Gatlinburg-Pittman Highlanders

Gatlinburg-Pittman is one of those storied high school football programs that can be counted upon to make an annual run at the postseason. 2002 was just another year of superlatives for this traditional power as the Highlanders won Region 1 2A with a perfect 6-0 record, posted an 8-2 regular season then beat rivals Kingston and Anderson County in the playoffs before bowing out in round three to eventual state runner-up Fulton to finish 10-3 overall.

Head Coach Benny Hammonds has reached legendary status in his profession. His teams have compiled a sterling 237-106 record as he gets set to start his 33rd year at the helm of Gatlinburg-Pittman. The Highlanders have won three of the last four Region titles and in fact have accomplished everything except an elusive state championship. When you have been around as long as Coach Hammonds and been as successful as his teams have been, the powers that be do such things as name the home field after you. The Highlanders ply their trade at Hammonds Field.

Gatlinburg-Pittman will move from Class AAA to Class AA this season which may improve their opportunity to gain that elusive state title. Coach Hammonds' formula for success is simple, control the football and play fundamentally sound defense. "We want to run the football, control the tempo of the game and the game clock," said Coach Hammonds. "Defensively, we want to be an excellent tackling team and have a strong kicking game."

There is enough talent returning to ensure that Gatlinburg-Pittman once again reigns supreme and plays beyond the regular season. On offense, it all begins up front where the Highlanders annually field one of the strongest offensive lines in their classification. While this year's unit will be inexperienced overall, they will still be able to push the opposition around. The center will be junior Nick Lindbert (6'0"221). The guards should be seniors Chris Ogle (5'7" 205) and Michael Sutton (5'11" 272) while the tackles should be mammoth junior Josh "Bubba" Cornett (6'4" 340) and senior Drew Hansen (6'0" 220). Sophomore Spencer Carr (6'0" 175), junior Brandon McCarter (5'11" 170) and sophomore Tommy Norton (6'2" 245) will supply quality depth.

While the top guns have graduated, the Highlanders do have some experienced backs returning in hopes of equaling the 31 points per game scoring average from 2002. G-P lines up in the Pro-I offense and runs right at the defense. Tailback Josh Lott (5'8" 165) returns looking to step into the spotlight. A senior, Lott rushed 40 times for 226 yards and 8 touchdowns a year ago. Halfback Devin Smith (5'5" 150) had 7 carries for only 10 yards but will see those numbers skyrocket during his junior year. The fullback must be a great blocker and senior Sean Rosenthal (5'9" 210) fits the bill. A senior, Rosenthal had 51 rushes for 228 yards and two scores last season. Senior Jonathan Brennan (6'1" 178) will get his carries at tailback along with junior Matt Maples (5'11" 170). Sophomores waiting in the wings at RB include Evan Butler (5'6" 145), Lance Mitchell (5'8" 150) and Jordan Jones (5'9" 165).

The quarterback in Coach Hammonds' system is more of a runner and senior Daniel Mitchell (5'9" 155) gets his opportunity to run the show. Mitchell got some experience last year with 7 carries for 34 yards. Sophomores Jake Reagan (5'7" 135) and Ryan Booth (6'0" 160) should get their chances to take snaps under center.

When the Highlanders do take to the air on rare occasions, Mitchell will look for senior wide receiver Sean Toomey (5'8" 153). Toomey caught three passes for 50 yards a year ago. The tight end should be junior Richard Carr (6'1" 160). Lott made five catches out of the backfield. Senior Kunai Jardosh (5'9" 145) should see action at receiver along with senior A.J. Coy (5'9" 145), juniors Todd Sherman (6'1" 145) and Brandon Cassidy (5'9" 150) and sophomore Rollie File (6'1" 165). Sophomores Zakk Nichols (5'10" 160) and Ty Bell (6'0" 160) might get in on the fun at tight end.

Gatlinburg-Pittman's defensive unit is always a hard-nosed bunch as they allowed only 15 points per ballgame out of their 4-3 alignment a year ago. Known for their aggressive play, the Highlanders feature a stalwart stable of linebackers with Rosenthal, Lott and junior Timothy Farmer (5'9" 200) as the probable starters.

The defensive line is rugged and tough to move around. Cornett and Sutton line up at tackle while Richard Carr and senior Wesley Carr (5'8" 212) take their positions at defensive end.

The defensive backfield needs to step up and cut down on allowing the big play. This year's secondary will all be seniors. Lugi Recarte (5'10" 140), Joey Cordell (5'9" 160), Toomey and Daniel Mitchell round out the backfield.

A step down in classification may be just what the doctor ordered for Gatlinburg-Pittman. For a class 2A school, the Highlanders have depth which will prove beneficial in the fourth quarter of tough ballgames. Age old rival Seymour is still on the schedule along with Pigeon Forge but new region foes Happy Valley, South Greene and Hampton must be dealt with by G-P. 2003 should be another big season as the Gatlinburg-Pittman Highlanders attempt to earn that state championship for Coach Hammonds. Prediction: 8-2

Playoff Contender: Yes

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