He stands at just 5-foot-8, but he’s quick as a hiccup and hard to catch if he gets into the open field.
“I think my size is really one of my strengths,” Derrick said. “I scored a few times off screens coming out of the backfield and getting behind my lineman. … Last year, coming from a huddle offense to a no-huddle and quick offense, it was tough at first. Now everything has just slowed down and it’s coming easier and more smoothly this year.”
Said Volunteer head coach Justin Pressley: “He brings energy every day. He’s always excited and has a smile on his face. He has that attitude where he brings a lot of good juice to the practice field and to the game,”
Another one of the key returning starters is senior quarterback Eli Dorton. He also says the playbook is coming along well and more naturally this year.
“Last year, it was really confusing and we had a lot of plays coming off of other plays and it was hard,” Dorton siad. “This year, we’ve really thinned the playbook out and we have a lot of audibles this year.
“(Peyton) is a huge part of our offense. He’s quick as lightning and hardly anybody can catch him. We need to use him as much as we can and I think we do that very well.”
The Falcons are coming off of a 3-8 season, but it was a step in the right direction from the previous 0-10 season of 2017. They did win the last game of the season -- a 41-0 thrashing of Cosby in a bowl game at Grace Christian.
They were still without a regional win and this year is going to much of the same: a loaded Region 1-5A conference. The Falcons have key home games against David Crockett, Tennessee High and Morristown East — along with big road tests like Daniel Boone and rival Cherokee.
“We’re just trying to improve from last year,” Derrick said. “We’d like to go even (.500) or better. We just want to have a successful season and leave this place on a good note.”
Entering his second year with the Falcons, Pressley has seen this team grow from the moment he got to Church Hill and he’s excited to be getting a full offseason with the team.
“Having December and January was really big. I got here in March of last year and having those extra winter months to work out helped us take that next step forward,” Pressley said. “We’ve made a big leap from this year to last year.
“The actual playing surface of the field has really not been the big issue. It’s really been the sidelines of the field — where they’re on a dip is the issue — and it’s really more of a soccer thing here. They use the whole field. It hasn’t affected us at all.”
Pressley remarked that Derrick will play a lot of roles this season and that he was limited to one-third of the field last year. Derrick could literally line up anywhere on the field this season. He is that valuable of a weapon.
“Peyton is a dynamic kid. He can do a lot of stuff for us,” Pressley said. “I can put him anywhere. He can catch the ball in the slot and that’s where he’s going to play a lot this season. He’s a huge impact player.
“He’s kind of like Alvin Kamara. He’s a scat guy and he can run in between the tackles to catching the ball out as a split end. He’s also going to do all of our kick and punt returns. He’s a Reggie Bush-type guy, being the superior athlete out on the field each Friday night.”
The Falcons will open the season on the road at CAK on Aug. 23. The first home game will be on Aug. 30 against Sullivan Central.