Who is going to step into the shoes of Caleb Northcutt, Cody Robinson and Michael Thrower? How will the Pioneers replace 17 senior starters? Can Tommy Johnson move over .500 in his second season as head coach?
The Warren County High School football team has heard all the questions surrounding the program and set foot on the practice field Monday to begin to answer them.
Coach Johnson’s second season as head coach officially got to a start as the Pioneers put on helmets and shorts and hit the practice field for the first day of spring practice.
With a handful of players participating in other sports and next year’s freshmen class still residing around the county in middle school, coach Johnson had just over 30 players available on the first day.
Although coach Johnson’s team will have a much different roster by the first day of the season in August, coach Johnson still thought it was important to get started installing basic parts of his team’s scheme in the opening day.
“We came out and tried to do our best,” said Johnson. “We tried to get the young guys familiarized with how we do things and get the tempo picked up. Our older guys did a good job of trying to push the pace and set an example.”
Coach Johnson has been a big believer in his team’s offseason lifting program. The second-year head man came in last year with the motto “bigger, faster and stronger,” and the weight room is where he wanted to accomplish the goal.
Monday was the first look to see if the work in the weight room during the offseason had paid off. It was obvious to coach Johnson and his staff many of his players have grown considerably since last season, one which saw Warren County go 3-7 and get pushed around by Cookeville and Tullahoma at Nunley Stadium.
Coach Johnson praised his young players for their work in the offseason and knows how the lifting could pay off for next season.
“We had quite a few guys we wanted to see because we thought they were improving in the weight room,” said Johnson. “They did a good job of carrying it over to the field and I came away impressed by a number of players.”
Young could be the term most associated with next year’s version of the Pioneer football team. On the first day of practice, only a handful of upcoming seniors were present. Four are projected to fill starting spots, as Calvin Hammond and Cory Prince were again working at linebacker, while Nick Sangi filled the right tackle position and MaCrae Thomsen was lined up at center on offense.
While seniors may be scarce on next year’s team, the Pioneers could be loaded with sophomores. Logan Wanamaker, Gilly Ortiz and Ethan Turner return in the trenches for Warren County, while skill position players like D’Andre League and Drew Davidson could play a big part in next year’s offense.
Davidson, along with Jacob Newby, has taken snaps at quarterback while Warren County awaited the return of the two players who spent time as signal callers for the Pioneers. Hunter Mullican, an upcoming sophomore, was back for the first day of practice after completing the junior varsity baseball season.
Connor Dixon, who started four games last season and saw action in three more, will return to the team when the Pioneer baseball season wraps up. Dixon and Mullican are expected to compete throughout the summer for the starting QB spot.
Though many sophomores who cut their teeth in JV action will be expected to contribute, an influx of new players could also play a key role. Kendall Rutledge and Austin Fisk are two players already turning heads on the practice field, while an eighth grade class which won the Central Tennessee Conference at Warren County Middle School is waiting in the wings.
Coach Johnson and his team will continue to work this week before getting a test on Friday. The Pioneers will play host to Lincoln County on Friday night at Nunley Stadium. The scrimmage will be full pads and begins at 6:30 p.m.