Head Coach Brian Jessie begins his third season with high hopes of a turnaround after his team finished a disappointing campaign at 2-8 in 2002.
"We have a good mix of experience and talented young players," said Coach Jessie. "We are happy to have 14 seniors this season. We finally should have as much experience as our opponents," continued the coach. "This year marks the first time all four classes played together every year of middle school football. Its time for our feeder program to pay off!"
2002 was frustrating on many fronts for Union County. Turnovers killed the Patriots! Defensively Union County was decent allowing a little over 200 yards of offense per game. The turnover problem was apparent as the enemy averaged 28 points a game largely because they didn't have far to go to score.
Seven starters return looking for better results this season. The defensive line is big and strong. The tackles should be seniors Seth Hershey (6'1" 320) and Chad Bolden (6'4" 260). The ends will be junior Matt Hutchinson (6'2" 210) and either senior Joe Grimm (6'0" 215) or sophomore Tyler Johnson (5'11" 170). Newcomer Max Cox (6'1" 185) hopes to work his way into the rotation his senior year while sophomore Chris Wyrick (6'3" 360) should supply depth. Union County has great potential up front.
The Patriots have recruited several prospects to attack in waves at linebacker. Inside backers should be juniors Derek Tiller (5'11" 210) or Bo Dake (5'11" 200) but they are being pushed by fellow juniors Josh Wood (5'10" 210) and Chris Smith (5'10" 200) for playing time. The outside linebackers look like sophomores Shane Vandergriff (5'9" 170) and Justin Lister (6'0" 200). Kurt King (6'0" 190) is a junior that will get into the mix. Senior Lynn McCoy (6'0" 180) also looks for playing time.
Union County's secondary will be faster to the ball and better in coverage this season. The cornerbacks should be junior Corey Williams (6'1" 180) and sophomore Josh Chesney (5'10" 180) but another sophomore, Charlie Roach (6'1" 170) will see plenty of action at CB. The free safety should be yet another sophomore Travis Chittum (6')' 170). Junior Joe Sims (6'0" 160) will get a chance to play.
Offensively, the Patriots operate out of the classic Power I alignment and averaged 200 yards of total offense and 15 points per ballgame a year ago. Those numbers and the final win total would have been better had it not been for the amount of turnovers. "We definitely want to run the football more this season," said Coach Jessie. "We have got to take care of the football this year. Fumbles and interceptions killed us last year!"
The quarterback will be senior A.J. Bennett (6'4" 220) who has the size to scan the field in search of receivers. Bennett threw for 1270 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. If he can limit interceptions, the Patriots should be much improved.
The tailback will be senior Austin Lucas (5'9" 170) who rushed for 779 yards and 5 six pointers. Lucas will be looking for enough running room to crack the 1000 yard mark in 2003. The fullback is bruiser Carl Williford (6'0" 240). This senior started five games at center a year ago before switching to fullback. He will blast lanes for Lucas to run through. The top wingback should be senior Lance Chandler (6'0" 200) who has started 20 consecutive games.
In passing situations, Bennett will look for tight end John Turner (6'3" 200) who is also a senior that has started 20 straight games. Fellow senior Tony Johnson (5'10" 160) will get chances to catch the football at wide receiver. Sims will also see action at wideout and Cox at tight end.
The offensive line needs to jell and get tougher. They have the talent and size to get it done. It is the mental part of the game that they must improve as these guys must believe they can win! Sophomore Josh Graves (5'10" 215) or junior Phillip Naglitch (5'10" 205) will be the center. The guards should be juniors Cody Hunter (6'3" 310) and Dusty Buckner (5'10" 290). The tackles will be newcomer Keith Coffman (6'0" 250) and sophomore Adam Byrge (6'1" 290). Wyrick will supply depth along the O-line.
All purpose player Jordan Washam (5'8" 140) will handle the placekicking duties and also return kicks for the Patriots.
There is tremendous potential for the Union County Patriots to make a statement that they have arrived in 2003. There is size, depth and the talent needed to win in class 3A. The Patriots play region rivals Pigeon Forge and Seymour at home. There is every reason to believe the Union County Patriots will enjoy a major uprising this season.
TNPrepSports.com Prediction: 7-3
Playoff Contender: Yes