2019 will be a much different season for the Beech Buccaneers as they go from being the hunter to being the hunted.
This sort of preseason feeling isn’t something that is unusual for the Buccaneer football program as they have made the playoffs every year but once in head coach Anthony Crabtree’s 14 completed seasons - which include two state championships and one state runner up finishes.
However, just because the perception has changed from an outsider’s point-of-view, things haven’t changed inside the football offices.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Crabtree said of preseason expectations. “We are still trying to figure out where we are and are always going to work on the fundamentals no matter the outside expectations. We are still worried about making sure our guys know what their jobs are. We still have a lot to evaluate in our program and still trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Whether you are picked preseason one or 50 the approach is still the same.”
That mentality is one of the reasons Crabtree has been so successful during his tenure at Beech and across the entire state.
It’s a reason why this group of seniors have played in 25 football games over the last two years, which is almost three years’ worth of games compared to some teams.
“We are hoping that experience helps us,” Crabtree said. “The deeper you can play in the playoffs year after year and younger guys can get those extra reps and extra practice days makes a big impact on the upcoming season; and we are hoping that is true again for us this year.”
How will this year’s group respond to being the hunted compared to being the hunter?
In 2017 when this group were sophomores they watched a senior class lead them to Cookeville and a runner-up finish in the state title game, so as juniors, no one expected much of anything from them.
Instead, the proved many doubters wrong playing in the Class 5A semifinals and was just one score away from playing for a third golden football.
Now, everyone knows them and no one will overlook them. So, how will this year’s team fare? They should be solid, and coach Crabtree has high expectations going in.
“We have a big senior class with most of these guys playing a lot last year and getting quality game experience,” he said. “We have some good leadership coming back and know what it takes to win and get deep into the playoffs. That said, you must have some things go your way. Injuries are a big part of it, what kind of team chemistry do you have, and does the ball bounce your way? Those determine a short or long season.”
According to Crabtree team chemistry is high, but it can always be higher.
“It is good right now,” he said. “We are still trying to bring along some young guys and our older guys are a bit anxious to figure out where they are in terms of competition against another team. We haven’t gotten to do that just yet. I think it’s good right now but our younger guys are questioning who will step up or not. It could always be better and we still need to get some people solidified in certain spots.”
One of those key positions will be up front on the offensive line.
Anchoring the big boys will be Sumner County Offensive Lineman of the Year Hayden Sloan as well as Will Johnson, but the remaining three spots are still up for grabs.
The quarterback battle is still open with three guys competing for the role - Caden Cutrell, Xaviere Jones and Josh Jordan.
Running the football this year will be a four-headed monster in Ja’Sean Parks, Tysean Jefferson, Adrian Johnson and Patrick Hill.
Bobby Whitley, Chris Townsend, Zach Oden and Jackson Long will play out-wide for the offense with the hopes that they can keep defenses more honest.
“There is no doubt that we want to throw the football more this season,” Crabtree said. “That said, we are not going to go out and throw just to throw. We need our quarterbacks to step up and show that they can deliver the football and we need our wide receivers to show that they can catch the ball and make positive plays.”
Competing for the defensive line spots are Logan Sims, Carter Flatt, Lucas Dean, Cameron Owens, Seth Robinson and Adrian Johnson.
Linebackers Cameron McClanahan, Collin Woods, Will Crabtree and Asher Talbot will play pivotal roles for the defense.
In the secondary, the Bucs should be strong, returning multiple playmakers in Jack Dolan, Bobby Whitley, Brian Colon, Brain Deacons, Tysean Jefferson and Lucas Bish.
Special team members include Kevin Figuero, Corey Edwards and Will Johnson while Jefferson, Oden, Parks and Townsend all look to return kicks in some capacity.
Expectations are high for Beech, but no one has high expectations that coach Crabtree and his staff. That said, they only worry about what they can control.
“I think if we play well and have the ball bounce our way sure we can make a deep run in the playoffs,” he said. “Anything can happen once the playoffs start. If you win your region your bracket could be set up better and I always think playing at home is an advantage. That said, we never talk about Cookeville. Today is the most important day and we have to get better today. We take things one day at a time and just get better each day. If you do that your chances of being successful are better.”
Predicted Finish: 1st - Region 4-5A
Predicted Order to Finish: Beech, Gallatin, Hillsboro, Hillwood, Hunters Lane, Glencliff
Head Coach: Anthony Crabtree
Record: 126-49, 15th season
2018 playoffs: Class 5A semifinals
Assistants: Mike Beaver OL, Mark Curry QB, Chase Brooks RB, Anthony Coffee WR, Bill Alexander ILB/DC, Christopher Carrol OLB, Seth McFerrin DB, Jeff Abner DL.
Key returnees: Hayden Sloan (OL), Will Johnson (C), Will Crabtree (ILB/FB), JaSean Parks (RB), Asher Talbot (OLB/TE), Jackson Dolan (DB), Brian Colon (DB), Brendan Segura (DB), Bobby Whitley (WR/DB), Jeremiah Morrow (ILB)
Stadium: Shackle Island Stadium