Two of the key players that departed Mountain City were star quarterback Nathan Arnold — the school’s all-time leading passer — and Hayden Osborne, who was voted the Johnson City Press Defensive Player of the Year last season.
“It’s going to be really hard to replace those guys,” Longhorns head coach Don Kerley said. “They were both captains every game and emotional leaders of the team. We’re going to be young this year, especially in the offensive line. We may even start a freshman at left tackle. I’m glad we’ve got Troy Arnold at quarterback this year. He’s waited patiently behind Nathan and he’s smart. He’ll do fine.”
One of the key returners for the ’Horns is senior middle linebacker Tyler Norris.
Norris made many key plays last year, including the 98-yard fumble recovery to beat Happy Valley and the knocking down of the center in the first-round playoff game against Northview Academy — allowing Osborne to waltz through to block the extra point attempt and seal the win.
“He’s one of the best linebackers in East Tennessee,” Kerley said. “We couldn’t run the 4-3 and 5-3 defenses we have if we didn’t have a good mike linebacker like him. He’s really good and he is so fast.”
Some of the best words that was used to describe the Longhorns’ menacing defense last season was “athletic,” “fast’ and “agile.” Some of the coaches believe that this year’s defense may surpass that of last season.
“We’ve got more size up front and even though [Jordan] Edes-King is gone, we’ve still got quick defensive ends,” Kerley said. “Our secondary is mostly the same and so are the linebackers. We’re most worried about the offense this offseason.”
Norris and Osborne were a dynamic duo in the defensive backfield for the ‘Horns as they finished 11-1, with the lone loss coming to Austin-East in the second round of the playoffs.
“Being the leader means that I have to take control of everybody and take over the leadership,” Norris said. “It left a bitter taste that we lost at home. I hope we get them again this year.”
Norris is a man of few words, but he knows what the team’s goals are with three sentences: “We want to go 10-0. We want to go to the third round of the playoffs and (play) Alcoa.”
The Longhorns begin the season on Thursday, Aug. 16 with a road game against Sullivan East.