Cyclones look primed to defend conference crown
Assistant Sports Editor

   Coming off a 7-5 season -- with a playoff win, and a conference title in the mix -- would be considered a smashing success at most schools. Elizabethton High School is not just any school however, particularly when it comes to football.
   Winning teams have become the expectation at EHS, and this season should gives fans plenty of reasons to be excited.
   There is more depth at crucial positions this season than there was last year, when injuries decimated the quality depth on the squad.
   Offensively it all starts with the quarterback, and that is one position that is still mostly an unknown quantity, with junior Ryan Curtis expected to be the starter once he recovers from a broken bone in his throwing hand.
   "Ryan is coming along with his injury," said Cyclone head coach Tommy Jenkins. "He's day-to-day right now. He's been throwing some, but it will depend upon how well he can take the snap from center as to when he can play."
   Curtis has the great size for the position, standing 6-3, which enables him to scan the field and throw over tall on-rushing linemen.
   Curtis -- whose older brother Andy passed for better than 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons -- will be seeing his first starting duty since his freshman season.
   Right now junior Phillip Garland is handling those chores, and looking pretty good doing so. Garland is not a prototypical sized passer, standing about 5-9, but he is quick and has a good grasp of the Cyclone offense.
   "Garland has been practicing well, and he had a good scrimmage against Sullivan North." said Jenkins.
   The Besty backfield will have plenty of quality and quantity as Neal Wandell and Walter Brown will split time at tailback, with Wandell the recognized starter.
   Wandell -- who is tall and rangy -- will move to the flanker spot when Brown comes in a tailback to take advantage of his speed, size and good receiving ability.
   "Walter is an athlete," commented Jenkins. "We have the luxury of playing him at different spots and have him do a good job."
   On defense Wandell will be the free safety where he will take advantage of his size and speed to take the opposing teams' best receiver out of the game.
   "Neal loves to hit people," said Jenkins. "He covers a lot of ground, and defense is really his forte. We want to just be careful not to wear him out."
   Jason Grace will start at fullback, but will be spelled by Jon David Jativa and sophomore Mitchell Bowers.
   Grace will be one of the starting linebackers defensively, along with Vince Redd and Andrew Presnell.
   On the wing will be speedy Lester Bailey -- taking over for departed receiving leader Trey Avery -- while Daniel Merryman handles the tight end duties.
   Also at the receiver spot will be senior Josh Fair and junior Patrick Frost.
   The line of scrimmage will be in capable -- and large -- hands on both sides of the ball as Wes Greer (OG-DL), Marvin Smith (OT-DT), Presnell (C-MLB), Wes Peters (OG-DT) and Joseph Taylor (OT-DL) provide size and toughness on the line.
   Also in the mix are Tia Nidiffer (6-2, 330), Matt Myers, sophomore Cody Bunton, and junior Chad Street to provide quality depth in the trenches.
   The defensive backfield will feature Wandell and possibly sophomore Adam Turley at safety, with Michael Porter and Fair getting their share of snaps.
   At one cornerback slot will be Bailey, with Brown, Sandy Nave, Garland and Justin Williams all competing for time.
   With the Big Six Conference now adding two new schools -- Unicoi and Johnson County -- Elizabethton has dropped it's long running feud with 5-A's Dobyns-Bennett.
   Science Hill has been retained on the schedule as are the Happy Valley Warriors and Greeneville as the only non-conference foes on the slate.