KINGSPORT — Dobyns-Bennett’s list of superlatives from the 2012 season is long and impressive.
The Indians finished with a 12-1 record, their lone loss coming in the third round of the TSSAA Class 6A playoffs against state runner-up Maryville.
D-B produced three all-state players in Malik Foreman, Devaun Swafford and Thomas Edwards. Foreman and Swafford signed with the University of Tennessee in the winter, and all three players now are on the UT roster.
And those three were among a host of senior Indians now departed.
“The only person who lost more than we did from last year is Paula Deen,” joked D-B coach Graham Clark, who has a career coaching record of 219-46. “There were some very special players on that team.
“It was the first time since 1966 that D-B’s had two players sign with UT.”
But as always, the beat goes on inside J. Fred Johnson Stadium on Friday nights.
“The exciting thing is that we have a lot of young men who are out there busting it on the practice field trying to get better,” Clark said. “They are realistic, but their attitude is that it’s their time now.”
Clark knows everything starts up front for the Indians, and they have a solid offensive line returning. It is anchored by 5-foot-11, 225-pound senior center Austin Hayworth.
“Just like in baseball you have to be good through the middle,” Clark said. “Austin Hayworth is solid.”
Senior Nick Sensabaugh (6-1, 285) returns at right guard with junior Tyler Norris (6-4, 225) at right tackle. They are joined by junior Taylor Helton (6-4, 275) at left guard and senior Jason Ring (6-3, 215) at left tackle.
“I believe we have a chance to be really good up front,” Clark added.
The Tribe lost three key running backs from last year but returns stalwart Zach Casey, a 6- foot, 200-pound senior fullback.
“Casey has had another great offseason,” Clark said. “He’s the type of runner who can go through you or around you.”
Sophomore Alijah Dunn (5-9, 165) and junior Colton Ketron (6-1, 210) add balance and speed to the backfield.
The quarterback position is still up in the air. Skylar East (5-11, 180) and Josh Holt (6-2, 180), both juniors, are battling each and every day for the starting position.
“It’s still a fight between those two,” Clark said. “East throws it a little better, but Holt is such a good athlete.
“I’m not a proponent of a two-quarterback system, but I think both these guys will see a lot of playing time.”
D-B was a big-play team last season. Don’t expect as much of that this time around.
“We’ll be moving at a slower pace,” Clark joked, before adding: “This year we’ll have to be a more consistent team, more of a two-back offense with the power game in mind.”
On the other side of the ball, the Indians are adjusting after losing their entire defensive backfield.
“We’re small back there, but they run well,” Clark said. “I suspect before all is said and done they will become good defensive backs.”
Casey, sophomore Eddie Cwirko (6-0, 200) and senior Trey Trammell (5-9, 190) lead the defense.
Clark plans to play many of his key athletes on both sides of the ball. “You’ll see a lot of the same faces out there,” he said.
D-B’s non-conference schedule is challenging. The Indians start the season with Farragut at home before going to Chattanooga to face East Hamilton. Sevier County comes to J. Fred Johnson Stadium in mid-September, and the Tribe travels to Ooltewah on Sept. 27.
“It’s a demanding out-of-conference schedule,” Clark said, “but it’s a good challenge for us.”
On paper it appears D-B faces a tough road to defend its conference crown in the revamped Big 7.
“Some polls don’t pick us to win again this year,” Clark said. “But I always feel to be the champ, you have to beat the champ.
“We’ll see when everything is all said and done. Right now we’re having fun and looking forward to the season.”