After suffering through a miserable 0-10 season a year ago, Heritage is ready to make some serious noise in tough Region 2 5A as the Mountaineers return an unprecedented 22 starters from 2002. That folks is everybody on both sides of the ball. There is plenty of reasons to be excited and optimistic about a revival of sorts as Heritage gets ready to play football this season.
Defensively, the Mountaineers have a chance to be much improved. Three players earned All Region honors a year ago as Heritage dials up their 4-4 defensive alignment. "We must play with tenacity," said Coach Corum, "we have to play with emotion on defense and not give up the big play to win!"
Along the defensive line, All Region returnee Jamey Whitaker (6'2" 245) is back to wreak havoc on the opposition. Whitaker will be joined by fellow senior behemoth Kenneth Click (6'0" 320) at tackle. The ends should be senior Richard Eggers (6'4" 200) and junior Matt Tharp (6'4 205). Sophomore Tony Brewer (6'2" 275) will provide depth at DT. Heritage has the size to be imposing up front.
Four linebackers are back. Inside backer Shane Myers (6'0" 205) will provide senior leadership as he recorded 80 tackles last season. Also inside will be junior Daniel Gregory (5'10" 175). Outside linebacker Brian Yates (5'10" 175) had two interceptions last season. Another senior, Mark Mason (6'0 180) should be the other OLB. Senior Cory Stump (6'2" 200) will see plenty of playing time at ILB.
The secondary should be outstanding and capable of becoming one of the best in the area. Cornerback Tyler Thomas (6'1" 160) was All Region with 4 interceptions and 60 tackles last season. Thomas is only a junior. Seniors Billy Sparks (5'9" 160) at CB and free safety James Pulley (5'10" 170) are very good. Pulley was also All Region with 3 "oskies" and 68 hits in 2003. Senior Brent Miller (6'0" 165) and sophomore Tony Pannitti (6'0" 165) will get their opportunities in the defensive backfield.
Offensively, the Heritage Mountaineers Multiple I attack should improve dramatically on their 10 point average from 2002 as the athletes are a year older, wiser and experienced.
QB Dustin Merritt (6'0" 185) returns after missing all of last year with and injury. Merritt is a talent who was recognized as All Region as a sophomore.
The good news gets even better for Mountaineer fans as flanker Pulley is back to be the go-to receiver. Pulley pulled in 28 passes in 2002 and should see even more aerials this year. Pannitti and Miller will also line up at receiver. The tight end should be Eggers giving Merritt several experienced options in passing situations.
Lining up behind Merritt at tailback is returning leading rusher Billy Sparks. The fullback should be Myers as most of the Mountaineers play both ways. Stump will provide depth at fullback and also see action at tight end.
The big fellas up front are all back as all five offensive linemen started all ten games last season. Anchoring a potentially nasty unit at center will be junior Bryan Talbot (6'0" 230). The guards should be junior Justin Tipton (6'2" 200) and Tharp while the tackles will be stalwart Whitaker and junior Caleb Compton (6'1" 230).
While the Heritage Mountaineers suffered through a miserable winless season a year ago, tough experience was gained and these mountain boys should benefit in a big way! Competing in the State of Tennessee's largest classification is tough.
Heritage opens with three tough games on the road including Blount County rival and three time defending State 4A Champion Maryville plus Alcoa and William Blount. Region powers Oak Ridge, Ooltewah and Farragut are no picnic as well!
Heritage takes pride in their "country" mantra as students don overalls and wave their "H" flags with gusto on Friday nights. The Mountaineer's Stadium is affectionately known as "The Woodshed" and several opponents should expect to be taken "out back" and beaten in 2003!
Pigskin Preview Prediction- 6-4
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