bell (OLB), Mike Clark (ATH), Taelon Hall (OL)
Players Looking To Step Up- Madox Wilkey. The sophomore will take over at quarterback for Calvin Jackson who will move all over the field.
Spring Practice- May 1-19
Spring Optimism – Defense. The Lions return a good nucleus (seven starters) as the 2016 version allowed only 18.3 points a game which makes coach Chad Grabowski giddy going into the season.
Spring Concerns- Red Bank will have to rebuild their offensive line as they will have to find three new starters during spring practice.
6. Raleigh-Egypt Pharaohs
Last Year’s Record- 10-2, lost to Dyersburg in second round
Head Coach- Major Wright (110-75 overall, 21-13 in three years at Raleigh Egypt)
Offensive Coordinator- Major Wright
Defensive Coordinator- Demetrius Leach
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 15 (5 Off/10 Def)
Defense- 3-3 Stack
Key Returnees- Kalyn Grandberry (RB/LB, Sr.), Caleb Gates (WR/DB, Sr.), Larry Turner (LB, Sr.), Shelton Ward (DB, Sr.), Clifton Tunstall (QB, Jr.), Julius Hampton (WR/DB, Jr.), Cedric Henderson (DE, Sr.), Victavious Taylor (RB, Sr.), Damonte Davis (LB, Sr.), Brandon Johnson (DB, Jr.), Nate Thomas (DE, Sr.)
Derrick Green (NG, Sr.), Vonterrio Norman (OL, Sr.), Aram Dunbar (OL, Sr.)
Key Losses- Mario Claxton (OL), Michael Thomas (OL), Dashawn Boyland (RB)
Players Looking To Step Up- Clifton Tunstall. The junior will enter his second year as the starter at quarterback and will have to improve on his sophomore numbers for the Pharaohs to have a special season.
Spring Practice- May 8-19
Spring Optimism – The Raleigh-Egypt Defense returns 10 starters which instantly puts a big smile on coach Major Wright’s face.
Spring Concerns- According to Wright, the Pharaohs have to get tougher mentally and he and his staff will work on the mental game this spring.
5. Austin East Roadrunners
Last Year’s Record- 12-2, lost to Marion County in 2A Semifinals
Head Coach- Jeff Phillips (24-22 in four years at AE)
Offensive Coordinator- Garrett Hughes
Defensive Coordinator- Antonio Mays
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 12 (5 Off/7 Def)
Key Returnees- Calvin Wilson (OL, Sr.), Jahson Jackson (RB, Sr.), Chris Stevenson (LB, Jr.), Chris Hunter (QB, Sr.), Kevin Andrews (WR, Sr.), Isiah Ligon (WR/FS, Soph.), Robert Allen (LB, Sr.), Trey Foster (DE/RB, Soph.), Garyion Hamilton (DB, Sr.), Aristotle Huffman (WR/DB, Jr.), Elijah Whitten-Jeter (WR/DB, Jr.), Jazine Pelcher (RB, Jr.), Cobe Smith (S, Sr.)
Key Losses- Darius Harper (QB), Shannon Cozart (SS), Kashif Warren (WR), Xavier Ligon (WR) Gedarian Mobley (RB), Keanu Prigmore (LB), Tim Forbes (DE), Zac Cooke (DL)
Players Looking To Step Up- Chris Hunter- The senior will have big shoes to fill after quarterback Darius Harper took his talents to Coastal Carolina. If Hunter plays the position well, the Roadrunners could be poised for a big year.
Spring Practice- April 22- May 5
Spring Optimism – Roadrunner head coach Jeff Phillips thinks the AE speed at running back, linebacker and defensive back is the best in his five years at his Alma mater, which is a scary thought for opposing teams.
Spring Concerns- Austin East will have to break in not only a new quarterback but new receivers as well with will take time to get the timing down in the passing game.
4. Giles County Bobcats
Last Year’s Record- 8-4, lost to Marshall County in second round of 4A playoffs
Head Coach- David O’Connor (127-53 overall, 8-4 in one year at Giles)
Offensive Coordinator- Rip Flippo
Defensive Coordinator- Roger Haynes
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 13 (7 Off/6 Def)
Offense- Multiple Pro
Key Returnees- John Bachus (QB, Sr.), K.J Ziegler (WR, Soph.), Knox Birdsong (WR, Soph.), Samari Howell (DL, Sr.), Drew Hawk (OL, Jr.), Davonta Murphy (OL, Jr.), Austin Norwood (WR/DB, Sr.), Kenai White (DL, Jr.), C.J Bryant (LB, Jr.), Dallan Harris (DB, Sr.), Max Jett (TE, Sr.),
Cameron Harris (RB/WR, Jr.)
Key Losses- Tanner Holley (WR/SS), Jared Roberts (OL), Payton Hall (WR/DB), R’Kell Reed (RB), Dee Murphy (DT) Jacquez White (DL), Key McDonald (LB), Trillion Marks (OL),
Players Looking To Step Up- Cameron Harris. The junior will step in as a starter at running back, how he performs should help take pressure off quarterback John Bachus.
Spring Practice- May 1-18
Spring Optimism- The Bobcats will return Bachus (3,307 passing yards, 29 TDs) and three of their top five targets from last year including juniors K.J. Zeigler and Knox Birdsong.
Spring Concerns- The running back position is an offensive concern if Harris doesn’t answer the call look for three sophomores in Talique Johnson, Ty Pierce and
Charlie Faulkner as well as Jermane Punall to get carries as well.
3. Milan Bulldogs
Last Year’s Record- 9-3, lost to Liberty in second round
Head Coach- Jeff Morris (216-62 in 21 years at Milan)
Offensive Coordinator- Ryan Muench
Defensive Coordinator-Craig Pettigrew
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 10 (5 Off/5Def)
Offense- I Formation
Key Returnees- Anthony Ballard (RB, Sr.), Luke Wren (OL, Sr.), Tee Carter (DL, Sr.), Jacquez Norman (RB/DB, Jr.), Taylor Lockhart (QB, Jr.)
Key Losses- J.P. Porter (RB/DB), Jacob Rimmer (OL), Spencer Walker (DB), Lucas Fisher (OL), Ben Fry (OL), Chandler Smith (TE), LaMartez Brooks (WR), Lewis Mayo (WR), Blake Miller (QB), Bryce Vandiver (DE), Jordan Shepherd (DL), Jack Fisher (DL), Thomas Burns (DL), Dylan Whitehead (DB), Cameron Oliver (DB),
Players Looking To Step Up- Jacquez Norman. As a sophomore, Norman rushed for over 1,000 yards and for Milan to make it past the second round another big season will be required of Norman.
Spring Practice- Spring Practice already completed
Spring Optimism – The Bulldogs return two 1,000 yard rusher as Anthony Ballard and Norman who combined for 2,146 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Spring Concerns- The biggest concern that Coach Jeff Morris has is 11 new starters don’t have a lot of experience which could be devastating with Milan’s tough schedule.
2. Pearl Cohn Firebirds
Last Year’s Record- 12-2, lost to Memphis East in 4A Semifinals
Head Coach- Tony Brunetti (89-51 in 11 years at Pearl Cohn)
Offensive Coordinator- Damien Harris and Brandon Woods
Defensive Coordinator- William Darnell
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 15 (9 Off/6 Def)
Key Returnees- Xavier Shepherd (QB, Jr.), Jimmyrious Parker (WR, Sr.), David Anderson (DB, Sr.), Jaylan Granberry (FS, Sr.), Jaydon Harrison (WR, Jr. ) Chandon Page (OT/DT, Sr.), Elijah Simmons (DT, Jr.), Quietin Taylor (LB, Jr.)
Key Losses- Ke’Juan Vaughn (RB), Darius Hunter (WR), Edward Hyde (DE), Kenneth Miller (DL), Antowan Malone (LB), Brayden Devault-Smith (LB) Justin Brewington (SS)
Players Looking To Step Up- Elijah Simmons and Quietin Taylor. The juniors will play a big role on defense as Simmons will step in at defensive tackle and Taylor will handle a linebacker spot.
Spring Practice- May 9-18
Spring Optimism – The Firebird passing game returns junior quarterback Xavier Shepherd (2,129 passing, 15 TDs) and well as top targets Jimmyrious Parker and Jaydon Harrison while Chandon Page anchors the offensive line.
Spring Concerns- Pearl Cohn will have to rebuild their defensive line as they will have to replace three starters from last year.
1. Alcoa Tornadoes
Last Year’s Record- 14-1, defeated Liberty for 3A state title
Head Coach- Gary Rankin (397-73 overall, 145-15 in 11 years at Alcoa)
Offensive Coordinator- David Sweetland
Defensive Coordinator- Brian Nix
Returning Starters on Offense/Defense- 11 (5 Off/6 Def)
Offense- Pro I
Key Returnees- Davis Maples (LB, Sr.), Cameron Woody (WR/DB, Sr.), Jacob Maness (OL, Sr.), Lucas McKeehan (OL/DL, Sr.), Jack Warwick (FB/LB, Sr.), Bryson Perkins (OL, Sr.), Tristan Woody (DL, Sr.), Tykee Ogle-Kellogg (WR/DB, Sr.), Walker Russell (QB, Jr.), Diandre Johnson (WR, Sr.), Caleb Cardwell (WR/DB, Jr.), Landon Ray (TE, Jr.), Adonis Salter (OL, Jr.), George Carter (DE, Sr.), Kareem Rodriguez (LB, Jr.), Jalen McCord (RB, Jr.), Andrew Coulter (OL, Jr.), K’Vaughn Tyson (RB, Jr.)
Key Losses- Malik Salter (FB), Cade Evans (OL), Logan Turbyfill (OL), Jaylen Myers (QB), Dontae Walden (OL), Larry Hodge (DB), Terran Cox (DB), Taylen McNear (RB), Ian Dunkin (DL),
Players Looking To Step Up- Walker Russell. The junior will assume the signal carrier role this year as the Tornadoes will try to win their third straight state title.
Spring Practice- May 2-19
Spring Optimism – Alcoa will have a very active front seven on defense as they return all three starters at linebacker and two on the defensive line. They also return three starters on the offensive line as well.
Spring Concerns- The Tornadoes will have to find an answer at running back and will take a look at three juniors in Kareem Rodriguez, Jalen McCord and K’Vaughn Tyson during spring practice.
Six More Teams To Keep Your Eye On- Bolivar, Camden, Melrose, Sequatchie County, South Gibson and Upperman
Contact Donovan at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at Examine_Stew