After an ultra-successful close to its Class 5A tenure — a state title in 2015 and a return to the championship game a year later — Independence has struggled to replicate that performance over the past couple of years as a Class 6A competitor.
A rise to that top-tier level in 2019 isn’t out of reach, veteran coach Scott Blade said, as long as the Eagles follow one rule: Trust the system.
“We’ve got some good kids working hard at every position, and when we’re flying around and understand our responsibilities, we’re pretty good,” Blade said. “When we don’t, we’re a pretty average team.”
Average is certainly one way to describe the Eagles’ past two seasons overall. Both 2017 and 2018 saw glimpses of the dominance displayed the prior two years but polar opposites as well, resulting in back-to-back 6-6 finishes.
Each of the campaigns resulted in opening-round playoff victories and season-ending losses in the second round, last year to a Region 6-6A rival Brentwood squad that the Eagles had defeated during the regular season before suffering a disappointing overtime defeat in the rematch.
Much of the team’s success in 2017 and ’18 was sparked by the pure athleticism of skill players such as T.J. Sheffield and Isaiah Collier, both of whom graduated after last season.
Leading the charge to replace that explosive receiver tandem will be senior Chayce Bishop, a midseason transfer from Brentwood who will have to make the transition from a complementary role to a frontline performer.
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2019 High School Football Media Guide
Brentwood Academy hoisted the 2018 Division II-AAA championship trophy – the Eagles fourth in a row.
Brentwood Academy coach Cody White has led the Eagles to four straight championships and has a 71-15 record over seven years at BA.
Amir Annoor drags down Jalen Hollman of MUS during Brentwood Academy's championship win in 2018. He's flanked by Devyn Curtis, right. Both return to help anchor a stout defense for the Eagles.
Senior Wade Williams returns as the Brentwood Academy quarterback.
BGA senior Antonio Stevens recently committed to play college football at Purdue. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound safety also had high interest from Cincinnati, Louisville and Memphis among others.
Jonas Rodriguez enters his first season as head coach for BGA football.
Garnett Hollis Jr. committed to Northwestern recently. The Wildcats senior is one of the top returning receivers for BGA. He uses his length and strength to be menace at cornerback as well.
Nick Semptimphelter, a Bucknell commit, threw for more than 3,100 yards last season to lead the Wildcats to the championship game.
Junior quarterback Cade Granzow accounted for 27 touchdowns last season for the Bruins.
Brentwood coach Ron Crawford has gone 35-16 in the last four years with the Bruins. He is 157-76 overall.
Brentwood senior Walker Merrill, a wide receiver, has garnered offers from Auburn, Kentucky, Nebraska and others as four-star recruit.
Centennial coach Matt Kriesky has produced an 18-16 record in three seasons leading the Cougars.
Desmond Smith, who transferred from Spring Hill last year, missed the first five games of the season due to the change. He'll be making the switch from wide receiver to running back for the Cougars this season.
Centennial's Grayson Marcel, a 6-foot-4 senior, battled injuries last season, but has proven to be a threat under center for the Cougars. He missed four games in 2018 and threw for more than 1,400 yards.
Centennial senior Kevin Townsel Jr. is one of the top returning playmakers for the Cougars this season.
The Christ Presbyterian Academy football team completed a 14-0 unbeaten season in 2018.
CPA's Ingle Martin has produced a 99-16 record as head coach over eight seasons with the Lions.
Jarrett Mathews, No. 66, is one of just a handful of returners from CPA's unbeaten team that won the Division II-AA championship last season. The Lions graduated 31 seniors.
Chris Hughes guided Fairview to a 10-3 record in 2018. He is 90-31 in 10 seasons with the Yellow Jackets.
Logan Nardozzi, a Fairview junior, rushed for more than 1,500 yards last season.
Fairview reached the Class 3A quarterfinals for the third time in four seasons in 2018, but fell against Stratford to miss out on the program's first semifinal appearance.
Father Ryan coach Brian Rector and the Irish will try to end an eight-game losing streak in Week 1. The Irish nearly pulled off the upset in the first round of the playoffs in 2018.
Father Ryan senior Antonio Wright and brother Anthony are among the 13 returning starters this season.
Father Ryan junior David Charles (DC) Tabscott has picked up several offers, including the likes of Purdue, Kentucky and Boston College.
Franklin coach Donnie Webb enters his eighth season leading the Rebels. He's produced a 47-31 record.
Jett Wilson of Franklin is one of just a handful of starters returning on defense for the Rebels.
Franklin senior Josh Nichols started at quarterback last season, but will see some time at receiver this year for the Rebels.
Head coach Rusty Smith guided GCA in its transition from 8-man football and now will lead the Lions into Division II-A.
Grace Christian Academy, located near Leiper's Fork, joins Division II, Class A in 2019.
Independence's Chase Robertson, a 6-foot-4, 245-pounder, recently committed to Princeton. Along with Carter Runnion and Caleb Lanford, the trio anchor the defensive line for the Eagles.
Head coach Scott Blade is 56-22 in six years at Independence.
Senior Ethan Cash returns to lead the Independence offense under center. He threw for more than 2,200 yards last season with just five interceptions.
Nolensville coach Paul Derrick went 7-5 in his first season at the helm for the Knights in 2018.
Nolensville's Ryan Pistulka, No. 34, is among several key returners for the Knights in 2019.
Junior Ryder Galardi took over as the starter at quarterback last season at Nolensville and returns to lead the Knights offense.
The Nolensville football team has produced back-to-back playoff appearances despite only entering the school's fourth season of playing varsity football.
Senior Bubba Johnson, pictured here in 2017, transferred back to Page after spending his junior season at Spring Hill.
Page senior Cade Walker guided the Patriots to a 10-2 record in 2018. Walker threw for 1,961 yards with 23 touchdowns as a junior.
Coach Charles Rathbone enters his eighth season as head coach at Page. He's produced a 50-30 record.
Senior Miles Bonn is one of the top returning targets for the Page passing game.
Senior Brian Garcia enters his third season as the starting quarterback at Ravenwood.
Ravenwood senior Bryan Rice, a 6-foot, 224-pounder, was named the Region 6-6A Defensive Player of the Year in 2018.
Ravenwood coach Matt Daniels is in his third year leading the Raptors. He's 20-6 in his first two years.
Graham Barton, a Duke signee, leads an offensive line that returns this season almost completely intact a year removed from a run to the Class 6A semifinals.
Brian Coleman has gone 27-28 in five seasons as head coach for Summit.
Sophomore Destin Wade returns at quarterback to lead the Summit offense.
Summit's George Odimegwu rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season for the Spartans. The senior has attracted offers from Western Kentucky and Illinois State among others.
Keaten Wade and twin brother Destin return as sophomores for the Summit Spartans in 2019. The multi-sport studs helped Summit reach the playoffs a season ago.
For Bishop and others, filling whatever role the team dictates will be the key to success, according to Blade.
“Our superstar is gone, but we’ve gotten some good quality work in with some other guys this summer, and that can only help us during the season,” he said. “We will either be successful or not based on whether or not our guys trust the system and understand their role.”
Bishop and classmate Brian Pierce — who combined for 21 receptions, 212 yards and two touchdowns last fall — were not available on a consistent basis over the summer, but their absence allowed several capable players who can provide an offensive lift to emerge.
“Not having Bishop or Pierce during 7-on-7s has helped get some work in for other guys, but there are going to be some growing pains,” he said.
Blade is optimistic regarding the offensive line as the season looms. Senior Jett Katina anchors an experienced group up front.
That optimism stretches across the ball, as Blade and his coaching staff are very excited about the Eagles’ potential defensively.
“We have three guys returning on the defensive line,” Blade said, referring to seniors Carter Runnion, Caleb Lanford and Chase Robertson. “We like the linebackers (including Tommy Monohan and Zach Smith), too. We like our front seven a lot. The offensive line, too. We will have some guys who will see time on both sides, so we are preparing them for that.”
Looming as one of the team’s biggest pieces of the puzzle is quarterback Ethan Cash, who took over the full-time role for good in the middle of last season. Cash, who finished with more than 2,200 passing yards and 22 touchdowns with just five interceptions, will have an opportunity this season to be the leader of the team from the beginning of the year.
Blade knows he is capable of being among the best in the state.
“When he’s relaxed and going through his progressions, he’s as good as they come,” the coach said. “When he rushes in his mind, that’s when mistakes happen, so we have to keep him relaxed in the pocket and he will have a great year.”
This story and photos are included in the 2019 Williamson Herald High School Football Media Guide! Pick up your copy for stories like this, full schedules, predictions and more!