This offseason brought plenty of change for the East Robertson football team.
Coach Chad Broadrick exited to become Gallatin’s defensive coordinator, opening the door for assistant Atlee Pond to take the helm. Starting quarterback Cameron Swift tore his ACL in May, forcing Drake Alsup to move from receiver to quarterback.
But Pond recently moved sophomore Taylor Groves behind center in hopes of making the offense more dynamic. Alsup has returned to receiver, his natural position.
Those developments came on the heels of East Robertson’s first playoff appearance since 2009. The Indians were ousted in the first round by Tyner Academy, but the roadmap for making a return trip to the postseason is in place.
“That’s one thing that I try to stay away from,” Pond said. “We’re more focused on the process than the result. If our kids show up, work hard every day and continue to get better, all that stuff will take care of itself.”
Alsup was a natural choice to succeed Swift, who underwent successful surgery in mid-July and still plans to play college football. But the senior caught 22 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns last season, so moving Groves to QB should allow him to continue to thrive on the outside.
“He’s become a more vocal leader,” Pond said of Alsup. “He always kind of led by example, but we’ve asked him to step up and be (more vocal).”
Taylor Groves emerged as an SEC-level prospect following his standout freshman season. The former receiver had 776 yards and eight touchdowns in 2018, earning him offers from Kentucky, Mississippi State and Tennessee. He landed at No. 18 on the Main Street Preps Super 22 team.
Now a quarterback, Groves will poise an even bigger challenges for opposing defenses. He rushed for two touchdowns and showed off his impressive throwing arm at the Robertson County Jamboree Aug. 16.
“You have to know where he’s at every single snap,” Pond said. “There will be a lot of attention on him. Some of these other guys can run routes and make plays, especially if everyone is keying on Taylor.”
Tristan Phipps and Tyler Ayers could be the beneficiaries of the attention drawn by Groves. Phipps was primarily a defensive back last season, but he emerged in 7-on-7 drills as the team’s second-best receiver, according to Pond. Senior Coleman Bonds, sophomore Cameron Cope and freshman Shaun Groves, Taylor’s younger brother, will also be factors in the passing game.
Senior Jaden Crouch is back to be East Robertson’s primary running back. He rushed for 418 yards and six touchdowns last season. Sophomore Matthew Jarrett will also get some carries.
Senior tight end Corey Lewallen and senior fullback Aden Miller will help clear the way for Crouch. Pond said Lewallen is among “the best blockers on the team.”
Three-year starter Lucas Osborne returns to lead the offensive line. He’ll be joined at tackle by junior Bryce Brown. Juniors Ian McKinzie and Cameron Smith are fighting to start at center.
Senior guard CJ Premer is back after making a speedy recovery from a heart issue stemming from mononucleosis. He was fully cleared after the TSSAA dead period and will start on both sides of the ball.
“His heart was so enlarged, they thought he had permanent scarring,” Pond said. “It’s almost a miracle. He’s kind of the team’s hype guy. Our team had more energy on his first day back.”
The other starting guard position will be filled by Smith, Hayden Swearingen, Jalen Bravo or Devin Truelove.
In addition to Premer, Pond said Osborne, Brown, Smith, Swearingen and Bravo will each be in the defensive line rotation. The plan is to use the depth to keep pass rushers fresh.
“We have decent depth there,” Pond said. “We have different guys that we can rotate in and out for different packages. It’s going to be nice to have that flexibility.”
Pond called the linebacking corps the “high point” of the Indian defense. That group is led by Lewallen, who will be joined by fellow seniors Crouch and Miller.
The secondary will consist of Alsup and Taylor Groves at safety, with Bonds working in as needed. Phipps and Ayers will start at cornerback. Shaun Groves and Dylan Stroud should provide depth.
Joel Sandoval, a soccer player, returns to handle field goals and kickoffs. Pond has not named a punter yet, but Taylor Groves, Shaun Groves, Ayers and Phipps are all in the mix at returner.
Pond said the coaching transition has been seamless thanks to the fact that he’s been an assistant at East Robertson since 2013. That should help the Indians keep their momentum moving forward this season.
“When you’ve been somewhere for six years, you know the ins and outs,” he said. “There wasn’t anything broken. When Chad left, we had a good thing going. We’re just trying to keep that rolling.”
Head coach: Atlee Pond
Record: 0-0, 1st season
Assistants: Joey McClung, Shane Trotter, Chris Bryant, John Brown, Brenden Moore, Rod Swearingen, Chad Bruce
Taylor Groves (QB/S)
Drake Alsup (WR/S)
Corey Lewallen (LB/TE)
Jaden Crouch (RB/LB)
Lucas Osborne (OL/DL)
Tristan Phipps (WR/DB)