East Hamilton tabbed as the target in District 6-AA - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

East Hamilton tabbed as the target in District 6-AA

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- It will be time to start hitting next Monday when high school football teams across Tennessee don pads to officially begin preps for the upcoming 2012 season.

However, it was merely time to talk Tuesday when the eight schools of District 6-AA met for their annual media day at East Hamilton High School, where the host Hurricanes quickly emerged as the preseason favorite.

"Y'all have crowned them champions, haven't you?" Central coach John Allen said before being corrected. "Oh, you haven't? I thought you picked them. I certainly picked them. They're loaded. They're gonna win."

East Hamilton returns a wealth of talent following the program's first-ever district title and playoff berth last year, but head coach Ted Gatewood isn't as sure about becoming the top target in an extremely balanced district. 

"We don't' consider ourselves picked or ordained or anointed," Gatewood said. "Remember, we went out and got beat by Brainerd in the playoffs. That shows how tough this league is.

" We don't want anyone to tell us how good we are. We want to prove how good we are."

Allen proved how serious he was about rebuilding Central this offseason by cutting ties with more than a dozen upperclassmen. After last year's 3-7 season, the veteran coach wants only kids "who believe in the Purple" to be a part of the Pounders' program.

"I'm excited because we haven't stopped since November," Allen said. "There's not anyone on my team that's here right now if they haven't worked hard."

Michael Calloway has been working hard to beef up Howard.

The school's newly-appointed athletic director sought advice from previous coach Alvin Tarver following a winless 2011 season. Now he's got more focus on discipline, commitment, conditioning and weight-training than ever before.

"I was the new kid on the block last year and we got treated like it," Calloway said of his winless first season. "We ran into a bunch of buzz saws last year, but we're not gonna dwell on the past. My goal this season is to be better than last season. Period."

A trio of new coaches step into the mix, though two of them aren't THAT new.

Long-time Rhea County boss Jason Fitzgerald is excited for a fresh start at Hixson, where he replaces Houston White to offer the Wildcats a clean slate.

"We want to start a new era at Hixson High School," said Fitzgerald, who said he's seen great support from the community since taking the job in January. "We have one goal here and that's to win. I don't care what you've done in the past. All I care about is what you're doing now."

Lucky for E.K. Slaughter, what he's doing now at Red Bank is similar to what he did four years ago as the Lions' offensive coordinator.

"Most of the terminology is similar to what I've been using, and obviously the program's principles are aligned with mine having worked with Tim (Daniels)," said the former Soddy-Daisy and Cleveland head coach. "I don't really feel like a newcomer because I've coached against a lot of these coaches before, and a lot of the people in the Red Bank community are still there from four years back.

"It's been a real blessing to be able to come into a place and have the transition be as smooth as it's been."

East Ridge's Tracy Malone is the true newcomer to the district.

The former White County coach has spent time with power programs such as Riverdale and Grayson (Ga.), and is bringing that winning mentality to the Pioneers.

He knows plenty about the difficulties presented by the 6-AA schedule, but believes his team is still ready to compete despite the transition.

"We've definitely got some kids who could have played at Riverdale during our heyday," Malone said. "Now do we have a bunch of them? No. But our goal is to keep what we have, don't worry about what we don't have and make what we do have as special as we can make it."

That's Stanley Jackson's plan at Brainerd, too.

His Panthers are just 24 men strong, but they won a playoff game last year with only 21 on the roster.

"We're used to being short on numbers by now," Jackson said. "We're not going to worry about it and we aren't going to make excuses. We're going to line it up every Friday night with whatever we've got and just play football. We're going to come to compete."

The competition for most schools starts with Week 0 in Tennessee on August 17.

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