‘Rebuilding’ isn’t a word that Springfield football coach Dustin Wilson has to use much.
Since 2015, the Yellow Jackets have made four straight trips to the Class 4A state quarterfinals. Springfield is shooting for another deep November run this season despite graduating the three-headed monster of quarterback Bryan Hayes, running back Keith Jones and wide receiver Dayron Johnson.
“The expectations are the same every year,” Wilson said. “We want to try to get in the playoffs. That’s our goal.”
Springfield has just 10 seniors this season. But that group is talented and heavy on experience, having played in the 4A state championship loss to Greeneville in 2017. Wilson expects the veterans to set the tempo for the rest of the squad.
“This team is going to go where the seniors take us,” Wilson said. “It’s their time to shine. It may take us some time (to develop leaders), but that’s what the scrimmages are for.”
Kevontez Hudson is slated to take over for Hayes at quarterback. The left-handed junior is one of Springfield’s best athletes, according to Wilson.
“He’s a tough kid, he’s an athlete,” Wilson said. “You put an athlete in the backfield in high school football and if there’s a bad snap or something, (the ball) is still in your athlete’s hands.”
Kevontay White may get the bulk of the carries at tailback, though he could also see time at receiver. Kavarius Smith and Kamrin Garrett are also expected to make an impact in the backfield.
Replacing Johnson, now with Tennessee State, won’t be easy, either. ‘Fat Cat’ led the Yellow Jackets with 1,146 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in 2018. This year, senior Cale Jones and sophomore Ze’Rel Boyd are likely to be Hudson’s top targets. Gabe Kelly, fullback Mikie Neal and Austyn Day are also in the mix.
Senior Austin Stiltner returns to anchor the offensive line. He has significant experience protecting quarterbacks on offense and blitzing them as a defensive end.
“He’s a leader and a technician,” Wilson said. “He could play any position (on the line).”
Senior Nate Kendrick, who Wilson called one of the team’s “most physical linemen,” will join Tres Haley, Tristan Petit and De'Marion Wynn on the offensive line. Most of that group will rotate on the defensive line with Stiltner and Nathen Griffith.
Behind them are several experienced linebackers. Neal, Hudson, Yonel Rodriguez and Christian Trujillo will make life difficult for opposing teams attempting to run or pass against Springfield’s 4-4 defense. Ke'Varis Lark will spell those four when needed.
Kelly, White and Cale Jones will be Springfield’s main defensive backs. Keiavion Jones and Logan Harrison could also see time in the secondary.
On special teams, Tanner Collins, Luis Diaz and Logan Leftrick are vying for the starting duties at kicker. Jones will punt and White will be the team’s primary kick returner.
Although personnel changes have dramatically altered the lineup, Springfield is still projected as a state contender. The MurphyFair.com Coaches Poll ranked the Yellow Jackets as the fifth-best 4A team behind Greeneville, Anderson County, Haywood and Elizabethton.
Playing deep into November has become the standard under Wilson. That has increased community excitement around the Yellow Jackets, who open their season at Wilson Central Aug. 23.
“It’s refreshed, definitely,” Wilson said. “Nothing was built by our staff, it’s just refreshing the tradition that has existed and may have lapsed a little at times (in the past). When you play football when others aren’t in the postseason, that’s when more attention is paid to you.”
Head coach: Dustin Wilson
Record: 51-36, 8th season
Assistants: Drew Wilson, Enoch Hill, Bill Underhill, Bubba Chandler, Jacob Buttram, Bryce Ellis
Kevontay White (RB/DB)
Austin Stiltner (OL/DE)
Mikie Neal (MLB/FB)
Kevontez Hudson (QB/LB)
Cale Jones (WR/DB)
Yonel Rodriguez (LB)