Smyrna's football team is looking to take the next step in 2015 after exiting the playoffs in the first round the previous two years.
"The last two years we've gotten beaten in the first round, and our goal is to not let that happen," said Smyrna coach Matt Williams. "We've got a quality senior group and great leadership. Our depth is not as good this year, but we expect to be good and make a run this year."
The bulldogs are loaded with experience on both sides of the ball, and Williams is obviously excited about returning starting junior quarterback John Turner.
"Having a quarterback returning is big," he said. "We had a stretch there where it was a different guy every year. Having a guy who has experience throwing to his receivers is huge. We had some growing pains last year, but it's gone much smoother this year."
Smyrna's running game should outstanding with senior Jordan McCroskey, senior Austin Brown, junior Casey Perkins and junior Devin Sims. Willliams also said freshman Blake Watkins has a big career ahead of him.
The Bulldogs have seven senior wide receivers, led by Ikenna Okeke, who has multiple FBS offers.
The offensive line also features five senior starters, so Williams' main concern at this point is developing more depth up front.
"I think our strength will be the running game, and I think our quarterback will make good decisions," Williams said. "Our offensive line, we've got kids returning who should do a good job up front.
"We have very capable receivers who have gotten a lot better. Last year teams could load up against the run on us, but I think it will be tougher for teams to do that this year."
Defensively, Smyrna is abandoning the 3-4 scheme and switching to a 4-2-5.
"We're going back to the 4-2-5 because of the depth needed for the 3-4," Williams said. "We're a little snake bit with injuries at linebacker right now, but we should -- and hopefully -- get everybody healthy by the time the season starts."
The defensive front should be a strength with seniors Antonio Robinson, Ashton Sisco, Derrico Burns and McCroskey. Austin Brown is a three-year starter at linebacker and Nick Okeke should have a big season at linebacker.
The secondary will be led by seniors Jordan Jones, Ian Cleveland, Nick Okeke and Nathan Sanders.
"We're excited about Jones at cornerback. He showed great flashes last year," Williams said, "and Ian Cleveland is very quick and a smart and cerebral player. We also feel very good about our safeties. Okeke is a big college prospect and has shown he is a very good player. We should be strong in the secondary."
The Bulldogs hope to be more of a factor in the league race this season, but Williams acknowledges they've struggled of late with the likes of Oakland, Blackman, Riverdale and Siegel.
"It always will be a tough league," he said. "We haven't had a lot of success against the Murfreesboro teams, so our kids ought to have a huge chip on their shoulder. We've got some new teams, but it's still the same. You are going to have to show up ready to win."
Williams has every reason to be upbeat about the upcoming season. The Bulldogs have a veteran team that could end up being the sleeper in the region this season. They also are talented enough to take the next step Williams is seeking in 2015.
QB: John Turner, Jr.
B Back: Jordan McCroskey, Sr.; Austin Brown, Sr.
TB: Casey Perkins, Jr.; Devin Sims, Jr.; Blake Watkins, Fr.
WR: Ikenna Okeke, Sr.; Ian Cleveland, Sr.; Jackson Simpson, Sr., AJ Carter, Sr.; Nathan Sanders, Sr.; Caleb Jackson, Sr., Jordan Jones, Sr.
OL: Josh Baker, Sr.; Victor Mendoza, Sr.; Larry Cothran, Sr.; Antonio Robinson, Sr.; Gary Murphy, Sr.
DL: Antonio Robinson, Sr.; Ashton Sisco, Sr.; Jordan McCroskey, Sr.; Derrico Burns, Sr.
LB: Austin Brown, Sr.; Dagan Fultz, Sr.; Nick Okeke, Jr.; Devin Smith, Sr.; Peyton Manus, Jr.
DB: Ikenna Okeke, Sr.; Jordan Jones, Sr., Ian Cleveland, Sr., Nathan Sanders, Sr.; Caskey Perkins, Jr.; Blake Watkins, Fr., Dayton Sanders, Jr.; Devin Sims, Jr.
P: Austin Brown, Sr.; John Trent, Jr.
K: Jose Vaeza, Fr.
Sports editor Monte Hale Jr. may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org