Grainger preparing for 2020 football season despite uncertainty

KNOXVILLE – Even though many questions still surround the start of the high school football season, student-athletes and coaches from across the area gathered at Three Ridges Golf Club Friday afternoon for the annual Knoxville Football Officials Association media day event.

A recurring theme from everyone at the event is the desire to start the season, or rather, to know when the season will actually start. The TSSAA had planned to announce which of the four purposed plans they were going to implement last Wednesday but deferred the decision to consult more with Tennessee governor Bill Lee’s administration on the best way to move forward.

For a few hours, however, high school football players and coaches put all of the craziness that continues to swirl with the COVID-19 situation behind them and concentrate on the season ahead. Two members of the Grainger Grizzlies -- Dawson Holt and Bradley Greenlee -- were in attendance to take questions from local media.

For the first time in school history, the Grizzlies will have a returning All-State player as quarterback Holt returns for his senior season. The numbers the Grainger signal-caller amassed were phenomenal as he rushed for 1,604 yards which was an average of 6.9 yards per carry and 146 yards per game, scored 18 touchdowns on the ground, three through the air, added six two-point conversions on the ground and threw for another one. Holt finished the 2019 season with 1,792 total yards which was good enough for 163 yards per contest.

When Holt received the honor last year, he gave a lot of credit to his teammates- especially the offensive line- and said it will be a motivating factor to have an even bigger season in 2020. “It was a big thing to get All-State last year and that’s in the back of my head right now. I just want to go out there and put in the work.”

While some sports can social distance effectively, football isn’t one of them and Holt said the way the off-season had gone has certainly been an adjustment. “It’s been difficult this summer to not be able to get to work with the other guys. It depends on whether you are going to put in the work yourself because with the way things have gone this year, we can’t get in with our teammates to work with each other.”

Despite the challenges 2020 has thrown his way, Holt said that he is still preparing for his senior campaign in every way he can. “I am getting up in the morning to run and doing small workouts by myself. I am trying to stay in tip-top shape for when football comes around. I want to avoid injuries.”

Grainger suffered some losses to their offensive line due to graduation from the 2019 team, but Holt said he has full confidence in the teammates he will line up behind each Friday night. “Since we lost a lot of those guys off the offensive line last year, it will be different this year. They won’t be here to protect me like they did last year, but I know Bradley will get the offensive line where they need to be and the coaches will get them coached up so I’m not worried about that. When the season comes, I know they will be ready to go out and have fun.”

Grainger’s ground-and-pound offense starts on the line. Last year, Grainger averaged 5.5 yards per rushing play, 252 yards on the ground per game and scored 33 touchdowns.

The efficiency of the Grizzlies’ offense was most evident in the red zone as when they moved inside the 20 yard line, the offensive line cleared the way for a scoring play 82-percent of the time.

This year, however, there will be some new faces but a familiar one returns to anchor the trenches as senior Bradley Greenlee will be the line leader. He said he welcomes the opportunity to help mold his younger teammates into winners. “We have to get mentally right, to figure out how to correctly line up and know what they are supposed to do. That is the most important thing for us to be doing.”

Greenlee said that even though the challenges in 2020 are new, the goals for the season remain the same. “One of our biggest goals every year is making the playoffs. That’s the best goal to have. For me, the biggest thing is figuring out what we are doing on some of the plays and working on that.”

“Coach Tate sent out at-home workouts each week through the school website. It was enough to keep you busy,” Greenlee said when asked what he had been doing since the shutdown of the schools in March.

After losing the Spring sports season, the TSSAA is doing everything it can to ensure that same fate doesn’t befall sports that are set to begin next month. While preparation for the 2020 season has been a challenge so far, Greenlee said he has kept a positive attitude about everything. “Yes, it’s a little tough but it isn’t too bad.”