Craig Harris/Macon County Times Macon County Junior High’s Drake Amons (53) blocks teammate Riley Bolton during a recent practice.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

Macon County Junior High’s Drake Amons (53) blocks teammate Riley Bolton during a recent practice.

The Macon County Junior High football team will place a mix of seventh and eighth-grade players on the field this fall.

First-year head coach Coty Jett is hoping that blend of seventh-grade skill players and eighth-grade linemen leads to success for the Tigers.

"Any time you have a young offensive and defensive line, they're not going to be fully developed like an eighth-grader," Jett said. "I'd love to have an eighth-grader or two in the backfield, but it ended up working out to where most of my skill players are young. Even defensively, outside of my front eight guys toward the line of scrimmage, I only have one seventh-grader in there. To have those eighth-graders up there closer to the point of attack is a great thing. Hopefully, having those guys up there, they'll maul anybody and make it more comfortable for our running backs."

A pair of seventh-grade quarterbacks -- Luke Gammon and Kelan Hire -- are expected to lead Macon County's wing-T offense.

"Ever since the first day we put on pads, they've shared the reps," Jett said. "Gammon was probably better at controlling everything around him and understands his role as the quarterback. Hire is a little better athlete. They're both fairly accurate (passing). There really isn't that much of a difference between the two. My ideal quarterback would be if you combined those two together."

Seventh-grader Ty Swindle is expected to be at fullback, with classmates Gabe Borders and Zach Borders at the wingback spots. Another seventh-grader -- Braylon Flowers -- is expected to play extensively at wingback, and eighth-grader Bradon Warren and seventh-grader Ty Young could see action there as well.

"The Borders twins, I've known about them for years," Jett said. "They've kind of been the poster child for that age division. They're both freak athletes. They're strong. In their legs, they're about as strong as the linemen are at this point. We expect those two guys to rarely come off the field.

"Flowers, he's a kid who decided to come out and play football this year. He's another kid who has an amount of speed. They'll have some kids who can match up with them this year. Next year, I think they'll be the fastest kids on the football field."

Three eighth-graders -- Tyler Gregory, Jordan Rogers and Drake Amons -- will see action at split end.

"Gregory and Rogers played a ton both ways last year," Jett said. "Those are the guys who we count on to be leaders on this football team. They're splitting reps on offense so that they can focus more on defense at this time."

Two eighth-graders -- Dalton Hudson and Kaleb Smith -- are competing for action at tight end.

"Kaleb Smith played a lot last year at tight end," Jett said. "He's another guy I would count on.

"Hudson is a freak athlete as far as his size and speed. He played basketball the last couple of years and decided to come out and play football. He's slowly figuring out football. It's clicking for him, and he's starting to figure it out. If he learns how to play with a low pad level and body level, I don't know of anybody who could stop him one-on-one."

Riley Bolton is expected to serve as the team's center, with Logan Bandy alongside Bolton at one of the guard spots.

"The kid started last year both ways," Jett said of Bolton. "He's hard-nosed. He works hard in the weight room. He works hard in practice. He works hard at whatever you ask."

John Marsh and Joseph Scott are options to start at the other guard.

"Marsh is another one who played last year on the offensive line," Jett said. "Last year, he played tackle. This year, we've bumped him to guard. When it comes to his football intelligence, it's hard to match.

"Bandy is another kid who played a lot of meaningful reps. He's another kid who I don't have to question at all what he's doing."

Eighth-grader Isaiah Cates and seventh-graders Brody Frye and Ethan West are competing to start at the offensive tackle spots.

Smith is expected to serve as the team's placekicker, and he could punt as well, though Gregory could also punt. Dalton Dallas should be the long snapper, with the Borders twins, Flowers and Isaiah Dallas returning kickoffs and punts.

Hudson and Wyatt Polston are battling for playing time at nose tackle, and Bolton and Marsh are the front-runners to start at defensive tackle, though Cates and Frye will see action there as well. Gregory will start at one defensive-end position, and it will either be Amons or Smith lining up at the other defensive end.

"Those front five will do real well," Jett said. "I have two deep at every spot. There's a lot of maturity in that group, a lot of strength. With those five guys, we can match up pretty well."

Scott and Swindle are expected to start at linebacker, but seventh-grader Hunter Griggs could also see action there.

"We're hoping that Joseph Scott becomes our defensive leader," Jett said. "We want him to make the calls and get everybody lined up. We hope he becomes that captain."

Warren and Rogers are expected to start at cornerback, and Hire and Young will provide depth there.

The Borders twins, Flowers and Isaiah Dallas all vying for playing time at safety.

"Everybody in the defensive backfield is young and inexperienced," Jett said. "I feel like we have some speed and that it will be tough for people to get on the edge against us.

"The biggest worry for those kids (seventh-graders) is durability. They're going to be going against linebackers and defensive ends who are bigger than they've ever seen at this point. They have to go up against those guys for a whole season. That's why we've been splitting reps. The main thing is physicality and being able to remember (plays). They come from pee wee where you don't have that many plays to remember, but we've been going at it since late April through now. I feel pretty good at where we're at."

Jett pointed out that there are other players who will contribute in other ways.

"Christopher Evans is a sixth-grader who probably won't play a lot for us, but he works hard on that scout team," Jett said. "Any games that we win or compete in, he's one of those guys who helps get us as mentally ready as he can.

"It's a lot of kids buying in. We're figuring out the guys who are mentally tough, who aren't scared to hit, who aren't scared to sacrifice their bodies. I feel like everybody has bought in at this point."

Jett takes over after first-year head coach Jake Johnson abruptly resigned after coaching just two games last season 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.

Macon County Junior High assistant coach Jacob Coffee assumed the role of head coach for the remainder of the season. Jett is assisted by Coffee, Brandon Robertson and Lionel Borders.

"We've been doing this since January," Jett said. "We've been building that bond between the players and myself and the rest of the coaches. The kids struggled at first, the kids who didn't get a lot of reps last year. By the middle of June, it started clicking for them. Kids are understanding their roles and responsibilities.

"This team can be a special group. If everybody shows up and does their job, they can potentially win every game on our football schedule. They're following the tiny details."

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

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

"We have to have eighth-graders step up and show leadership," Jett said. "Who's going to be that leader on both sides of the football, when there's two minutes left in the football game? Who can carry the load? Right now, I'm not sure who that is. I think we have 10 or 15 guys who could, but who is the guy who steps up?"

Macon County has just one nonconference game on its schedule, Tuesday night's season opener against visiting East Robertson. The Tigers begin conference action on Thursday, hosting Overton County.

"The MC (Macon County) logo is right there in the middle of their chest," Jett said. "It's about doing things the Macon County way. It's not just about what you do between 5 and 7 (p.m. at football practice). What are you doing at home? What are you doing at school? Now, you represent Macon County. You have to act like a Macon County football player 24-7 (24 hours a day, seven days a week). Football can teach you a lot about life."