Those combined 38 seniors are gone, but the expectations are still high in Mountain City with 13 seniors returning this season. Besides standout linebacker Curtis Lowe, Johnson County’s offensive line is almost entirely there with the exception of one new starter.
Players like Logan Gilley, Connor McNutt, Lucas Walters, Luke Osborne and Colt Moody make up the core of the line and will pave the way for a plethora of running backs.
Losing a special offensive weapon like Nathan Lane to graduation hurts, but head coach Don Kerley expects seniors like Jared Kimble and Jisaiah Webster to pick up the slack at running back. Both will see the field quite often along with new quarterback Stacy Greer, who is trying to fill Troy Arnold’s shoes.
“It’s going to be a running back by committee, but it all starts up front with the offensive line,” Kerley said. “We lost one lineman on both sides of the ball last year and that’s pretty new because we’re used to starting over on the line every year. Our line has some leadership there and has a lot of starts.”
The defense will again be quick and a task for opposing teams to deal with, but the depth of the ’Horns this season could play a factor. Johnson County has 40 kids listed on the roster and most of the linemen will have to play both ways.
“I think we’ll have 30 kids that see the field this year,” Kerley said.
That could make a huge difference in a later season game against a team like Unicoi County that loves to play fast and reckless.
Johnson County opens up with two consecutive games — against Sullivan East and Sullivan North — at home. Then the gauntlet begins with two regional games at Chuckey-Doak and West Greene followed by a non-conference game at Hampton.
The Region 1-3A title, on paper, should come down to the final game of the season once again in the rival game against Unicoi County. The Blue Devils and Longhorns traditionally produce a quality matchup and this year should be no exception.
That game will be on Nov. 1 in Mountain City.