Craig Harris/Macon County Times Macon County Junior High head coach Coty Jett instructs eighth-grader Dalton Hudson.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

Macon County Junior High head coach Coty Jett instructs eighth-grader Dalton Hudson.

The Macon County Junior High football team opens its season more than a week before high-school teams.

As a result, the Tigers are in the midst of the preparation process under the direction of first-year head coach Coty Jett.

"We have about 50 kids," Jett said. "That's a great number. In past years, it's been between 30 and 40 (players). To this point, I would challenge any team we play and believe we have worked harder than any team has ... but you don't get a trophy for winning the offseason."

Jett has been an assistant coach for the Macon County High football team for the past six years, having coached the offensive line a year ago.

He'll remain with the Tiger program but in a reduced role, focusing most of his attention on the Macon County Junior High program.

"I teach at the junior high," the 31-year-old Jett said. "I'm the only high-school assistant at the junior high. I wasn't able to spend a whole lot of time with the kids at the high school, except for two or three hours after school every day. I felt like I could have a mentor type of role with those junior-high kids.

"Me and Kyle (Shoulders, the Macon County High head coach) talked about it. We started trying to figure out what we could do. Since January, the junior high has been working (out) after school."

The 2018 season was an unstable one for the Tigers.

Jake Johnson was hired as the Macon County Junior High head coach in June, but he abruptly resigned after coaching just two games in order to become the head coach at Clay County High School, who parted ways with head coach Matthew Bates following the Bulldogs' second game last fall.

MCJHS assistant coach Jacob Coffee -- who teaches sophomore biology and senior anatomy and physiology at Macon County High -- assumed the role of head coach for the remainder of the season.

Coffee remains an assistant coach, along with volunteer assistant coaches Brandon Robertson and Lionel Borders.

Jett says that the transition has been smooth so far.

"It was an unknown," Jett said. "How will these kids react to it? Will they drop off like flies? We had roughly 60 kids who started in January. Now, we have 50.

"I'd like to think we have the kids now who are mentally tough. It's just putting in what we've worked on the last four or five months."

Of those approximately 50 players, the team consists of 27 seventh-graders, 22 eighth-graders and three sixth-graders.

Jett has transitioned as well after coaching older players for the previous six seasons.

"High-school kids are more independent," Jett said. "At the junior-high level, the parents are more involved. That's the biggest task I've had to deal with. I've met with the parents and went over the guidelines and what we expect with these kids.

"In high school, I get kids who come in as freshmen who relatively know how to tackle and how to block. When we first got those junior-high kids, you have to teach them (a lot). Since January, we've had them in there and been slowly molding them."

Jett is hoping to make the players' transition from junior high to high school an easier process moving forward.

"When I was talking about taking over, I said, 'If I'm going to do this, I want to take advantage of the situation," Jett said. "I don't want (the transition to high school) to be a culture shock.

"Kids are understanding that you have to have a year-round mentality when it comes to football. That's what we're trying to build in these kids. If you want to be successful, you have to put everything into it. I feel like the kids have bought in and are doing a good job."

The Tigers had a 3-3 record last season but reached the Middle Tennessee Football Conference playoffs before suffering a 30-6 loss to York Institute in the semifinals.

"We have a chip on our shoulder," Jett said. "We only won three games last year. I feel like we have the pieces to compete for the playoffs. It comes down to the players. It's the leadership for the eighth-graders. We have some kids who got some experience last year."

DeKalb Middle was the Middle Tennessee Football Conference West Division champion last season.

DeKalb and Macon County are in the West Division along with Hartsville's Jim B. Satterfield Middle School, Smith County and Upperman.

The Tigers open play on Aug. 6 by hosting East Robertson -- the team's lone nonconference game -- followed by its conference opener against visiting Overton County two days later.

The team will have a preseason scrimmage at Gordonsville on Aug. 1.

"I told them that in less than a month, we have our first game," Jett said. "I told them, 'It will be here before you know it.' It has been a long ride since January. We're starting to figure out where kids can fit in. It's getting exciting. It's an exciting time for the junior high. We have a lot to look forward to.

"You get to that point. You feel like you have a lot in place. You want to strap it up and hit somebody of a different color (jersey)."