Evan Brown is generating a lot interest.
The rising Heritage High School senior is beginning to project as the Mountaineers second Division I prospect in as many seasons with representatives from Tennessee and Clemson visiting Heritage spring practice the last two weeks.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Brown has a big year ahead him if he is to join former Mountaineer Michael Cermak, a West Point signee, at the highest level of college football, second-year Heritage coach Brint Russell said. The Mountaineers may need him to do just that to some degree, for while Cermak was the biggest loss to graduation, he wasn’t the only one.
Cermak’s departure left the Mountaineers with a pair of holes to fill. A playmaking linebacker for much of the year, the future cadet returned to offensive backfield late in the season, sparking Heritage to an upset of defending state champion Catholic. Cermak raced to the end zone for all three Mountaineers scores in the 21-7 shocker.
Gone as well are many of last season’s top pass catchers, along with Ming Tran, Andy Eldridge, Evan Crockett and Caleb Allen on the defensive side of the ball. Allen, Crockett, Tran and Eldridge will play for Maryville College this fall.
That’s a lot of leadership lost, Russell said.
“It’s going to be hard to replace those guys,” he said, “at the same time we’ve had some kids step up and get it done in the weight room.”
At quarterback, the Mountaineers are set. Rising senior Tyler Hartley has a full season under his belt running the West Coast-style spread offense Russell installed upon arrival last year. By season’s end last year, Hartley and his receivers were comfortable enough with the new offense they were reading opposing defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. Hartley’s familiarity with the offense has been a big plus this spring, Russell said.
“That always helps,” he said.
The primary task in readying for next season has been in finding replacements for many of the receivers Hartley worked with a year ago. Rising juniors Justin Newman and Chase Everett have looked this spring as if they can get the job done, Russell said. Hartley looks as though he may also be throwing to his backs a lot more this fall as well.
Rising junior Chase Cline was Heritage’s primary speed back a year ago, and this season the job is all his. Heritage’s new weight room is already paying dividends on the gridiron when it comes to Cline, the shifty Mountaineer back adding some noticeable muscle over the winter.
“Chase Cline has put on 20 pounds of muscle and really worked hard in the weight room,” Russell said.
Cline and rising senior Jon Luc Click have been quick into the holes this spring. Rising sophomore Je’Rell Bledsoe, who bench presses 240 pounds, has added some real pop to the Mountaineer backfield. Up front, brothers Brandon and Stephen Bell stood out as leaders on a rebuilt offensive line.
The Mountaineers missed the playoffs last season by the slimmest of margins. A fast-moving defense was key in keeping opponents close. Brown returns to anchor a retooled front.
“He’s obviously going to be a good ball player for us,” Russell said.
Rising senior Chris Overstreet, at one of ends, has looked that way too this spring and will also have be accounted for come fall. Job 1 this spring, though, has been replacing the linebackers who were behind Brown and Overstreet last season. In Rising senior Brad Weeks, junior Chris Wood and Click, Russell feels he’s found three answers. The Mountaineers have looked strongest this spring in the defensive secondary. Senior Cody Hearon, Dylan Sparks and Gabe Myers are all back. Bledsoe looks a big-play maker at one of corners. On both sides of the ball, Russell said he’s been pleased with his second year of spring ball with the Mountaineers.
“This year we’re going to be a lot better as a team,” he said.
With a true mountain of a senior up front leading the charge.