By Chris McCarthy
With a four-year starter at quarterback and the four top receivers back from last season, will Sardis High employ elements of the wide-open Fun n’ Gun offense?
“I don’t know about that, but we’re going to try to spread the ball around quite a bit with so much experience at those skill positions,” said head coach Gene Hill. “We’re not just going to target just one guy, because basically all 11 starters are back (on offense).
“By far, this is the most veteran group we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Hill. “The good thing about that is we don’t have to play so many ninth graders as we did in the past. Hopefully we can develop them and eventually fill in for our seniors.”
The Lions should benefit from the presence of four-year starter Logan Gaskin at quarterback. Gaskin last season threw for 1,125 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 749 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Gaskin has the good fortune of having his top four receivers back in junior Mason Golden, senior Josh Maynard, junior Drew Vaughn and senior Jake Ross, who in 2016 had 17, 15, 14 and nine catches, respectively.
“We only had five seniors last year, and this season we’re going to have around 15,” said Hill. “We have several four-year starters, so you expect a lot out of them. We have a new [offensive coordinator in] Zac Wallace, so that will help out a little bit, too.”
Senior Drew Vaughn, who will start at running back, ran for 692 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
“Drew is a more of a power back, and we’ve got to do some things to get him in a position to go downhill,” said Hill.
Every starter returns to the offensive line, including a trio of four-year starters in senior tackle Braydon Lacey, senior guard Anthony Coffey and senior center Clay Jacobs. Senior guard T.J. Harbian and junior tackle Tristan Holcomb are also back.
Lacey was an All-County and All-Region pick last season.
“Braydon’s had a really good spring and a really good summer, so I’m looking for big things out of him to finish off his career,” said Hill. “We’re looking for him to blossom and really come into his own.”
Ross was an All-County and All-Region pick at safety last season.
“Jake is our quarterback on defense,” said Hill. “He’s a very intelligent kid and probably is the fastest guy overall on our team. He won’t come off the field very much.”
Senior Kale Walker, who picked off three passes last season, is also back in the secondary.
“Kale’s not very big but he’s very smart,” said Hill. “He’s plays good technique and is a great competitor.”
Senior Chase Bright returns at cornerback, while junior Trent Presley is back at safety. Golden will also see time in the defensive backfield.
The defensive line has experienced players back in junior Michael Smith, senior Jacob Huff, Lacey, Coffey, Holcomb and Harvey.
At linebacker, Hill sees sophomore Tre Dalrymple, junior Brandon Noblitt and senior Blake Wright as contributors.
Senior and three-year starter Dakota Daniel once again will handle the punting duties.
“If we get out long snapper down, Dakota will be a big weapon for us,” said Hill. “He can really flip the field for us. He punts all the time, and he loves it.”
Assistant coaches are Zac Wallace, Randy Hallmark, Ty Harris, Jordan Baker, Matt Harris and Clay Wright.
The Lions share Class 3A, Region 7 with state finalist Madison Academy, Madison County, DAR, North Jackson, Randolph and Westminster Christian.
“You’ve got to favor Madison Academy until somebody beats them,” said Hill. “You’ve also got throw Madison County in there this year with all the folks they’ve got coming back. They’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of athletic ability. You can throw everyone else, including us, into a hat and see who emerges.”