The 0-10 season two years ago still weighs heavily on the psyche of Seymour players and coaches. Senior quarterback Grayson Campbell and first-year coach Scott Branton referred to 2017 to benchmark the progress made last year, despite a 2-8 record.
After getting off to a 2-2 start under first-year coach Scott Galyon, Campbell went out with an injury and was hobbled for several weeks. The Eagles finished 2018 on a six-game losing streak.
Galyon, a Seymour grad who played for Tennessee and in the NFL, has turned over head coaching duties to Branton — last year’s offensive coordinator.
Branton inherits a roster of about 80 players, including 15 seniors.
Hoping to continue with the progress Seymour showed early in 2018, Branton said the defense should be up to the task. His hope is that the offense can fly higher than last year, when the Eagles averaged 12.5 points per game.
The offensive production will depend heavily on Campbell and whether his offensive line can protect him. Campbell has missed significant time or been heavily banged up in each of the last two seasons.
Despite playing on an injured ankle in several mid-season games last year, Campbell threw for 1,088 yards on 74-for-159 passing and added 270 rushing yards. The team’s total rushing production was 827 yards.
“We’re going to be more balanced. It’s really just a matter of what’s working game to game,” Branton said. “One game we may throw it more, one game we may run it more. It’s just going to depend on what’s working for us that week.”
Branton hopes an improved offensive line can help Campbell and yield more of a rushing attack this season.
Among the five returning starters on offense are two linemen — 6-foot-7, 270-pound Eli Kwasney and 6-foot-4, 235-pound Buzz King.
“All of us weigh 220 or more, so we’ve got some pretty good size along the line,” King said. “Everybody is working way harder in the weight room.”
Both senior tackles said offseason conditioning is key, pointing out that the team was fatigued in the fourth quarter in several contests last season.
“We know we didn’t finish out the fourth quarter like we should have,” King said.
“We’d get towards the end and we’d be so exhausted and looked like we didn’t want to play,” added Kwasney. “I think it’s about pushing each other. If we push each other as a team, that’s when we’re going to win games.”
No matter who is pushing up front, scouts will always focus on Campbell, who Branton praised for his on- and off-field leadership.
“(Campbell) is doing everything we want him to. He goes above and beyond to help his teammates out and to lead the younger guys. He’s really been one of my favorite kids I’ve ever had the chance to coach.”
To achieve balance, the Eagles may depend on several different running backs that Campbell is excited about.
“Our biggest strength is probably speed,” Campbell told The Daily Times.
“We have three or four running backs over 200 pounds but each of them run 4.7, 4.6 or so in the 40.”
Gabe Kitts, who led the team with 294 yards on 87 carries, returns this season. Sophomore Brendon Harris got valuable experience on limited carries last season. Scott Galyon’s son, Elijah Galyon, and transfer Brant McClure look promising to assist, Campbell said.
On the receiving end of many Campbell tosses will likely be juniors J.D. Kandel and Liam Luttrell, who played heavily as sophomores and were second and third in receptions behind departed Jeremiah Cataline. D’Andre Sentell, also a junior, showed promise on the junior varsity last season.
The kicking game should be strong.
Returning senior Will Zamboni has performed well, including winning the longest field goal contest in one summer camp. Zamboni and Kitts handled the punting last season but could improve on averages below 30 yards per kick.
Scott Galyon gave the reigns to Branton during the off-season but remains on staff, working with the linebackers. Branton is taking a wait-and-see approach on what the offense can muster but is more confident on the defensive side.
“We were pretty solid on defense last year,” Branton said shortly before kicking off an early August practice session. “We have made a change to a 3-4 alignment to take advantage of some of our strength in the linebacker position. We felt like that (linebacker) is probably going to be a strength of the defense.”