By Maurice Patton
With the TSSAA-mandated dead period officially ending Sunday, high school fall sports are set to start preseason preparations.
And for some area football programs, those preparations will be a bit more involved.
Questions abound across Southern Middle Tennessee regarding gridiron prospects, but at least four teams face the added challenge of identifying a starting quarterback – which tends to have the trickle-down effect of impeding the progress of an offensive unit as a whole.
That’s an effect most of the programs in question can ill afford.
Coming off a 2-6 campaign, Columbia Academy is installing a new scheme and shifting last year’s starting signalcaller, Bryant Beranek, to tight end. Junior Reid McGrath and sophomores Connor Rosson and Elisha Nieves – the latter a transfer from Zion Christian – are vying for the first-string nod.
“We put a lot of work in in June,” veteran Bulldogs coach Charlie Lansdell said. “Those guys have worked really hard and they’ll continue to compete. (The starting position) hasn’t been won yet, but we’ve got a good idea of who we think can do the job.
“We actually feel we’ve got three guys that can come in and be productive. We’re looking forward to July and letting it play itself out. All three of them can do what we’re looking for them to do, (so) nothing will change. That helps some.”
At Columbia Central, the battle to succeed graduated 2020 starter Brady McCanless features senior Perry Bowman, junior Parker Bush and sophomore Luke Uselton.
“Perry got all the reps in the spring because Parker and Luke were in baseball, but it’s still too close to tell,” said Lions coach Jason Hoath, whose team looks to build on a 6-6 finish and the program’s first postseason victory since 2012. “They threw a lot in 7-on-7 and they’re all pretty even. Things may chance when you put the pads on and get more live scrimmage action.
“We hope to know something in a few weeks. You hope it doesn’t come down to Game 1. The good thing about them competing and being fairly close is, whoever is the starter, we don’t think it’ll be that great a dropoff in the worst-case scenario, if somebody gets hurt.”
Spring Hill, 3-6 last season, is looking at four different candidates – senior Jarrett Rainey and sophomores Scott Carter, Blaise Martin and/or Chance Harmon – to replace graduated ’20 starter Luka Boylan.
“What we had hoped was coming out of spring we’d have a few more answers and going into June we felt somebody would emerge as a frontrunner,” Raiders coach Ben Martin said. “We just really haven’t had anybody take that position over.
“In spring, Blaise wasn’t even in the rotation; he was playing receiver and safety. He’d played quarterback on (the junior varsity team) last year and did pretty well. He’s 6-1, 183 (pounds), probably with the strongest of all the arms, but is he ready? Jarrett knows the offense far better than anybody and he’s worked his tail off. I just think there are some physical limitations that he hasn’t adjusted to, and when he tries to play above his ceiling, he gets in trouble. Scott is physical and athletic, but a little undersized.
“We’ve got a lot of questions. It just gets magnified at the quarterback position. Hopefully over this next week we’ll have a little clearer picture.”
Mt. Pleasant first-year coach Kit Hartsfield and new offensive coordinator Andrew Holcomb, looking to improve on a 1-8 campaign from last fall, have said they’ll work equally with returning quarterback Te’Varius Strayhorn and Columbia Academy transfer Nick Brown as long as both are productive.
● Upcoming: Centennial, Columbia Central, Marshall County, Mt. Pleasant and Riverdale will travel to Summit for 7-on-7 action Tuesday beginning at 5 p.m. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Lawrence County is set to host a 7-on-7 event with Richland, Summertown and Wayne County participating.
Independence, Mt. Pleasant and Summit will take part in a 26-team 7-on-7 tournament Thursday at Riverdale. Play is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m.