Caine Ballard saw the signs in the heat of summer, and those indications have proven true for Greeneville's football team.
The Greene Devils are off to a 3-0 start, ranked No. 2 in the state, and have outscored their opponents by a margin of 137-7.
“I said all along we had one of our best summers,” said Ballard, Greeneville's head coach, whose team won back-to-back Class 4A state titles in 2010-11. “We've got some of the best leadership I've ever had. The summer work carried into the preseason games, and that has carried into the season.”
However, there is one thing Ballard didn't expect this soon: a dominant defense. The Greene Devils opened some eyes by basically shutting down Science Hill's explosive offense in a scrimmage.
It looks even more impressive now because Science Hill has become the state's highest scoring team with 57.3 points per game.
“Our first-team defense still hasn't given up a point,” said Ballard, whose team whipped Jefferson County 41-0 on Friday. “To say I'm not a little surprised would be untrue. We're young on defense, and we've got a lot of new faces.”
However, “young” and “new” doesn't mean low on talent, especially in the secondary.
“Our secondary is as fast and as good as it has ever been,” said Ballard.
Leading the way is a safety, Trevor Wright, who Ballard compares in some ways to former standout Willie Carmichael.
“Trevor is not as fast as Willie, but he's long and athletic and he sees things,” said Ballard. “He anchors our defense, and he's a huge weapon at safety.”
Wright also pulls receiver duty on offense — eight catches for 223 yards and two touchdowns — and occasionally lines up in the backfield in the wildcat formation. He already has Division I offers from Furman and Chattanooga, and Middle Tennessee State University is expect to join that list soon.
Other defensive keys for the Greene Devils have been linemen Jake Sell and Jared Adams.
“They are big strong kids making lots of plays, and they are hard to block,” said Ballard.
The biggest offensive weapon has been quarterback Zack Finchum. He has already thrown for 603 yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception. Also, he leads the team with 222 yards rushing and has three scores on the ground.
Those numbers underscore his ability. The fact he has done it just a few months removed from multiple fractures in his jaw underscore his Jason Witten-like toughness. The injury came during baseball season when an aluminum bat broke and hit him in the face and neck as he tried to field the ball.
“He's a great competitor,” said Ballard. “That injury was much more dangerous than he ever let on. It probably would have set most kids back a little more than Zack.”
Ballard gives Finchum the freedom to choose a pass or run off of any play.
“Every play he's making a decision,” said Ballard. “A lot of kids that age at this level can't make quick enough or good enough decisions, but he's a smart-enough athlete to be able to do it.”
One area Greeneville could improve is finding a bell cow for the backfield. Quan Wilson, Desmond Dabbs, Jalen Pruitt and Mikhail Anderson have been sharing carries so far.
“We've got to find a running back to be the man when it's crunch time,” said Ballard.
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Follow Douglas Fritz on Twitter @FritzBlitzzz.
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Golf update: The District 1-AAA tournament is scheduled for Monday at Bristol Country Club. Teams finishing in the top three qualify for the Region 1-AAA event Sept. 30 at Morristown Country Club.
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Soccer update: Science Hill is 3-0 in Big Seven Conference play, but the Hilltoppers (3-4 overall) face a tough task tonight as they play host to Dobyns-Bennett at Tipton Stadium. Game time is 7 o'clock.
The Lady Indians are 8-1-2 on the season with all of their non-wins coming out of the area. D-B is 3-0 in league play.
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Football games of the week: Science Hill at Murfreesboro Siegel, Dobyns-Bennett at David Crockett, Volunteer at Daniel Boone, Johnson County at Happy Valley.
Hilltoppers vs. Stars — Despite Siegel's record, the team is still ranked in the state's top 10 because it has played a rugged schedule to this point. It's a team that won't give up easily, having trailed 31-10 last week against McCallie before rallying in the second half for a 34-31 win on a last-second field goal.
Indians vs. Pioneers — Heavily favored D-B needs more than just a so-so performance after a couple of tough losses already this season.
Falcons vs. Trailblazers — After a shaky start to the season, Boone has a chance to emerge from this with a three-game winning streak.
Patriots vs. Warriors — One of these teams is going to continue on the unwanted path toward “season lost” while the other has a chance to regroup and make a big turnaround.
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Pick of the Week — Daniel Boone 27, Volunteer 14.
Coming off a bye week, the Trailblazers should be rested, healed, and ready to roll over a Falcons' team that showed some offensive life last week.
Picks record: 4-0.
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Player of the week — Austin Whitehead of Cloudland.
Expected to be a tough battle, Cloudland pounded Johnson County by a score of 40-6 and Austin Whitehead was one of the biggest reasons for the runaway win as he accounted for five touchdowns.
The sophomore quarterback carried the ball 25 times for 190 yards and scored three touchdowns. He also completed 5 of 7 passes for 71 yards, including scoring strikes of 17 and 23 yards.
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The Hogs Award — Elizabethton Cyclones.
Clearing the way for several different running backs, the Clone Hogs paved the way for 400 yards rushing on 37 carries, an average of 10.8 per attempt.
The big blockers also provided enough pass protection for 50 percent completions (4 of 8).
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Defensive unit of the week — Science Hill Hilltoppers.
It was a stone-wall effort by the Hillstoppers, who held Morristown to 96 yards rushing on 30 attempts in a 42-0 victory.
Science Hill also picked off a pass and forced five punts while also causing 16 incompletions in 29 pass attempts.
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Prep spotlight: Area coaches can submit standout performances for girls soccer, volleyball, cross country and golf to email@example.com.
Deadline is Sunday at midnight.
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This Week in Prep History — September 19, 1997.
David Crockett standout B.J. Hall carried 15 times for 190 yards, and also caught three passes for 149 yards in a 35-6 whipping of Cherokee.
Hall had touchdown catches of 56 and 76 yards, and totaled 275 all-purpose yards.
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Elizabethton takes advantage of a Dobyns-Bennett loss to move ahead of the Indians in this week's Prep Top 1O:
Team W-L Prv
1. Greeneville 3-0 1
2. Science Hill 3-0 2
3. Sullivan South 4-0 3
4. Elizabethton 3-1 5
5. Dobyns-Bennett 2-2 4
6. Tennessee High 2-1 6
7. Daniel Boone 2-1 8
8. Cloudland 4-0 9
9. Sullivan North 2-2 7
10. Hampton 2-2 nr