There is a strong feeling Science Hill is getting better fast under second-year coach Stacy Carter.
The former Sullivan South head coach went 6-5 while breaking in a new stadium during an exciting but up-and-down debut in 2010, a season which concluded with a 34-7 loss to Maryville in the first round of the playoffs.
A year together has polished the precision in Carter’s fast-paced spread offense, but the biggest improvement since this time last year is conditioning.
Carter credited strength coach Josh Robertson early and often at Science Hill’s media day Saturday morning at Kermit Tipton Stadium. Robertson, a University High graduate, has previously worked at Appalachian State and Wofford.
“I feel like probably the biggest thing is our strength program,” Carter said. “Since January I’ve never such gains. Josh Robertson has been helping me out with that, and the gains have been tremendous — almost unbelievable. The strength and conditioning has changed our look and our physical nature. In our scrimmages you can already tell it.”
Tyler Miles, a 6-foot-3, 295-pound senior lineman added four inches to his vertical leap. Luke Hampton, who is expected to play running back and split time with returning starter Justin Snyder at quarterback, shaved nearly two tenths of a second off his 40 time (4.69 to 4.5). And defensive coordinator Ralph Nelson said junior defensive end Bryson DeJesus is probably running 4.8 or better in the 40.
Indeed, the Hilltoppers have speed to burn. Receiver O’Ryen Scott, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior, runs extremely well, 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior Aaron Greene showed he could separate from defensive backs in 2010 and junior Alex Lundberg (6-foot, 165) has run a 4.48.
Brothers Will and Jahmar Adams are home run threats, too.
“We talk about Will a lot,” Carter said, “but Jahmar, from tackle to tackle, he’s your starting running back and he’s fast — actually faster than his brother. … He runs a 4.6.
“Backs, I think, is a very good strength. We have Luke, Jahmar, Will and Jamal Stephens. I feel confident with any of them running.”
Will Adams runs more physically than his frame would suggest, and Jahmar (5-foot-10, 180) and Stephens (5-foot-7, 210) are strong runners with sturdy frames.
Miles and senior center Jacob Colvin (5-foot-10, 215) head a stout six-man unit on the offensive line that should power Carter’s thunder-and-lightning dynamic. Miles and fellow guard Anthony Head, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound junior who Carter said runs 5.1 in the 40, quickly make you forget that Science Hill’s long been labeled as a sort of soft, basketball school.
Carter said a spring scrimmage with Sevier County and a summer scrimmage against Seymour revealed the Toppers aren’t fixated on finesse.
“Ask them Sevier County boys or Seymour boys (if we are soft),” Carter said. “They (the Toppers) look pretty physical; they really do — as physical as I’ve ever seen, and I mean I’ve had some physical teams.”
Nelson said the strength is evident in the defensive front seven — or front eight, with Science Hill now basing out of a 3-5 scheme.
“Unless you saw the numbers and stuff, you wouldn’t believe it,” Nelson said. “It’s not just stronger, it’s faster and better shape. … He (Robertson) has really done a fabulous job with these kids.”
- Frosh faces: Carter has two freshmen on the varsity roster, 5-foot-6, 145-pound quarterback Malik McGue and 6-foot, 160-pound receiver Malik Stephens.
“I’ve brought two freshmen up, and I’ve never done it — not even when I had Kurt (Phillips),” Carter said.
He said McGue ran the team in the spring when Hampton was sidelined from an auto accident and Snyder was playing baseball. McGue ran for a TD in a situational scrimmage this week.
“I’m telling you, he’s gonna be something special,” Carter said. “This young, right now, and he is definitely our third quarterback.”
Stephens caught a 60-yard pass this week.
“He is gonna be another special kid,” Carter said. “Just learning, but athletic as he can be. Probably one of the most athletic kids on the team right now.”
Carter is also high on another Malik — 5-foot-10, 165-pound sophomore running back Malik Tarter. His sister, Tiana, is a talented point guard for the Lady Toppers.
- Fresh faces: Carter is pleased to have added former Tennessee High assistant coach Andrew Beck and former Unicoi County head coach/athletic director Doug Cooper to his staff. Beck will coach the offensive line. Cooper is coaching linebackers.
“I’ve got all my coaches in place, which I feel very fortunate on that,” Carter said. “I feel like I’ve got tremendous coaches in all positions. I’m very fortunate here at Science Hill to have as many as I have.”
- Turf wars: Science Hill opens at defending state champion Greeneville on Friday, Aug. 19. It is one of seven regular-season games the Hilltoppers will play on a synthetic surface. Along with the five home games, Science Hill will also be on a fast track at Morristown West on Sept. 9.
The Hilltoppers’ home opener is Aug. 26 against Elizabethton.
- Moving on: Four players from the 2010 Science Hill team are beginning college careers. Defensive end Alex Payne and running back/receiver Ryan Mitchell are at Tennessee State, punter/tight end Ben Campbell is attending Austin Peay and receiver/defensive back Gannon Glaspie is at Emory & Henry.