Rutledge Pioneers

For a team that suffered through a disappointing season in 2002, the Rutledge Pioneers' year was not a total loss as the Blue and White finished with an even 5-5 record. The biggest problem for the Pioneers was the fact that they missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

There are high hopes of a resurgence for Rutledge in 2003 as veteran Head Coach Mark Hammer welcomes back seven starters on both sides of the ball for his 15th season as the leader of the Pioneers. Coach Hammer's recipe for success is pretty simple. "We like to pound the football at our opponents and keep possession of the ball," said Coach Hammer. "We try to run the ball before we do anything else. We've been pretty successful at it through the years."

Perhaps the strength of the team will be a sturdy offensive line that will provide running lanes for talented skill position players. Getting it all started up front will be junior center Andy Pierce (5'11" 225). The guards should be senior strongman Ed York (6'0" 320) who is a man mountain and junior Cody Hibler (5'10" 250). The bookends at tackle should be senior stalwart Chris Masson (6'1" 240) and junior Andy Collins (6'4" 275). Top reserves will be senior Tim Longmire (6'0" 220) and juniors Phillip Turley (6'1" 250) and Bobby Poteete (6'2" 265). The Pioneers have strength and depth and will have a rugged offensive line.

They will protect outstanding returning quarterback Jason Gray (5'11" 150). A senior, Gray is a good athlete and dual threat as he rushed 140 times for 555 yards and 7 touchdowns while completing 33 of 93 passes for another 566 yards with 6 more six pointers and 6 interceptions. If Gray can attain a higher completion percentage and cut down on turnovers, the Pioneers offense will have a chance to be very good. Junior Charlie Smith (6'0" 170) is an experienced backup QB who ran 22 times for 31 yards and a touchdown and was good on 4 of 15 passing attempts for 58 yards and a score. Smith will line up at wide receiver when not under center.

The top returning running back is senior Austin Brock (5'10" 205) who pounded his way on 93 carries for 334 yards and two touchdowns a year ago. Fellow senior John Jarvis (5'11" 175) also returns and will improve on his 35 carry, 119 yard, one score effort from 2002. Junior Hershel Coffey (5'11" 175) got some valuable experience a year ago as he got 8 carries for 31 yards while junior Justin Clabough (5'10" 165) will get his chances to shine as well. These guys will be the beneficiaries of the big fellas up front blasting holes to run through for the Rutledge power running game.

When Gray drops to throw, he will search out the pass catching services of wide receivers Mitch Newman (6'0" 160), B.I. Couch (5'10" 160) and Jeremiah Goins (5'10" 160) who are all juniors. The Pioneers have a quality tight end in senior Nathan Potter (6'2" 145), who grabbed three aerials for 51 yards and two scores last season. Fellow senior Darren Watson (6'3" 200) and junior Jonathan Mixon (6'0" 220) will also see duty at tight end.

The Pioneers boast a rugged bunch of returning defenders that line up in a basic five man front. "We are a pretty physical group on defense and should be good up front and at linebacker but lack speed and quickness," said Coach Hammer.

The unanimous leader of the Rutledge defenders is outstanding linebacker Nathan Potter. This guy is all over the field totaling 150 tackles in 2002 and is a solid college prospect. Potter earned All State honors at the position for the Pioneers in 2002. Brock is the other starter at LB as he ripped into 22 ball carriers a year ago. Pierce and Coffey will be back ups.

Longmire is a stud at noseguard while Collins is a college prospect at tackle. Hibler, York and Masson will rotate at tackle. The defensive ends should be Watson and Mixon.

Gray leads the secondary as he stole 7 interceptions and made 31 tackles last year. Junior Brian Collins (5'10" 145) should be a starter in the defensive backfield along with Jarvis and Smith. Clabough, Newman, Goins and junior Daniel Roach (5'9" 150) will get plenty of playing time in the secondary as well.

The Rutledge Pioneers missed out on the playoffs last season but have their sights set on a major expedition in 2003. The region is an absolute toss up with Claiborne County, Seymour, Pigeon Forge and Union County all jockeying for postseason positions. If Rutledge can cut down on drive killing turnovers, mix in a more competent passing attack to go with their ruthless power running game and once again field a nasty group of defenders that love to apply the leather on hapless ball carriers, the Pioneers will certainly make a return appearance in the TSSAA state playoffs this season. Prediction- 7-3

Playoff Contender- Yes

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