Many Tennessee high school football players dream about making it to Cookeville and playing in a TSSAA BlueCross Bowl state championship game at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
Springfield has been there twice in the last three seasons, though both games ended in losses.
Can this year’s Yellow Jackets make another deep postseason run?
The 2020 squad returns a bevy of talent including All-State selections in quarterback Kevontez Hudson, wide receiver and defensive back Gabe Kelly and offensive lineman Tristan Petit.
Like last season, Springfield may need time to hit its stride. The Yellow Jackets lost nine seniors to graduation, many of them key contributors, from a team that began its season 4-3 and finished 11-4.
Coach Dustin Wilson, like usual, said he is more concerned about the end of the season than the beginning.
“You want to be prepared (for the start of the season), but you also know that those non-region games (are) specifically designed for getting better and evaluating the kids,” Wilson said. “Our focus is on the region games.”
Linebacker is the primary question Springfield must address. Three former starters – Mikie Neal, Yonel Rodriguez and Christian Trujillo – are gone. That trio combined for 317 total tackles in 2019.
“They were some great kids, they know we love them and they’re all moving on now,” Wilson said. “We have some (players with) game experience, but our biggest concern right now is inside linebacker.”
Springfield does have certainty at quarterback, where Hudson will again be behind center after a breakout junior campaign (60-of-113 passing, 836 yards, six TD; 193 carries, 1,166 yards, 21 TD).
Next to Hudson, Keontez Woodard (74 carries, 293 yards) will get a shot to be the starting tailback. Kevarius Smith, who played extensively at defensive end last season, could challenge Woodard for that role. Lamarion Turner and Martavious Johnson will play fullback.
Kelly is the top returning WR, having caught 10 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Ze’Rel Boyd, Keiavion Jones, Stephen Owens and Joemar Myles are among those also competing for playing time.
“That’s a patient position in our offense,” Wilson said of WR. “We run, run, run, run. You have to be ready when your number is called. There’s a lot of learning (to do) early, so Gabe is probably going to have to carry the load.”
Offensive line appears to be a strength. Four previous starters – Petit, Tres Haley, Clayton Wells and De’Marion Wynn – return after paving the way for Springfield to rush for 2,983 yards and 40 touchdowns. Center is still open, but Upperman transfer Hunter Booker could fill that role. Bryce Diehl, Fletcher Raines and Dalton Webb will provide depth up front.
On defense, junior Keyshawn Robinson is the lone returner at linebacker. He had 69 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2019. The other three starting jobs are still available.
The defensive line is more experienced with Smith, Turner and Kamrin Garrett all back. Garrett led Springfield with 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks last year, while Smith chipped in 10 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Kelly (79 tackles, seven INT) highlights the secondary and could play corner or safety. Boyd (three INT, six pass breakups) is another likely starter at corner. Safety is still to be determined.
Senior kicker Luis Jijon-Diaz brings a steady presence to the special teams unit. One of his four field goal makes was the game winner in overtime against Haywood, which sent the Yellow Jackets to the state championship game.
Sophomore Logan Leftrick will serve as the punter, and Tanner Collins may kick off while Diaz handles extra points and field goals.
Wilson said he hasn’t solidified who will return kicks and punts, but he noted that Robinson has the “sure hands” to be a punt returner and Kelly has the speed to return kicks.
Springfield hosts Wilson Central on Aug. 21 for its season opener. The Yellow Jackets were supposed to play Clarksville in Week 2, but that game was canceled after Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools delayed the start of contact sports. Wilson said he isn’t rushing to find a replacement.
“I’m not going to treat (the season) any different than I ever have,” Wilson said. “We’re worried about the finish line. We’ll try to get ready, have healthy kids to play our games and we’re not going to panic.”
AT A GLANCE
League: Region 5-4A
Head coach: Dustin Wilson, 9th season
Coaching record: 62-40
Assistants: Jacob Buttram, Madell Chandler, Logan Coatney, Enoch Hill, William Underhill, Drew Wilson
Overall record: 36-20
State titles: 1 (1993)
Gabe Kelly (WR/DB)
Kevontez Hudson (QB)
Tristan Petit (OL)
Keyshawn Robinson (LB)
Kamrin Garrett (DE)
Kevarius Smith (DE/RB)
2019 RESULTS (11-4)
at Wilson Central L, 37-7
vs. Clarksville W, 21-15
vs. WH Heritage W, 42-41
at Station Camp W, 31-10
at White House W, 34-24
vs. Marshall County L, 42-12
at Mont. Central L, 13-10
vs. Portland W, 27-12
vs. Greenbrier W, 43-0
at Creek Wood W, 14-7
vs. Jackson SS W, 42-21*
vs. Lexington W, 31-7*
vs. Hardin County W, 28-21*
vs. Haywood W, 17-14*
vs. Elizabethton L, 30-6**
*denotes Class 4A playoff game
**denotes Class 4A BlueCross Bowl
Aug. 21 vs. Wilson Central
Sept. 4 at WH Heritage
Sept. 11 vs. Station Camp
Sept. 18 vs. White House
Sept. 25 at Marshall Co.
Oct. 9 vs. Mont. Central
Oct. 16 at Portland
Oct. 23 at Greenbrier
Oct. 30 vs. Creek Wood