Offense: The Eagles will be led by a pair of Vanderbilt commitments, quarterback Gavin Shoenwald and receiver Camron Johnson.
Schoenwald, a Rivals three-star prospect, played tight end—the same position he’ll play at Vandy—last year, but moves back to where he played as a sophomore.
“He has knowledge of the offense,” coach Cody White said. “He has a good work ethic. Kids trust him, they believe in him, and I think he understands his role, which, he’s got good players around him and it’s just to get them the ball and let them make plays. I think he’s going to be a good disperser of the football.”
BA believes that Johnson, a four-year starter, could be the best wideout in Tennessee. Rivals ranks him as the 50th-best receiver in America and the No. 12 player in the state.
The Eagles have two more capable pass-catchers in juniors Kenyon Garlington and Mike Archie at wide receiver.
Archie, son of the former Penn State star by the same name—he spent time in the Titans organization as well—should also help at wideout. He has gotten recruiting interest from UAB and Western Kentucky, and could be one of the region’s best receivers.
Garlington has an offer from Tennessee State, and is the team’s fastest player.
Running back Tomario Pleasant returns, and will start at that spot this year.
Offensive line was a concern at times last year, but the group developed well as the season progressed. The Eagles are experienced across the middle with senior guards Thomas Gore and Airin Spell, and senior center Jordan McCoy.
“I felt like we have a good group of, not massive kids, but good athletes on bigger bodies,” White said. “That kind of fits what we do offensively. … I don’t know that we can just line up in the I (formation) and kill everybody, but in the spread stuff and running screens and pulling them and all those things, they fit really well with it.
“It starts there. If we can do that, we’ve got plenty of weapons at running back and receiver that can do things with the ball in their hands.”
Defense: A pair of college-bound seniors, cornerback Daniel Taylor (Navy commitment) and linebacker Jackson Sirmon (Washington) lead the way.
Sirmon, a three-star Rivals prospect, is the son of former Tennessee Titan linebacker Peter Sirmon, the current defensive coordinator at Louisville.
“He’s a coaches’ kid, he understands everything, he’s really, really bright. His kind of a quarterback there for us,” White says.
Taylor, a three-star prospect according to 247 Sports, will also see time at receiver.
“Daniel’s just a smart football player. Good athlete, good feet, and a year of experience there,” White said.
Spell is a strength in the nose spot of the Eagles’ 3-4 defense. He’s a potential college prospect and will be counted on to occupy blockers as Sirmon and the rest of the defense make plays, something White believes his teammates can do.
“We’re probably as fast as we’ve been since I’ve been here, across the board,” White says. “Our defensive linemen can run, our linebackers can run, they’re long. That’s obviously helpful against today’s offenses.
McCoy and Gore will start at ends alongside Spell.
Jack Victory, a speedy leader at linebacker, should be one of the unit’s top play-makers.
Special teams: Senior punter Harrison Smith is the punter, and one that White calls, “one of the best ones in the country.”
Toby Wilson handles kickoffs and field goals, and BA likes his accuracy from 42 yards and in.
Johnson and the other receivers will handle return duties. “We’re going to play around (with them) and see who can make something happen,” White says.
Final analysis: The Eagles have one of the better football traditions in America, and a coaching staff that includes three former NFL players. It’s a team with size, speed, experience and depth. One staff member told us that as many as 20 future college players on the roster.
White says depth on the line of scrimmage is a concern, but feels good about the skill positions, defensive speed, and the experience.
“A lot of winning a state championship has to do with luck,” White said. “We need to stay healthy, we need to take care of our kids and make it through a pretty rigorous schedule.”