Attention shifts to gridiron

star staff

  Yes, the pads are back on.
  Monday afternoon marked the official start of football practice for the upcoming prep season across the state of Tennessee.
  Three of our local teams, Happy Valley, Hampton and Cloudland will begin play on Aug. 20, TSSAA's zero week.
  The Warriors will host the Huskies of North Greene, while the Bulldogs try to gain some due revenge against the Highlanders at J.C. Campbell Stadium.
  Those games will likely usher in a new era of high school football for this area.
  The pre-season polls and all-state teams have begun to come out, and for the first time in a while, there has been no representation from Carter County.
  I believe a couple of teams will prove themselves as playoff contenders, while others will continue their consistent success.
  Some teams may not fare as well.
  Many questions have begun to loom over the region:
  Is this J.C. Campbell's last season as Hampton's football coach?

  I don't think it is. Campbell is likely to face that question at the team's media day, but the legendary coach has become THE symbol of high school football in this county.
  As long as he feels good, he'll probably stick around. He has several talented, promising young players on the team that will give the 'Dogs successful playoff runs down the road.
  Who will be the surprise teams of our coverage area?

  Unaka and Johnson County will turn some heads this year. I believe Unaka will be one of the top two teams in the Mountain East Conference this season with a speedy backfield and strong line.
  The Rangers probably have their date with Cloudland marked on the calendar.
  Johnson County has a talented selection of upperclassmen on this year's team. I look for the Longhorns to make waves late in the year and finish as one of the top four in the Mountain Lakes.
  Will Cloudland be able to successfully replace a slew of talent, including Mr. Football winners Mark Byrd and Dane Christman?
  The team took a hard hit in its backfield and its line. Two 1,000-yard rushers in Byrd and all-stater Dakota Benfield will be among the toughest positions to fill.
  The team should reach the playoffs and will find success with hard work, but 10-0 with a quarterfinal or semi-final appearance is likely out of the question.
  Who will have the most success in the area?

  The Happy Valley Warriors are my pick to win the Watauga Conference this year. Gatlinburg-Pittman will be good, but the Warriors have a talented backfield and returning line, including quarterback Todd Caldwell and all-around athlete Ryan Garland.
  The line will be led by Division I prospect Jordy Harrison, who is getting many looks from big schools.
  How will Eddie Pless do in his first season as Cyclone football coach?

  I think Pless will do good things for the Elizabethton program.
  Elizabethton lost some talented seniors, including Jake Jenkins, Adam Turley and the speedy Lester Bailey, but many players will likely step up and continue the team's success.
  I see another playoff run for the Cyclones.
  The classification numbers for 2005-2009 have been released on the TSSAA website (
  All member schools will be given the option to participate in Division II according to a form released to each school by the organization.
  On Monday, August 16th, schools will be divided into Division I and II, with a multiplier of 1.8 added to all non-public schools who plan to continue competition in Division I.
  Schools will also have the chance to move up in their classifications by the beginning of September.
  The official district and region assignments for each school will be released after the TSSAA's meeting on November 18.
  Work for the annual Elizabethton STAR football preview has gotten underway and will hit newsstands on Aug. 20, the day of the area's first high school games.
  It will contain previews of all our local high school and college teams.