The kids showed up for practice at J. Fred Johnson Stadium this past week, and it was apparent this group of Indians had worked to stay in shape during the pandemic-related shutdown.
“Our older kids who have been in the program, the kids that have good buy-in, they’re going to do what you want them to do,” coach Joey Christian said. “We’ve had a group of kids who organized themselves. Overall, we’ve been pleased with the kids, how they’ve come back with the shape they’re in.”
The players returned hungry for knowledge and, as Christian noted, “glad to have some sense of normalcy.” The juniors and seniors are in the third year playing in Christian’s system.
“Where they’ve been in the system, hopefully there is some carry-over with everything,” Christian said. “Hopefully, it won’t be like starting at square one like it was in Year 1.”
The Indians went 4-6 in Christian’s first season but were 10-3 last season, winning the Region 1-6A championship and advancing to the state quarterfinals. D-B hadn’t scored double- digit wins since 2012.
The extra time away from the field gave Christian a chance to reflect on what a special season it was.
“For years, I took wins for granted around here,” he said. “You learn that every one of them is special and know you have to work for them.
“Last year was truly special. I’d like to build on that, but it’s up to the kids.”
That foundation starts with quarterback Zane Whitson, who threw for 1,945 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. The rising senior took exceptional care of the ball and was intercepted just once.
Whitson was the Times News Northeast Tennessee Male Athlete of the Year for 2019-20.
Whitson is joined in the backfield with the “Thunder and Lightning” duo of Phillip Armitage and Tyler Tesnear, who rushed for nearly 1,800 yards last season. Center Caleb Burleson, a rising senior, will anchor the offensive line, and big-play threats at receiver include Nacir Sensabaugh and Rayshawn Simmons.
Defensively, the Indians feature a pair of aggressive pass rushers in Nate Whitley and Jackson Martin.
But the emphasis right now isn’t coming up with a starting lineup. It’s mainly going through conditioning and sprint work. Even though coronavirus restrictions limit players to groups of nine with one coach instead of the normal 11-player unit, the Indians have “found a way to install some football stuff,” Christian said.
The team experienced no turnover in coaching staff, which Christian calls the best in East Tennessee.
During his time away from football, Christian stayed busy doing yard work and fishing. He doesn’t have any big fish tales but was happy with what he reeled in.
“I did a lot of fishing and that was fun,” Christian said. “We caught a couple of nice trout above Hampton, up in Dennis Cove. We were able to get a couple of smallmouth (bass) before they got up on the nest. It was good.”
D-B is scheduled to open the season on Aug. 21 at Tennessee High.