Something about this football season feels different to Heritage players Zach Hollman and Triston Hurst.
The duo of juniors realized the energy on this year’s team was unlike last year’s a week and a half ago — the day a storm forced practice indoors.
“Coach (Tim) Hammontree said it was probably the best practice he had seen in seven years inside,” Hurst said. “I think that was a turning point for us. It made us realize that …”
Hurst took a beat to choose his words, but Hollman didn’t hesitate to finish that sentence.
“It’s going to be different,” Hollman said. “We’re not going to repeat last year.”
The Mountaineers are coming off one of their first winless seasons since 2012, averaging losses by almost 39 points.
While still young with five seniors, they are led by a sizable junior class equipped with more experience and ambitious goals.
“This year, our goal is a little more than just to score,” Hurst said. “It’s to progressively get better and to grow as a unit. … If we execute, we can win some games.”
Hollman and Hurst are tasked with some of the biggest roles. Hollman will start at quarterback while Hurst fills about every other position, including tailback, slot receiver, punter and backup quarterback.
Hollman took over for Hurst at quarterback last season while Hurst dealt with a nagging ankle injury.
Hurst said he has embraced his new role.
“Me and him — we are the leaders of the team,” Hurst said. “We have to lead the way for the other players. I need to believe I can play just as well at that spot as at quarterback, if not better, to get them to understand that, if you buy into coaching, that’s what’s going to be best for the team.”
Hollman and Hurst said they liked what they saw from Heritage’s first scrimmage against Carter last week. The Mountaineers’ lost, 7-6, after one half. The one-point margin of defeat was a result of attempting a two-point conversion for the practice.
What really impressed the pair, Hollman and Hurst said, was the team’s effort.
“Of course, always with the first scrimmage, there were a lot of miscues and mistakes,” Hurst said. “But we had the most important thing, and that was lot of effort, which is something we didn’t have last year.”
“Defense was really flowing to the ball and making every effort play you could imagine,” Hollman added. “We have a lot of guys who are willing to work hard this year, and that’s something we’re proud of.”
On offense, Heritage will enjoy the return of two key seniors in lineman Ryan Ellis and wide receiver Dusty Foxx.
“He’s one of the faster guys on the team, and he has really good hands,” Heritage coach Tim Hammontree said of Foxx. “Quarterback is in great shape, we’ve got a hybrid guy doing a little bit of everything (in Hurst).”
Hammontree said sophomore Jaden Bear will also be a target for Hollman, calling the wide receiver one of the team’s “up-and-coming guys.”
The Mountaineers will take on Cocke County tonight in their final scrimmage before the Blount County Jamboree on Friday.
Hollman said the Mountaineers will aim to execute better on offense.
Hurst said the team is eager to kick off the season, which it will open against Lenoir City on August 23.
“I’m definitely excited — I wish tomorrow was Lenoir City,” Hurst said. “We’re prepared. We just want to get through these scrimmages and get through jamboree, and we’re ready for week one.”