Indians coach Joey Christian and Vikings coach Mike Mays were teammates at ETSU and later served as the offensive and defensive coordinators on Gene Venable’s staff at Volunteer High School.
Now, they will be matched up against each other in Friday night’s game at 7:30, the first renewal of the Indians-Vikings rivalry since 2016. Prior to then, the Indians held a distinct advantage in the series, particularly in the previous decade with the Vikings’ only win in 2009.
D-B, coming off a 4-6 season which ended with a two-game winning streak, will have a new-look offense after the graduation of leading rusher Ian Hicks and starting quarterback Lendon Redwine.
Junior Zane Whitson, who takes over the starting quarterback role, brings confidence to the position. Hard-nosed running backs Tyler Tesnear and Phillip Armitage look to take over where Hicks left off and gash the Vikings’ defense.
The passing game will feature Whitson looking for a variety of targets as Rayshawn Simmons and Nacir Sensabaugh have emerged as big-play threats. Cam Williamson, lined up in the slot, is the leading returner from a year ago, while Dalton Harkleroad and tight end Ben McCluskey are among the other key targets.
Tennessee High opened last season with a 19-16 win over eventual Class 5A state champion Knox Central, and finished 8-5, losing to David Crockett in the second round of the playoffs. Two stars from that offense return with quarterback Cole McBrayer and 6-foot-6 tight end Nolan Wishon, a talented blocker and receiver, who had 15 catches for 210 yards and six touchdowns.
“There is a reason why Wishon is committed to ETSU,” Christian said. “Playing him at tight end, they can throw it up and he can go get it. He’s got great ball skills. You have to stop him, and then McBrayer is a multi-sport athlete, his second year as a starter.
“He’s not going to get rattled. He won his first start last year against the eventual state champions and made it to the second round of the playoffs. We have to limit him running and throwing.”
With the Vikings operating out of the wing-T, it’s a different offense than the Indians will likely see the rest of the season. Tennessee High has a trio of talented wingbacks in Trevor Dowdell, Dominick Daggs and Jaden Keller often running those dreaded counter plays and running backs Kevin Coleman and Connor Bailey trying to get to the outside edges. Reece Profitt lines up as the starting wide receiver.
“It’s way different to prepare for,” Christian said. “It’s the first game of the year, and it’s totally different from the people we scrimmaged who are more conventional for today’s world. You have to stop it. With all the skill guys, they’re as athletic as any team we will see in (Class) 6A week-to-week.”
Jordan Thompson is Tennessee High’s only returning starter on offensive line, although that doesn’t mean completely inexperienced. All the offensive starters are juniors and seniors with Ethan Moore at center and JD Pickett at the important left tackle spot.
Both teams can operate out of a variety of defenses. The Indians, who usually operate out of a 4-2-5 or 4-3, can switch to a 3-4 with the talented linebacking corps of Nate Whitley, Jet Harris, Braxton Kulbacki and Jackson Martin.
Ben McCluskey and Harris are high-pressure pass rushers in a four-man front, while Indians tackles Blake Collier, Ricky Wagner, Jessee Greer and Lonzo Booker hope to clog up the middle.
Tennessee High is also strong at linebacker with all-conference selection Bryce Snyder leading the way, along with Bailey, Coleman and Dowell. Aiden Carter and Proffitt are cornerbacks and Keller is at safety.
The front four on the Tennessee High defense features Damien Duff, Logan Booher, Cade Leonard and Jason Dhooghe. However, they could face a tough matchup if preseason scrimmages are any indication. The Indians’ offensive line of Caleb Burleson, Zack Ferguson, Aiden Neale, Kyler Banks, Ethan Murray and a handful of talented reserves were able to fire off the ball effectively in scrimmages against Elizabethton, Greeneville and Sevier County.
On the other side of the ball, D-B’s defense has more speed in the back end than a year ago with Trent Cody, Chase Jenkins, Josh Romero, Isaac Ratliff, Harkleroad, Sensabaugh and Simmons all fleet of foot.
“We like our defense, moving some guys around,” Christian said. “It will be an interesting matchup. They don’t do a whole lot of running between the tackles other than running some counter back in there. They will lull you to sleep running outside sweeps like the power sweep, the buck sweep and then they’ll come back with a counter and catch you in a heartbeat.
“Coach (Wally) Proffitt (offensive coordinator), he has a sense about him, about knowing when your defense is falling asleep. and they throw a long pass over your head. Our front guys have to beat the blocks, and our back-end guys have to have great eye discipline.”