By SAM McGAW
The Independence Eagles have been one of the most dominant teams in Class 5A over the last two seasons. This fall, they transition to Class 6A with a new quarterback and several defensive starters missing from last year’s state runner-up team.
“We had a great offseason, great preseason and a great summer,” Independence head coach Scott Blade said at Williamson County Schools Media Day. “We look forward to getting the chance to get back on the field after a disappointing loss in the state championship game.”
Indy won 29 straight games before its 45-35 loss against Farragut in the Class 5A state title game.
While they’re missing a few key components, the Eagles are confident in the players that are inheriting bigger roles.
“We lost some really good players, as did everybody else, but we also have returned several good players and several guys we’re excited to see step up,” Blade stated.
“There’s going to be a lot of new faces, but we think we’re replacing them with some pretty good kids.”
Independence will compete against Brentwood, Centennial, Dickson County, Franklin and Ravenwood in Region 6-6A this season.
Blade will have his third starting quarterback in three years with junior Nathan Cisco behind center this fall.
He replaces Brandon Hines (Tennessee), who recorded 3,574 passing yards, 43 touchdowns (3 run) and 18 interceptions in 2016.
“He’s been with me for three years before he’s actually taken the reigns, so there’s a lot of things he’s had to learn from some really good guys,” Blade said. “As a freshman, he got to watch Andrew Bunch, who’s arguably the most accurate quarterback I’ve ever coached. He got to see Brandon Hines, who statistically had more yardage (than Bunch).
“He got to see a couple of different guys, couple of different personalities, couple of different ways of doing things, but still be successful. I’m hoping that helps. I’m looking forward to seeing Nate come into his own.”
Cisco will guide an Indy spread attack that’s loaded with firepower.
Senior running back Troy Henderson is a weapon that can do it all. He recorded 978 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns last season.
Lining up at receiver is a pair of explosive juniors in Kendrell Scurry and TJ Sheffield.
Scurry, an all-state selection, recorded 58 catches for 977 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Sheffield, a Tennessee commit, had 885 receiving yards, 384 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
Both players are rated as four-star recruits by 247Sports.
Linemen Beau Myers and Zion Katina will help pave the way up front.
Myers is a Samford commit, while Katina is committed to Kennesaw State.
While Independence returns most of its offensive producers from a year ago, its defense isn’t so lucky.
Some of the key players it lost in the front-seven include all-state linebacker Hunter Dupree, all-state defensive end David Demke and defensive tackles Michael Weathers and Michael Pierce.
Demke led the team with 138 tackles and 18 sacks, while Weathers registered 83 tackles and 14 sacks. Pierce accumulated 75 tackles and four sacks, and Dupree had 108 tackles and an interception.
“We lost some guys out there, but we think we’re replacing them with some good guys that have had the privilege of watching some pretty good guys in front of them to see how it’s done,” Blade said.
Blake Bixby will step in to replace Weathers at defensive tackle.
Tyrus Jackson will replace Dupree in the middle, while Colby Logan (82 tkls, 4 FR, 3 sacks, 3 FF, 1 INT) is a returning starter at weak-side linebacker.
Jake Huner started 15 games as a strong-side linebacker last season, but this year he will be used more as a strong safety.
“He’s just an incredible athlete with an incredible work ethic,” Blade said. “He’s a leader in his own right.”
Jevan Robertson is a returning starter at safety, while Brooks Howard will line up at cornerback.
Sam McGaw is the sports editor for Brentwood Home Page, Franklin Home Page, Nolensville Home Page and Spring Hill Home Page. Follow him on Twitter @SamMcGaw_.