Winning one state championship was nice, but winning two in a row is better. Maryville on Monday finally got to take the first step toward accomplishing that goal.
This is the first week high school teams in Tennessee can practice in full pads, and the Rebels got right to it at Shields Stadium.
Thankfully for the players, they’re finally doing something about it rather than just talking about it.
“It feels really good just to be back out here,” junior running back Tee Hodge said. “We’re getting better each and every day. We’re looking forward to this season and trying to get another state ring.”
Many teams ease into practice because of new players and new coaches, but the Rebels practiced on Monday as if they never took a break from last year.
They ran plays from the get-go.
They were fast. They were organized. They did everything with purpose. They looked like they were in mid-season form.
“A lot of what we do each year is the same,” coach Derek Hunt said. “We take time to slow down and teach while we’re going, but our goal is to jump right in and get everybody a ton of reps and let them learn as they go.”
Several variables allow Maryville to hit the ground running in July. First, the Rebels do the most teaching during spring practice. Second, the coaching staff returns almost entirely intact.
The only addition this year is former Heritage assistant Adam Hendricks, who will coach Maryville’s running backs. Hendricks replaces longtime offensive line coach David Ellis, who retired after last season.
As familiar as the Rebels are with what they’re doing in the early going, they know there is plenty of work to do. Twenty eight seniors are gone from last year’s team, including eight offensive starters.
Monday’s session looked like the first practice of the season in many ways, especially with the rust some players showed while trying to execute. Many of those players, though, are not used to playing big roles and getting so many reps.
Hunt said the first week of practice is great for getting the younger players more experience and building depth.
“You’re trying to find out who’s going to compete this year,” he said. “There are usually not many surprises because you usually find out about them in the spring practice. You find out who is going to be different and who you’re going to have to count on. The biggest thing is giving those young kids a chance to show, ‘If we have to count on you, we’ll be OK.’”
One aspect of this year’s team that will go a long way toward determining if the Rebels will be OK will be the performance of their new starting quarterback.
Hunt said juniors Braden Karns and Cade Chambers are leading the way because of the experience they got as backups to Dylan Hopkins last season. Fellow junior Tanner Shiver is in the mix but did not play football last year, so he has to catch up.
There is no time table for picking a starter, Hunt said. If any of them stand out heads and shoulders above the others then that person will be the starter. Hunt added that he is in no rush to name a starter even if it means going all the way into the week leading up to the season opener to make a decision.
The best decision the Rebels could make this season, though, is choosing not to rest on their laurels from 2017. None of the points they scored in their last game will count in any of the games they play this fall.
“Last year’s team was a great team, and a lot of guys we have out here were on that team, but this is a completely new year,” Hunt said. “Every team we play this year is going to be different. Some of them better, some of them not. If we count on the fact that we won state last year to help us this year then we’re dead wrong.”