McMinn county Cherokees

Change is the operative word in Athens this season as Erik Hutchinson is preparing to participate in his first high school football game as a head coach. His task is to guide the McMinn County Cherokees back into the playoffs after his new team battled to a respectable 7-4 record a year ago. Hutchinson comes to McMinn County after working as an assistant at his alma mater, Jefferson County.

"It will be important for our team to get out of the gate well," said the first year coach. "We have a very difficult schedule but week in week out your team has to be ready to play good football in this region. We have a lot of seniors who are providing good leadership but many of them are untested. The first few games in the hot weather will be difficult with so many of our guys playing both ways," continued Coach Hutchinson.

McMinn County will deploy in the Wing-T offense and rely on a solid running game to control the clock and stay in ballgames. "We have three solid returnees at running back and they will have to carry us," said Hutchinson. Senior Maurice Smith (6'3" 190) missed half of last season with a bum ankle. The running back is fully capable of carrying the load if healthy. Junior Trey Locke (5'6" 160) will back up Smith and has the speed to provide a spark. The fullback will be senior Maurice Vestal (5'11" 246) who powered to 800 yards rushing a year ago. Vestal is a devastating blocker. Fellow senior Brandon Diaz (5'8" 155) will be spell Vestal when he needs a breather. The wingback gets plenty of carries in the Wing-T. Junior transfer from California Steve McBride (6'1" 180) steps into the position looking to shine.

The emergence of a sold offensive front line is key to the Cherokees' success moving the football. All five starters are seniors. The center will be Brad Frank (6'0" 260), the guards Eddie Womac (6'1" 245) and Chris Hope (5'9" 220). The tackles will be Matt Reed (5'10" 265) and fellow behemoth John Nation (6'1" 230). Junior Calvin Smith (6'4" 260) will get playing time at tackle.

The Cherokees must break in a new quarterback to run the show. Senior athlete Derrick Vestal (6'0" 170) has a slight edge to get the starting nod. Sophomore James Carr (5'8" 160) has the knack of throwing the ball a little more accurately according to Coach Hutchinson.

In passing situations, the McMinn County quarterbacks will look for senior tight end Aaron Ferguson (5'11" 250) as a rather large target. Senior Dustin Millsaps (6'0" 185) returns looking to make the big play. Millsaps made several key catches a year ago. Junior Aaron Stansell (6'0" 175) hopes to make an impact at wide receiver.

Kids at McMinn County take great pride in their defense and the same basic cast of characters will attempt to thwart the oppostion's forays with the football. Senior Marc Barton (5'10" 185) is an aggressive tackle along with Reed, Frank and fellow senior Travis Devine (6'0" 285). The ends will be Maurice Smith who has the wide wingspan and senior Trey Henry (6'1" 240) while Womac will make an impact at defensive end as well. If they can stay on their feet into the fourth quarter, the Cherokees' D-line will be solid.

McMinn County has produced some outstanding linebackers through the years and Ferguson fits the bill in the middle in 2003. Maurice Vestal will provide depth at middle linebacker. The strongside or "Sam" backer will be yet another senior, Bradie Richeson (6'0" 190) while the weakside or "Will" backer will be Stansell.

Maurice Smith headlines the secondary at strong safety where he earned All Region honors a year ago despite the injury. The free safety will be Millsaps while the corners will find senior Antron Espy (5'8" 160) on one side and McBride, Locke and Vestal battling for playing time on the other.

McMinn County has a proud tradition of playing old time smashmouth football. With a vibrant new coach who loves to run the ball and a rugged defensive unit, the Cherokees will be a formidable foe each Friday night. As the ‘Kees take the field behind a warrior on horseback each home game, a senior laden team will fire up the McMinn County Cherokee reservation and attempt to earn yet another trip to the postseason. Prediction- 6-4

Playoff Contender- Yes

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