Phase I is complete.
The Michael Cermaks, the Jordan Caughrons, the Patton Robinettes are staying put.
In years past, Heritage would likely lose all three to more successful programs in and around Blount County. That Cermak, a cant-miss halfback, Caughron, a talented tight end, and Robinette, one the best young quarterbacks to come out of an area middle school in many years, will each be Mountaineers come fall is significant.
It means Heritage coach Tommy Rewis has reached the first milestone in restoring Mountaineer football to better times, one more important than wins and losses at this point. It means the players who will have the biggest impact on the program in coming years believe in the third-year coach.
"The name players, the kids like Cermak and the kids like Robinette, they came here and I think thats going to pay off," Rewis said.
Heritage held its annual red and white game two weeks ago to bring to a close an earlier-than-usual two weeks of spring practice. The idea is to find out sooner who most wants to lead Phase II, Rewis said.
Caughron and Cermak, both with the schools baseball team, and Robinette, still a Heritage Middle eighth-grader, werent on hand for spring practice, but it was of little consequence. If the team around them this fall isnt as strong as the promise the trio have displayed at the feeder-school and freshman level, last seasons disappointing 2-8 finish could easily repeat itself.
"We like to find out early who really wants to play," Rewis said. "Whoever comes out of spring, we know is going to stick it out."
Cermak was the only Mountaineer to surpass 100 yards rushing in a contest last fall, rushing for 103 yards and a touchdown receiving against Bradley Central in his first high school start. In 2007, Rewis is hoping a stable of backs will take their place alongside the super-quick sophomore. Heritage wants to throw the ball more this fall, with short tosses to speedy halfbacks out of the backfield a primary focus.
Quarterback and rising senior Dylan Morgan threw for 900 yards and seven touchdowns in 2006, the scores up five from the year before. Problematic were 14 interceptions, something Rewis hopes to rectify by using Cermak, junior Justin Caines and sophomores Brandon Edmonds and Kris Jones as playmakers and not just ball carriers.
"Dylan threw the ball 185 times last year," Rewis said. "Wed like to use our backs to raise our completion percentage some. We changed up our Xs and Os because we are pretty deep at running back."
A strong passing game goes hand in hand with a solid rushing attack. There, its as much a matter of the job being done up front as it is the fast legs of a good back. Brian Pate, Curtis Herd, Gene Walker, Chase Simpson and Kevin Thomas will each be seniors this fall along the Mountaineer offensive line. Heritage will go the way they do in 2007, and Rewis, who doubles as offensive line coach, made it a point of emphasis this spring to make sure they know it.
"We felt like we had to make some improvement on the offensive line," he said. "We wanted to focus not only on the blocking, but the tackling (of the defensive side) as well."
Defense is where the Mountaineers will return strongest this fall. Junior Chad Wood is the real deal at middle linebacker, a big hitter with the frame to match. Fellow junior Scott Huffstetler led the Mountaineers in tackles a year ago. A key addition during spring was the move of Caines from defensive back to linebacker to stand in alongside them.
"Hes kind of stepped up in playing some linebacker," Rewis said. "We tried to run it at him and he made plays. We tried to run away from him and he made plays."
The secondary behind Huffstetler, Wood and Caines could be vastly improved in 2007, with junior Michael Lindsey coming off a breakout season last fall. Also back is senior J.D. Baker, returning to Heritage after spending last year with relatives in Texas. Baker is a big hitter with closing speed.
The intent is to be faster on defense, Rewis said. Early indicators are promising, with the Mountaineers playing Cookeville even, one score each, during a spring scrimmage. Both scores were recorded by each teams junior varsity.
"Overall, I was pleased with how our defense played against Cookeville," Rewis said.
Robinette, Caughron and Cermak arent the only promising feeder-school players Rewis has convinced to stay with the Mountaineers for high school. The players coming Eagleton Middle and others represent a substantial improvement in both speed and size as well.
Theyll all be freshmen and sophomores, though. The high school game is a big step. Whether theyll be able to take that step in 2007 will depend largely on how well Morgan, Caines, Huffstetler and Wood are ready to lead them, Rewis said.
"I think people understand we are on the right track," he said. "They (the Mountaineer seniors) want to win. Theyre a good group."
Phase II for Rewis would be a winning record, or better, in 2007.
The talent is beginning to assemble. The Mountaineer junior varsity
went 8-2 last season. Only time will tell if its this fall or
next when it starts to translate to wins.
Heritage Mountaineers (2-8)
- Key starters lost on offense: Running backs Cody Lindsey and Matt
Rupert, receivers Bryan Wigington and Shawn Wichert.
- Top returnees offense: Quarterback Dylan Morgan, running backs
Michael Cermak and Justin Caines.
- Key starters lost defense: Linebacker Clark Kerns, defensive backs
Bryan Wigington and Shawn Wichert.
- Key returnees defense: Linebackers Scott Huffstetler and Chad Wood, defensive back Michael Lindsey.