by: Dale Krisle
It was an anticlimactic ending to the 2015 season for the Jo Byrns Red Devils. Fans in Cedar Hill were looking forward to another deep playoff run after a strong 8-2 regular season campaign. The Red Devils finished in a three way tie for second in Region 5-1A and defeated intra-county rival East Robertson 41-0. However, a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to Houston County ended Jo Byrns’ season in the first round of the playoffs and put a damper on what had been a promising year. Several key players are returning this year and the Red Devils will certainly be motivated to ease the pain from last year’s exit with a bunch of victories this fall.
Jo Byrns will need some more productivity from their offensive unit in order to surpass last year’s accomplishments. The 217 points they scored during region play was good for only fourth best in 5-1A. The Red Devils will rely heavily on Senior RB Sammy Earheart and Sophomore Eric Herring Jr. to set the tone in the run game. Earheart isn’t the biggest at only 5’7’’ and 173 lbs but he runs down hill and has the ability to break to the outside if the opportunity is there. He has a good feel for when he needs to just put his head down and take what yards are available. Herring is the quicker of the two and displayed great field vision at the second level on several plays last year.
The big play threat in the passing game will come from Junior WR Tyran Douglas. Head coach Tom Adkins’ offense is well suited for Douglas as it often utilizes short routes to get one on one opportunities in space. Douglas has sure hands and is shifty enough to often get 2-3 extra yards after the catch even when the defender is right on top of him. The Red Devils will need Douglas’ speed threat to help prevent defenses from gearing up to stop the run. The man delivering Douglas the ball will change this year after the graduation of last year’s starting QB Connor Cathey.
The Jo Byrns defense was the strength of the team last season and only gave up 105 points across region play. This was the second fewest points allowed in the region and was only topped by the 65 points given up by eventual Class A state champion Nashville Christian. SR OLB/FB Mikey Chennault will return to help anchor the defense and provide leadership for the younger players. Chennault is a classic example of a small school two way player that excels on both sides of the ball. He is a quick linebacker that is able to track down ball carriers in the open field. Chennault is skilled at taking the appropriate tackling angles and is rarely out of position. On offense, he provides an excellent change of pace as a quick hitting fullback on zone reads and traps. Up front, SR DE Justyn Emmons is an aggressive player that can create havoc in opposing backfields. He showed good instincts and positioning on tape last season and doesn’t hesitate when attacking the ball carrier. The defense held eight opponents to less than 10 points last season and should be above average again this year.
Key Matchups: It’s impossible to not include the annual rivalry game against East Robertson in any list of important games for Jo Byrns. The Red Devils will be going for a 19th straight win over their Robertson County neighbors when the two sides meet in “The Dungeon” on August 26th. A visit from Trousdale County on September 9th will help separate who might be the biggest threat to Nashville Christian’s quest to defend the region title. Jo Byrns defeated Trousdale County 20-14 in a terrific game last season. If the Red Devils triumph once again against Trousdale the next week’s game at Nashville Christian on September 16th will be even more important. It will be interesting to see how much the gap between these two teams has closed but fans can certainly hope for a better showing than the 49-7 loss Jo Byrns suffered a year ago. The last game of the regular season features Jo Byrns traveling to Monterey. This game will almost assuredly play a large role in the final regional standings and impact potential playoff matchups. Monterey defeated the Red Devils 21-18 in the final regional game last year and cost Jo Byrns the sole possession of second place in 5-1A. There is every reason to believe that the Jo Byrns Red Devils will finish near the top of Region 5-1A again in 2016 and very well may achieve that deep playoff run the school has been seeking since their last title game appearance in 2010.