As summer workouts carry over and the first 7-on-7 awaits in less than a week, Sequoyah’s new coach, Derrick Vestal, has learned a lot about the people in his program.
Quite some time sits between now and competitive action, but Vestal’s squad has been picking up steam and showing the first-year head coach the desire to succeed.
“I think one thing that is important is that they are so hungry to win they are doing whatever it is we ask them to do. No ifs, ands or buts about it,” Vestal said. “They are all in on whatever we are doing. We have right at 60 kids on our roster and with vacations and everything in the summer we have 50 at workouts every day.”
It’s a new era in Madisonville. New offense and defense have been implemented; the weight room regime is more rigorous. Even the location of the weight room and locker room have been changed as a symbol of times changing.
“It is unbelievable to see how much they have grown,” Vestal said. “Not just football-wise, but their bodies are actually maturing now that they are on an actual workout program.”
A key part of that was started with Vestal’s first hire, Shemar Collier. A recent Maryville College grad from Mississippi, Collier has worked with Vestal as an intern at Lenoir City.
“Coach Collier is a weight room guy and when he came in he brought an intensity and fire. He is able to teach weight room a lot better than most people can. He is 100% disciplined in the weight room,” Vestal said. “Our workouts are so intense and fast-paced that they don’t have time to goof off.
“We are trying to make them understand that we are in this whole thing together, but they have to buy into everything we are doing. Not just talk about it but be about it.”
As the summer months heat up, leadership within the program has become more important. The Chiefs staff has named five captains: Kylan Carson, Emmitt Duff, Emilio Sanchez, Cooper Self and Micah Shedd.
A fifth one will be named the week before the season starts.
“We went with them not just because they are good football players, but because we don’t have to worry about their work ethic or their locker being a mess, or about their grades. They lead by example and they are vocal guys,” Vestal said. “They are taking ownership of this team because they want to see a change.”
Self returns after two seasons as the starting quarterback, but the senior is in a battle with sophomore Aaron Hunt for the job.
“Realistically, it is going to be to see who can take a leadership role a little better and who can be the field general that we need,” Vestal said.
Vestal added that Hunt’s increased role on the defense could be a factor.
Sequoyah looks to be quick, fast and hopes to spread the ball around this fall.
“We are going to try to run 12 receivers a game and three running backs a game just to keep a steady rotation game in,” Vestal said. “If they are not the starting quarterback that does not mean they are black-listed from the offense. They can still play receiver, running back and on defense.”
Carson is a name that can be expected to carry a load. He can be involved as a wide receiver and in the backfield.
“We have a ton of moving parts because we are changing things offensively. We are going to try to get the ball in as many people’s hands as we can,” Vestal said.
Josh Ellis, who Vestal described as a “match-up nightmare,” is expected to be heavily involved in the receiver group. He brings a long frame with quickness and catching ability.
Ethan Hunt will join the list of names to be relied on.
“Ethan Hunt has grown immensely. Not just in the weight room, but he is also learning the game a little better. He is going to be dynamic for us,” Vestal said.
Cooper Lovingood returns after a sophomore all-county season.
“He’s a very strong kid. Sometimes he tries to overpower people rather than play technique,” Vestal said. “We are going to rely on our front with him, Landon Slack, Tristan Dupes and guys like that to help us maintain the pace of the game.”
Both Hunts, no relation, are sophomores. Vestal’s first class is not terribly senior-heavy. Maddux Jones was mentioned by name in the underclassmen standouts.
“We have some good-looking freshmen who are coming out and doing good stuff. They are getting after it in the weight room,” Vestal said. “We are not real senior-heavy, but we are not reliant on one class either.”
The competition in Region 3-4A will continue to be a slog. Red Bank, East Hamilton and a Chattanooga Central team that came hot at the right time in 2021 will look to be the front runners.
However, Hixson, East Ridge and Soddy-Daisy can be an open race for fourth place.
Sequoyah starts its season on Aug. 19 at Tellico Plains. Until then, the Chiefs will go to McMinn County on June 21 and 23 for 7-on-7s, host a 7-on-7 on July 19 and go to McMinn Central for a July 29 scrimmage.