GRAY — Coach Jeremy Jenkins must replace 15 of 22 starters while trying to maintain the respected standard he has set at Daniel Boone.
His Trailblazers compiled an 8-3 record and went to the playoffs for the fourth straight season in 2012. They were 5-2 in the Big 8 Conference for the third time in four years.
But lost from 2012 are quarterback Jake Littleton, the top two rushers (Cliff Sanders, Littleton), the top two receivers (Ryan Gaitor, Michael Osterman), the top two in tackles for loss (Sanders, Trevor Duncan) and the top three in interceptions (Osterman, Adam Edwards, Littleton).
Replacing the outgoing senior class of 26 players appears as daunting as replacing the Kevin Connell-led class that went 9-3 and won a playoff game in 2010.
“We’ve had good players here,” Jenkins said. “We’ve had some good teams here. But like I told them all year, that’s over with. …
“Every team is different. And you know, right now we’ve got to find our identity — what we’re going to do — and go from there.”
Senior quarterback Dustin Chandler appears to be the ideal catalyst to help maintain Boone’s no-nonsense offense. The 6-foot, 185- pound Chandler, who again starts at inside linebacker after leading the Trailblazers in tackles last year, is a dual threat.
“He’s not just a drop-back passer; he can do that and he can throw on the run,” Jenkins said. “But he’s also a runner, too.”
Senior Josh Bacon is taking snaps too, primarily in the wildcat, and starts at running back.
Bacon and Chandler have assumed the leadership role.
“Josh Bacon had mono at the start of the season last year and really didn’t recover until about Week 7,” Jenkins said. “He’s really had a great start so far for us, and we’ve really got to keep them two involved and the ball’s got to touch their hands a lot.”
Grant Seegar should see time at running back, too, and fellow senior Hunter Summie also could also get a number of carries. Juniors Will McCart and Colby Ragsdale also are in the mix.
“We’ve got five backs that we can put out there,” Jenkins said.
Boone might’ve been hardest hit at receiver. Summie and Bacon are splitting out occasionally, but juniors Caleb Ratliff and Steven Carr, sophomore Ryan Keever and 6-foot-3 senior Jared Phillips are working at wideout.
Jenkins has four tight ends he likes in seniors Josh Taylor, Ben Brinkley and 6-4, 250- pound Junior Pope and junior Matthew Sorrow.
Boone’s offensive line could be the best unit on either side of scrimmage.
“We’ve got more depth up front than we’ve had in a long time,” Jenkins said, “as far as, we’re hoping, quality kids we can put out there.”
Senior center Andrew Street (6-0, 205) is a two-year starter. Junior Drew Davenport (5-11, 250) is a returning starter, as is senior right tackle Mitch Boshears (6-1, 230). Boshears is coming back from an injury and potentially could miss time early. Junior Ben Blakely (6-1, 225) would likely get the start in his place.
Respective starters at left tackle and right guard are senior Jordan Bishop (5-8, 190) and junior Tre Jenkins (5-9, 200).
Defensive lineman Aaron Adams, a 6-4, 310-pound senior, likely keys the defense.
“He had a great spring practice and a great offseason,” Jenkins said. “We’re hoping he’s come into his own on the defensive line and can anchor that down for us.”
Other starters up front are senior Brandon Pate (6-4, 235) and nose tackle River Dotson. Chandler headlines a linebacking corps that includes Blakely, Street and McCart.
Bacon, Ratliff, Keever and Summie comprise an overhauled secondary.
There are new faces among the special teams, including females Hannah Fink and Taylor Robinson, who are vying with Jacob Wrigley for placekicking duties.
Seegar and Keever are expected to return kicks. Summie is the long snapper and Ragsdale replaces Edwards at punter.
Perhaps the best compliment Jenkins could have received was the trouble he had scheduling non-conference games. Consequently, Boone’s opponents are Greeneville, Elizabethton, Sullivan South and Cherokee.
“I’d put that up against anybody’s,” he said. “We know we’ve got our work cut out for us, but our kids have really bought into what we do. … We’ll just try to get after people on both lines of scrimmage and we’ll see what happens. …
“We’ve just got to grow up in a hurry.”