This season, the Raiders return three key players in the backfield on offense. The returners of Austin “Pedro” Hartsock, Dale Potter and Yancy Dolen will be a tough trio for any team to stop.
“Some of these seniors have played a lot of football for us these past few years,” Sullivan North head coach Preston Patrick said. “I remember in a playoff game when Dale Potter started at safety. He’s got a lot of mileage on him. … I’ve been around the game a long time and I’ve never seen the amount of injuries at key positions that we had last year. You hear about it, but you never think it’s going to happen to you.”
The triple-option offense that opponents are used to seeing out of North will be making a return, but possibly with more passing involved. The receiving corps is stronger this year and will pose a threat to opposing secondaries, especially on vertical routes.
The speed will certainly be on display if Potter or anyone else comes out of the backfield for North.
The defense will be anchored by Dolen, playing a key position at either middle or outside linebacker. Probably the Raiders’ most suspect area on the football field at any given time will be the secondary.
The first three games are on the road for North and are not necessarily a gauntlet, but could go a long way in determining how the team deals with adversity later in the season.
The opener is against a much-improved Sullivan Central team. The Raiders won last season’s contest 30-20 and ran the ball all over the Cougars on that Thursday night at Bennie Compton Field.
The next game will be a huge test against two-time defending Region 1-3A champion Johnson County in Mountain City. The Longhorns’ defense has been stingy over the past two years, with lots of experience stopping the run. If North were to win this game, it would be a massive confidence boost going into conference play.
The next three games are at Cosby, Chuckey-Doak at home and then South Greene at home. Another marquee game will be the Sept. 27 matchup at Pigeon Forge. The Tigers are coming off an uncharacteristic 1-9 season and North will be looking for a big road win.
All of the final four games — Hampton, Happy Valley, Sullivan East and Cloudland — are winnable if the Raiders stay healthy.
“We’ll be prepared beyond the first strings this year,” Patrick said. “We had a good offseason and we were in the weight room a lot. Hopefully the injury bug doesn’t bite us this year.”