The 2010s were not particularly kind to East Robertson football, which didn’t win more than four games in any season from 2010-17.
However, the last two years brought 5-6 records and back-to-back Class 2A playoff appearances. Second-year head coach Atlee Pond and his squad want to keep building on that progress this fall.
“This year we’ve been talking about a new standard,” Pond said. “Our goal isn’t just to get into the playoffs – that’s the expectation now. The kids will not be satisfied by just getting to the playoffs.”
Four-star prospect Taylor Groves, who already has 13 offers from Power 5 schools, will be vital for East Robertson. The junior plays wide receiver, defensive back and several positions on special teams. According to Pond, the pulse of the Indians runs through Groves.
“He elevates everyone else,” Pond said. “He has inspired other kids with his work ethic, which is great. It makes my job easier, but it’s also good for morale. He’s been one of the vocal leaders of our team this (summer).”
Numerous starting jobs are still up for grabs, but Pond sees that as a positive. He said East Robertson has a deeper depth chart than in years past, equating to increased competition at each position.
“That’s something we haven’t necessarily had here,” said. “If you have a team of only 40 guys, sometimes that margin between (starters) and (backups) is drastically different. But now we’ve got guys in every class that are competing for jobs.”
Quarterback is one question mark. Sophomores Collin Cook and Carson Craig are jockeying for the spot vacated by Drake Alsup, who walked on at Western Kentucky. Craig has previous football experience but did not play in 2019.
Three running backs - Matthew Jarrett, Zech Prince and Hayden Swearingen – are in line to receive carries, while junior Peyton Dudley and sophomore Shelton Montgomery are battling for the starting fullback role.
Groves, who is expected to be East Robertson’s go-to receiver, led the team with 739 yards and five touchdowns on 49 receptions last season. His younger brother, sophomore Shaun Groves, will also catch passes along with Cameron Cope and Dylan Stroud. Hunter Knoss, Joel Sandoval and Riley White are also in the mix at receiver.
Three starters return on the offensive line including Jalen Bravo (right guard), Bryce Brown (tackle) and Cameron Smith (tackle). Tanner Cheatham and Ian McKinzie are competing to play center, while Nick Iniguez, who was injured last year, will contribute as a blocking tight end.
Most of that group, along with Luke Sanders, will play defensive line with Bravo, Brown and Smith serving as the anchors. The trio combined for 31 tackles for loss and nine sacks last season.
Pond called the linebacker spots an “open competition” between Dudley, Iniguez, Montgomery, sophomore Carlos Alarcon and others. The Groves brothers, Cope, Prince and Stroud fill out the secondary, which Pond also expects to be a bright spot.
On special teams, Sandoval (20-of-24 on extra points, 3-of-5 on field goals in 2019) will handle all kicks and Taylor Groves will punt. Stroud will assist the Groves brothers with returning kicks and punts.
Pond said the Indians are hoping to ride their recent momentum to better results as the program tries to shake off nearly a decade of struggles. East Robertson’s last winning season came in 2009.
“(The turnaround) started with (previous) coach (Chad) Broadrick, and we’ve tried to keep it rolling since,” Pond said. “There’s a better perception of football amongst (the) students. The program has improved, which brings out more of the kids you want on your football team.”
AT A GLANCE
League: Region 4-2A
Head coach: Atlee Pond, 2nd season
Coaching record: 5-6
Assistants: Chris Bryant, Bryant Duncan, Rod Swearingen
Overall record: 8-18
State titles: N/A
Taylor Groves (WR/DB)
Cameron Smith (DL/OL)
Bryce Brown (OL/DL)
Shaun Groves (DB/WR)
Cameron Cope (WR/DB)
Peyton Dudley (FB/LB)
Joel Sandoval (K/WR)
2019 RESULTS (5-6)
vs. Forrest L, 40-15
at WH Heritage L, 34-7
vs. Cascade W, 21-14
at Lewis Co. L, 35-14
at Jackson Co. W, 14-7
vs. Jo Byrns W, 30-0
at Trousdale Co. L, 55-6
vs. Westmoreland W, 27-6
vs. Harpeth W, 30-6
at Watertown L, 56-20
at Bledsoe County L, 28-6*
*denotes 2A playoff game
Aug. 21 at Forrest
Aug. 28 vs. WH Heritage
Sept. 4 at Cascade
Sept. 11 vs. Lewis County
Sept. 18 vs. Jackson County
Sept. 25 at Jo Byrns
Oct. 2 vs. Trousdale County
Oct. 16 at Westmoreland
Oct. 23 at Harpeth
Oct. 30 vs. Watertown
*All games at 7 p.m.