Craig Harris/Macon County Times Macon County High senior fullback Kaleb Farber carries the football during a preseason scrimmage at Greenbrier.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

Macon County High senior fullback Kaleb Farber carries the football during a preseason scrimmage at Greenbrier.

The Macon County High School football team is hoping to continue the program's recent winning trend with a new face at the helm.

Kyle Shoulders was hired in late May to succeed Nathan Wilson, who directed the program for five seasons.

The Tigers have reached the playoffs three times over the last four seasons, the first graduating class in program history to accomplish that.

The program won three games in 2013 before increasing that to five wins in each of the next two seasons, which included a playoff appearance in 2014. Macon County finished 9-3 in 2016 and 7-4 last fall.

"Our expectations are not based on wins or losses," Shoulders said. "We just expect our guys to come out and compete on a weekly basis and from week to week to continue to improve. At the end of the week, if we can do that, we have to let the chips fall where they lie and see what happens. If we continue to improve on a weekly basis and continue to compete, good things are going to happen for you. It's important that we do everything in our power to put a product on the field every Friday night that this community can get behind and be proud of."

Macon County will employ a wing-T offense, with junior Jon Mark Gammons stepping in at quarterback. Gammons succeeds record-setting, four-year starter Seth Carlisle, a freshman at Tennessee Technological University.

"He has shown me that he can be a leader," Shoulders said. "I think that is a huge characteristic of his, as well as how receptive he is to being coached. He doesn't wear his feelings on his sleeve. He responds to adversity and constructive criticism. He's been slinging it around (well) lately."

Experience returns in the backfield in senior tailback Noah Likens. Likens rushed for 823 yards and seven touchdowns last season, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.

"It's invaluable," Shoulders said of experience in the backfield. "It's people who (Gammons) can lean on and make plays for him and give him confidence. He has some weapons around him. We're anxious to see how he can utilize them."

Senior Kaleb Farber and sophomore Logan Whittemore - who suffered a torn anterior-cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee last season - will see action at fullback, as will Likens. Three players are in the mix at wingback, including junior Isaac Belton, sophomore Ethan Jenkins and freshman Cameron Houston. Jenkins - who caught 16 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns in 2017 - has been sidelined for much of the preseason after having his appendix removed.

Experience also returns at wide receiver in senior Chris Oliver, who caught 20 passes for 513 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Sophomores Landon Whittemore and Ty Lowhorn will also see action at wide receiver.

"Chris, he's a playmaker," Shoulders said. "He's a leader too. He's a kid that doesn't say a lot. He kind of talks with his actions. He makes it comfortable as a play-caller, calling his number because of the consistency in which he has produced in the preseason."

Three starters are back in the mix on the offensive line in senior tackle Stephen Lancaster, junior guard Levi Borders and junior center Josh Howell.

"It's going to be a key to our success on how well they're able to produce up front," Shoulders said. "It's going to start and end with them (the linemen), really on both sides of the ball. We feel like our D-line will have to be pretty strong as well.

"The offensive line, I think it will all come together. We have a staple up there in Lancaster, who can hopefully rally those guys. He's the leader of the bunch."

Junior Tyson Dyer could also factor into the mix at center. Senior Logan Malotte and sophomore Dylan Hesson are competing for playing time at the other offensive guard spot, and senior Dillon McFerrin is expected to start at offensive tackle.

"Injuries are a concern," Shoulders said. "Inexperience is a weakness. We have a couple of guys (playing) who have never probably played a varsity down."

Either Houston or junior Ryan Underwood is expected to serve as the placekicker, and senior A.J. Alcorta will punt. Underwood made 12 of 14 point-after touchdown kicks last season.

Houston, Jenkins and Likens are all options to return both kickoffs and punts, and Belton could factor into the mix on kickoff returns as well. Jenkins averaged 24.6 yards per kickoff return last season.

Junior Jessie Holland - who also is coming off of an ACL injury - is expected to start at nose guard, with Borders, Dyer, Farber and Lancaster all seeing action alongside of Holland at the two defensive tackle positions.

Landon Whittemore and Logan Whittemore are expected to start at defensive end, and four players - Hesson, Malotte, senior Branson Henry and junior Rodney Tuck - are expected to see action at the two linebacker spots in the Tigers' 50 defensive front (consisting of five down linemen and two linebackers).

"We can feel like we can run from sideline to sideline," Shoulders said of the linebackers. "Hopefully, some of those guys being able to focus on one side of the ball will be advantageous for them and for us as well.

"I think depth is a strength, especially at linebacker and D-line. From when we first got here to now, all of those guys have risen in their level of play. It's not that none of them are separating themselves, but they're all kind of rising to the top."

Tuck has been one of the biggest surprises in the preseason.

"(Tuck) is probably going to end up being a starter at linebacker for us," Shoulders said. "He's an exceptional leader. He moves well. He will strike you. He has one of the best motors on the team."

Houston, Lowhorn, Oliver and senior Will Talley are all battling for action in the secondary.

Belton will likely start at safety after recording 30 tackles (11 solo) and an interception last season.

Sophomore Austin Robinson will see action at safety, as will Jenkins. Jenkins made the second-most tackles on the team last season (56 total, 26 of which were solo) and also had two interceptions.

"We have started developing this … we are really trying to focus on the developing of an attitude, a little bit of nastiness, a chip on our shoulder," Shoulders said. "It's that competitive nature. We have that. It's just trying to develop a little bit of confidence in their competitiveness. We can show that we're real competitive, because it kills us inside when we mess up.

"What we're going to get is being competitive to a point to when it doesn't go right, to have enough confidence to line back up and go again … and to make sure we fix it the second time. That will come with experience. Experience will greatly help with that."

Shoulders admits that the learning curve for both the players and coaches has been steep over the summer.

"The most pleasing thing is how receptive the kids have been to what we're trying to do," Shoulders said. "They have bought in. They have worked as hard as any group as I have been around. The last two months have been tough, and not just on us as a coaching staff, but on the players as well. We're really six months behind. We're trying to put in - in three months - a year's worth of stuff. That's difficult to do regardless of what field you're in."

Livingston Academy won Region 3-4A by handing Macon County a 24-14 loss in the final game of the regular season last October.

"The talk is that Livingston is the top dog, and they'll continue to be so until someone knocks them off," Shoulders said.

The Tigers had preseason scrimmages against Greenbrier and Watertown, prior to a jamboree against Gordonsville. Macon County opens the regular season with a contest against Smith County.

The Tigers open region play by hosting Cumberland County on Sept. 14.

"I feel like from top to bottom, our region, we're all very much alike in the sense of run-oriented football teams for the most part," Shoulders said. "The others in our region have obviously gotten more returning experience than us, which is obviously going to make it a tall task."