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Commanders kick off Week 1 tonight

Andy Reed • Aug 17, 2017 at 8:30 AM

It wasn’t supposed to start this way, but a shortage of game officials prompted Friendship Christian to kick off the 2017 season a night early.

Thus, the Commanders will have the Wilson County spotlight on Pirtle Field when they play host to Lancaster Christian.

The other five teams will begin as scheduled at 7 p.m. Friday.

Lancaster Christian at Friendship Christian

The Commanders closed the last regular season with a 47-6 win over the Knights at Smyrna Middle School.

But that means little when facing the non-TSSAA school. The coaches did exchange video of their jamborees, and that’s about all Commander coach John McNeal knows about the Knights.

“It’s hard the first game, and especially the first game with that school,” McNeal said. “They could have new kids we don’t know about. I don’t know how much we can go on last year.

“We have an idea on what they run. We just don’t know about the personnel.”

McNeal said Lancaster will run the spread on offense and a stack on defense.

Running back Ben Jamison will miss the first few weeks of the season with a hyperextended elbow. But the Commanders picked up no new injuries in last week’s jamboree.

Trousdale County at Lebanon

This matchup hearkens back to an era before classification when teams played each other because they were neighbors. The last meeting in this series, 1970, came at the dawn of the playoff era which also signaled classification based on enrollment. As more classes have been created through the years, longer trips in regular-season play have resulted as teams have had to bypass smaller or larger neighboring schools to play those with similar size.

“It’s good being close,” said Chuck Gentry, who will be coaching his first game as a head coach and with the Blue Devils. “Hopefully it means people will come to the game and it’ll be a good atmosphere.”

Trousdale County also has a new coach in Brad Waggoner off the Georgia Tech staff. But Gentry expects to see the Yellow Jackets use the system which has helped produce nine state championships since 1972.

“The tradition speaks for itself,” said Gentry, a native of nearby Smith County who has spent his football life between Lebanon and Cookeville. “They always have a good football team. This year is no exception.”

Waggoner was hired by Trousdale schools director Clint Satterfield, who used the wing-T offense as Yellow Jackets coach to eight state titles.

“I expect them to line up in the wing-T,” Gentry said. “They are a fast football team from what I can tell. They’re not overly big running backs, but they run fast, run hard. They will be strong. Up front, they’re not overly tall, but they’re good wing-T linemen. They will get after you and block you.

“I guess you could say they are physical with speed.”

Gentry has seen Trousdale run various four-man fronts during the preseason.

“We have prepared for a little bit of everything,” Gentry said. “They didn’t give up any points (to Smith County in the jamboree) or too many yards.”

Gentry and the Blue Devils have pointed to this night since his hiring Dec. 21, not long after the game was scheduled by LHS athletic director Zach Martin and TCHS assistant principal/assistant coach Ben Johnson, who served as interim coach before Waggoner was hired.

“Now it’s time,” Gentry said. “These count. Hopefully when the lights come on, we’ll be ready to show up and play.

“I hope we put something out there that’s respectable.”

Beech at Wilson Central

Since replacing current Wilson Central offensive coordinator Traye Aric in 2005, Anthony Crabtree has taken the Buccaneers to 11 playoffs in 12 seasons, including a state championship in 2012. Wildcats coach Brad Dedman sees a typical Bucs team.

“They’re big up front,” Dedman said of the Bucs. “They have great big running backs. They have a slate of running backs. They have three good running backs and they use them all. They have a senior we saw a lot last year, a transfer from Station Camp (and) a sophomore who’s the real deal as well… They really like running the ball. They throw it enough to keep you honest.

“Defense-wise, they get after it. They tackle very well. They’re probably not as big on the defensive side, but they use their quickness, so we got to hold our blocks.”

Dedman has overseen a rebuilding, or reloading, operation during the spring and fall as only one offensive starter and a handful of defensive backs returned from last season.

“By Friday, I think well be ready to play and understand what to do,” said Dedman, who said the Wildcats escaped preseason with only a few bumps and bruises.

Gordonsville at Watertown

Wilson County’s oldest continuous rivalry will have its 43rd straight edition when the two sets of Tigers meet at Robinson Stadium, a facility named a father-and-son Watertown coaching tandem - the father graduated from Gordonsville.

“It’s a long-standing rivalry, a lot of history there,” said Watertown coach Gavin Webster, a Gordonsville graduate, said of a series which kicked off in 1928. “You can take the records out, even though this is the first game. It should be a good turnout, a good ballgame.”

Gordonsville, which went 8-4 last season, will bring an offense and defense familiar to Watertown. Offensive coordinator Keith Goolsby, a former offensive assistant under Webster at WHS, runs the spread while head coach Ron Marshall, a former Lebanon coach and long-noted defensive guru, is synonymous with the 50 defense.

“They lost a lot on defense,” Webster said of Gordonsville’s graduation losses. “They pretty much return everybody on offense except two or three.

“They seem like they try to stay pretty balanced from what I’ve seen of them on film. Their offensive and defensive lines are pretty big.”

Webster said the Purple Tigers should be healthy going into Week 1.

Glencliff at Mt. Juliet

Despite a 35-0 loss in one half to Mt. Juliet Christian in last Friday’s Metro Jamboree, Mt. Juliet coach Trey Perry said the Colts could have been holding back for any number of reasons.

“We don’t want to get too caught up in scrimmage or jamboree scores,” Perry said. “There were several athletes on the sidelines who where not dressed up for Glencliff. They could be for a myriad of reasons. If they decide to dress out Friday night, it could be a totally different game.”

But Mt. Juliet, a defending region champion in its former league and a preseason favorite to win its new one, is an established program while Tate Thigpen took over the Colts a mere eight weeks ago after veteran coach Scott Smith resigned to move to East Tennessee. Smith was hired only last winter and never coached Glencliff. Thigpen came from the Dickson County staff to be Smith’s defensive coordinator before the quick promotion to helm a team which is on a 16-game losing streak and is 6-44 since its last playoff season in 2011.

“I’m very impressed with Coach Thigpen and Glencliff,” Perry said. “The situation at their school is not a good one as far as finances stack up.

“But they’ve rolled up their sleeves and their kids have done a lot - refurbishing their weight room, their locker room. When you see that, you feel like they’ve bought in with the new head coach.”

Glencliff runs a spread offense and an even-front defense.

“They have a very versatile quarterback,” Perry said. “They went the ball in his hands, running or throwing.

“They got good athletes on the perimeter (defensively), so they play a ton of man coverage.”

Mt. Juliet Christian at Franklin Grace Christian

Coming off the school’s first winning season with the vast majority of its players back, Mt. Juliet Christian will embark on what is expected to be a special season at a school in just its third season of 11-man football after playing the eight-man game in prior years.

Fans attending the game should bring their lawn chairs. Grace, one of two Middle Tennessee private schools still playing Division I (Columbia Academy is the other), has a soccer/football field, but scant few bleachers for seating at the school located between Franklin and Leipers Fork.

“They got a bunch of seniors this year,” Mt. Juliet Christian coach Dan Davis said of the Lions, who are coached by former Titans quarterback Rusty Smith. “Offensively, they are a spread team. They like to pass the football.

“Their best player is their quarterback (senior Austin Amor). They definitely throw it more than they run it.”

Davis said his Saints will “be reach by Friday night. The biggest thing is doing the little things we’ve been working on and, come Friday night, take it from there.”

Week 1 games

THURSDAY

Lancaster Christian at FRIENDSHIP CHRISTIAN, 7:30 p.m.

FRIDAY

Trousdale County at LEBANON

Beech at WILSON CENTRAL

Gordonsville at WATERTOWN

Glencliff at MT. JULIET

MT. JULIET CHRISTIAN at Franklin Grace Christian

All kickoffs at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

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