The summer of 2021 looks a lot different than it did in 2020. For the Grainger Grizzlies football team, that is all too true.
On Wednesday, they joined the Morristown East football team for a 7-on-7 at Burke-Toney Stadium. The joint practice is something that teams were not able to do in 2020’s off-season because of COVID-19 protocols.
For first-year head coach Michael Manis, Grainger was able to benefit from it in a big way. “It’s so beneficial for us. Especially offensively and defensively, it’s new,” Manis said. “We get to go here and actually practice and coach.”
The 7-on-7 made the Grizzlies better as a whole. Manis feels like his team had many positive takeaways from the day, and they looked sharper than before the dead period a couple weeks ago. “When we did the first one before dead period, we were all over the place. Today, I felt like overall we were where we’re supposed to be at,” Manis said.
As practice goes on and Grainger approaches the season, they will have production and leadership to replace from last season. The biggest hole to fill will be at quarterback. All-state quarterback Dawson Holt, who rushed for over 1,100 yards and passed for over 350 yards in 2020, graduated last year.
Manis will look for returning players to step up in 2021. “A big player for us right now is Landon Patterson. He’s gonna play some receiver for us, as well as tailback and quarterback some,” Manis said. “Ty Overbay is a big name for us.” Last season, Overbay rushed for 135 yards, had 95 yards receiving and picked off three interceptions on defense.
Grainger graduated 22 seniors in 2020. Some players that do not have as much playing experience will see themselves entered into a bigger role in 2021. Manis said the team is expecting production from sophomores and juniors as well.
Entering the first year as head coach has its challenges. Manis is trying to take it one step at a time as the season approaches, especially for a team that is not only young, but has a difficult strength of schedule. “We’re just trying to get these guys some confidence. A lot of these guys didn’t play a lot last year,” Manis said. “We’re playing Greeneville, Elizabethton, we’re adding bigger schools.”
Last season, Grainger finished the year at 6-5 with a first round playoff exit against Anderson County. With the 2021 season just over a month away, the Grizzlies know they have to be ready to battle.