If last year was a “perfect storm” for Independence, veteran coach Scott Blade hopes his Eagles can catch lightning in a bottle for a second straight year.
Winning the Class 5A state championship and finishing 15-0, Independence accomplished both behind one of the most productive pass-and-catch combinations to hit Middle Tennessee in recent memory. Quarterback Andrew Bunch – despite missing four games with an elbow injury – threw for 3,405 yards and 41 touchdowns, while eventual Michigan signee Nate Johnson recorded 87 receptions for 1,713 yards and 27 TDs (a state single-season record).
The duo led an offense that averaged 42.7 points per game.
“Last year was such a unique experience,” Blade said regarding his second state title campaign – after claiming one at Hillsboro in 2008. “We had a unique few guys with skillsets, we had incredible sacrifice and incredible teamwork, and it came together. It was the perfect storm for a team that played like we did, that had the season we did.
“That’s what every coach is trying to get – your team to play together and understand the philosophy. But that’s in the past. It’s such a wonderful memory, but that’s last year’s team.”
Although 13 starters from that squad have moved on, Independence has enough experience and talent coming back that Blade fully expects the Eagles to take flight again this fall.
“I don’t know what the future holds for this team, but I believe lightning can strike twice. That’s the goal,” he said. “We’re not resting on our laurels. We’re still here, still working, still showing up.
“I’m planning to beat everybody we play, but there are a lot of things that have to go right for that to happen.”
To help some of those things go right, Blade – a linebacker during his playing days but an offensive mastermind on the sidelines – intends for two of his proven defenders to take lead roles on the other side of the ball.
Landon Guidry, a starter at strong safety as a junior and a Mississippi State commitment, is set to see the majority of his time as a slot receiver. He’ll reprise the role that former Tennessee receiver Eric Gordon played during his time under Blade at Hillsboro. Also, Cole Huner, an all-state selection as a free safety, will man the opposite slot.
“We feel good enough about our safeties, Jevan Robertson and Jake Huner, that we can move two of our experienced guys over to offense to help out,” Blade said.
The two will help Brandon Hines settle in as the starting quarterback. So will tailback Troy Henderson, who rushed for 933 yards last fall as a sophomore at Louisville’s DuPont Manual.
On defense, nose guard Michael Pierce (72 tackles in 2015), end David Dumke (10 sacks) and linebacker Hunter Dupree (118 tackles, five interceptions, four fumble recoveries) anchor the front seven with cornerbacks Montray Steele and Alan Watson rounding out the secondary.
“I don’t know what the ceiling is for this team, but we’ll do everything we can to get there,” Blade said. “The approach is to get a little better each day, let the cards fall where they may, and last year is last year.”