Unlike some other sports, numbers are the name of the game in football.
In recent years, the number of players in uniform began to slip a little across Northeast Tennessee. And although they haven’t recovered to hey-day levels, things seem to be leveling out for the most part.
Daniel Boone is one of the area schools where numbers are above normal. Trailblazers head coach Jeremy Jenkins said he expects to have around 60 kids this fall.
“Our numbers are up from what we’ve had in past years,” said Jenkins.
Winning 19 games in two years certainly helps reel in a few more players. Jenkins said continuity helps, too.
“We’ve had two big sophomore classes back to back that have stuck with it,” he said. “That’s a tribute to our freshman program, doing the same stuff the varsity does.”
Jenkins said he believes more athletes are returning to the gridiron these days.
“They aren’t isolating to one sport,” he said. “The 7-on-7 stuff has gotten more athletes involved. It’s a good thing for this area. It’s getting the all-around athletes out on the football field.”
On the other side of Washington County, it’s a different story. David Crockett is currently looking at numbers in the low 40s.
“I’ve had 60 in the past, so I’m a little discouraged,” said head coach Kent Green. “Crockett is a lot different than some other schools. I think more than anything Crockett has had three or four winning seasons since 1971, so there’s not a lot of tradition.”
Plus, football takes that little extra something that can be difficult for the 21st-century teenager.
“Football is a tough sport,” said Green. “A lot of kids would rather sit on the couch and play video games instead of coach Green yelling at you in 90-degree weather.”
Elizabethton is also down in numbers a little. The Cyclones figure to have in the mid-to-upper 60s this year.
“The difference this year is our senior class only has 11 players,” said head coach Shawn Witten. “The last two years we had 18 and 17. This is the first time we’ve ever had as few as 11. But a good thing this year is we have 31 eighth-graders.”
Witten said numbers can be a cyclical thing.
“A lot of times it comes and goes,” he said. “The biggest thing you can’t do is have two small classes back to back. If you do, you will see your program struggle because of numbers.”
One thing Witten said helps his program is maintaining full schedules for junior varsity and freshman teams.
“We are one of only a few Class AA teams playing three full schedules,” said Witten.
At the top of the ladder, low numbers don’t mean the same thing. Science Hill head coach Stacy Carter said he’s expecting 85 kids to play this year, which he categorized as “good numbers.”
So even in a down year, the Hilltoppers should be in excess of 70. That’s where Dobyns-Bennett head coach Graham Clark said his program stands for 2011 — unless the freshman class is counted and that raises the number to well over 100.
At the bottom of classification ladder, low numbers can really put a strain on a program. Fortunately for Class A Cloudland, the Highlanders have been able to consistently whip the numbers issue.
“Every year we plan on having 30-35 kids,” said head coach Robbie Turbyfill. “Last year we had 30, but five or six got hurt.
“We’ve been sharing a lot of kids with basketball, so our numbers have fluctuated a little in the summer. But during the season the number of kids should be consistent.”
n Cloudland will hold its third annual 7-on-7 passing tournament this weekend.
Sixteen teams will be in the field with action starting at 6 p.m. Friday. Saturday’s play starts at 9 a.m.
Each team is guaranteed five games with four round-robin contests and a single-elimination tournament.
Joining Cloudland in the event are Hampton, Unaka, David Crockett, Happy Valley, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan North, Cherokee, Cosby, South Greene, North Greene, Tri-Cities Christian, Avery County, N.C., and two Tri-Cities Silverbacks teams.
Tickets are $3 a day or a tournament pass can be purchased for $5.
Unaka won the event in 2009, and Avery County took the title last year.
Douglas Fritz is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at email@example.com.