“New” has been a theme for Nolensville football for a while.
The school opened in 2016, and played its first full football schedule last year.
Now, the Knights have a new coach, too.
Coach Will Hester led the Knights, playing without a single senior, to a remarkable 4-8 mark and a playoff win last season. But Hester’s now coaching at Alabama’s Florence High. Paul Derrick, his former defense coordinator, was tabbed to lead the Knights in Year Two.
Here’s how things look for Nolensville heading into 2018.
Wharton’s the key to the offense
The Knights finally have seniors!
Dual-threat quarterback Brandon Wharton II, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs just under 200, is probably the most important. Wharton wants to be a college quarterback, and Murray State and Arkansas Pine-Bluff have both offered him that chance, according to Derrick.
Wharton’s a great athlete whose accuracy improved last season. He accounted for nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards in 2017. How far the Knights go depends on how much better he is in 2018.
Last week’s scrimmage performance against Centennial offered mixed signals. He ran well, and tossed a 9-yard touchdown to tight end Tim Stayskal. But, the son of the former University of Tennessee basketball star by the same name, also threw two interceptions.
“Obviously, he didn’t have his best night throwing the football, if you’re looking from afar,” Derrick said. “But he did some really good things. We don’t just throw the ball downfield. We do a lot of stuff with the zone read and throwing it off that, and he made great decisions at times [on Thursday].
“Like to see a little more consistency, with reading the field and stuff like that, but he’s a dual-threat kid and I think when you put those things together, he’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Stayskal caught 45 balls for 550 yards last season. Those numbers should rise.
“We’re going to use Timmy more as kind of a flex-type tight end,” Derrick said. “Sometimes, he’ll line up with his hand in the dirt, in-line. Sometimes, he’ll flex out. I think that can create some mis-matches for people.”
Receiver Zach Campbell, who had over 600 yards from scrimmage and added seven touchdowns, returns.
Tailback Colton Dooley ran 222 times for 943 yards and eight scores. He’s Nolensville’s workhorse in the backfield, again.
“He’s got good vision and runs the ball hard,” Derrick said. “And we want to be a team that runs the football.
Two-way, three-hundred pounder Ethan Mickelson will be a factor on both sides of the line, and Matt Edwards is regarded as the leader of the offensive line.
“There’s not really one guy [standing out on the offensive line], I’d say,” Derrick said. “I just think they play well together as a unit and work well together.”
McWilliams leads improved defense
As you might expect, a brand-new defense with no seniors struggled in 2017. Nolensville shut out Lawrence County for its first win in Week Five, but gave up 26 points or more nine times.
However, the Knights forced multiple turnovers against Centennial, and shut out the Cougars in two quarters last week. That suggests better things are ahead.
Stayskal might be even better on defense, where he was an all-state pick last season. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound linebacker, made a ton of plays in opponents’ backfields last season.
Senior strong safety Jack McWilliams had three interceptions, and could be one of the area’s best.
“He’s the quarterback of our defense,” Derrick said. “He makes all of our calls, all of our checks, gets us lined up, he’s a leader.”
Derrick mentioned sophomores Zach Larkin and Grant Reeder as keys along the defensive line.