Game: Cherokee Bluff at Whitefield Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Last Year: Whitefield 33, Cherokee Bluff 0

All-time series: Whitefield leads 1-0

Prediction: Whitefield 28, Cherokee Bluff 21

After a trip to the playoffs last season, much will stay the same for Whitefield Academy when they take on Cherokee Bluff to kick off the 2019 season.

For the first time since 2014, the same head coach will be returning in consecutive seasons. Coleman Joiner led the Wolfpack to a 6-4 record last season and, with much of the roster returning, has the opportunity to build off of last year’s performance.

“We return a lot of experience on both sides of the ball,” Joiner said. “We only graduated six seniors a year ago. I expect a lot of leadership and a lot of experience to show. We’ve gotten a lot bigger and stronger this offseason, so I expect us to come out and play well and hang our hat on those few things.”

His quarterback, Cole Peterson, threw for 1,333 yards and 13 touchdowns last season as a freshman while starting all 11 games. In his second year, Joiner is looking forward to Peterson taking more control and expanding on his role as a game manager.

“Cole’s a guy who about this time last year was finding out he’d be our starting quarterback,” Joiner said. “He was extremely efficient, didn’t make a ton of mistakes. He was a great leader and manager. What I’m looking forward to is seeing him take even more control of the offense. We’re not having to keep the training wheels on as we did early last year so we can open up the playbook.”

Peterson will be helped by the Wolfpack’s returning talent at wideout. Last year’s leading receiver Kaleb Brooks has graduated but a group including Myles Redding, Bryce Davis, and Justin Tinch should be able to fill in.

Whitefield also returns leading rusher Eric Little, who gained 547 yards on the ground last season and scored seven times. He’ll pair with Jaden Griffin to form a talented duo in Joiner’s backfield.

Much of the defense also returns, including all three starting linebackers. Those linebackers will be led by Jaquez Dew, last season’s leading tackler with 129 stops.

The most important aspect of Whitefield’s offseason might be the fact that things stayed the same. The players don’t have to learn a new system or adjust to new coaches like they have in years past. Joiner and almost his entire coaching staff are returning, which in Joiner’s mind allows the most room for improvement.

“They know the language we speak and our schemes are the same,” Joiner said. “I think that’s extremely beneficial to these players. For a while, they were used to something new every season. It’s hard to get into a rhythm as a program and build a culture when things are changing. I’m happy to be a little consistency for them.”

Game: Walker at Athens Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Last Year: Athens Christian 33, Walker 0

All-time series: Tied 1-1

Prediction: Athens Christian 21, Walker 7

Walker will have the chance to even the score when it travels to Athens to open its season against a familiar foe in Athens Christian.

Walker also opened its season against the Eagles last season, dropping the opener 23-0 at home. A 1-9 season followed, but Walker coach Matt Casper and his team are prepared for their second shot at the Eagles, using what they learned last season to get ready for a challenging opponent.

“We’re expecting to go into a tough environment to play a team that’s going to be excited to play their season opener at home,” Casper said. “We’re expecting their best effort. They have a couple skill guys that can score on any play and they have a handful of kids that are just good football players. We expect a pretty tough opponent.”

Charlie Condon will be taking over at quarterback with last year’s starter Patrick Wright and his 1,070 passing yards now playing football at Dartmouth. Condon got an opportunity to play in multiple games last season, which Casper sees as an advantage as he moves into the starting role, especially with an early road test on the schedule.

“His only start of last year was in a real tough environment in Mount Pisgah,” Casper said. “I’m sure he’ll be nervous but I have all the confidence that Charlie is going to get us in the right plays and make good decisions.”

Walker’s strengths appear to be in the trenches. Kyle Keegan and Nick Addison will lead the defensive line while Louis Silverstein will anchor the offensive unit.

“Our offensive and defensive lines I think jump out,” Casper said. “It’s a senior heavy group.”

Last year’s leading tackler, Carson Coburn, returns at linebacker as well as Cam Baker and Ross Simpson in the secondary to bring some experience to the Wolverine’s defense.

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