Football represents the longest season of the year for us, starting no later than mid-July and carrying through Saturday, but I love that Friday night atmosphere and really hate to see it come to an end.
The earlier and earlier starts have seriously cut into any recovery time from longer and longer high school athletic calendars for athletes and coaches alike, but the good thing about prep sports is that one can avoid a mental grind by moving from one sport to the next.
So it is good after a fashion that the Tennessee football championship games signal the serious beginning of high school wrestling season, which means baseball season can't be far behind.
Still, wondered with on-the-way-home navigator from Lebanon and Boyd-Buchanan's semifinal loss to Friendship Christian how long has it been since Chattanooga failed get at least one team to a state championship game.
It's likely longer -- maybe -- than I have been expressing disagreement and displeasure with the TSSAA share of the postseason, six classifications for public school playoffs and overall inequities of the playoffs' bracket-setting format.
With some equitable common sense and a fewer injury or two, I think it's probable that East Hamilton, South Pittsburg and Boyd-Buchanan could have been in Cookeville this week.
For the record, the last time the Chattanooga area was not represented in a Tennessee championship game was 2008.
Here's one man's look at the good, the better; the bad, the worse; the beautiful and the ugly:
* Best defense: From start to finish it had to be East Hamilton, although the Hurricanes had an off night early in the season against Ooltewah. I really liked Francisco Rodriguez, Austin Gatewood (coach Ted Gatewood's son), Harrison Warren and Cody Knox. Gatewood's the only one who returns as the Hurricanes move from 6-AA to 5-AAA next fall.
* Best offense: Again, East Hamilton, especially before senior Logan Jackson's knee injury. The Hurricanes were still good after he got hurt, but if he's healthy they might be in Cookeville this week. They ran so very well that the passing game was even more effective than it might have been otherwise. Too, and no offense to Polk County, they were the most physical team I saw all year.
* Most unique call by a ref: It came in a Class 2A semifinal. Friendship Christian was trying to kill the clock against Boyd-Buchanan. The quarterback normally would take the snap and throw the ball to the ground. But he fumbled the snap, picked up the ball and threw it to the ground. Ruling: fumble, incomplete pass, intentional grounding and loss of down.
* Best quarterback: The kid from Giles County (Al Cobb) was really good, but it's hard to go against Signal Mountain's Reese Phillips, who has all the throws. Reese threw for 2,500 yards, primarily with one quality receiver, and could've come close to doubling that total with Giles' receivers and offensive scheme. It will be interesting to see what happens to his Kentucky commitment if the new Tennessee coaching staff shows interest.
I also liked Friendship Christian junior A.J. Long, but I think he'll likely wind up as a receiver or defensive back in college.
Please note that I did not get to see Calhoun's Taylor Lamb.
* Best quarterback next year: Could it be Cleveland's Austin Herink? Also keep an eye on Notre Dame's Alex Darras, who just finished his freshman season.
* Best game I saw this past season: South Pittsburg's last-minute rally over Polk County. It was old-school -- meaning rock'em, sock'em, slobber-knocking with emphasis on running games and defense -- with ups and downs of a classic game for fans.
* Best athlete playing quarterback: I guess you have to put Bradley Central senior Bryce Copeland atop the list, but don't forget Ringgold's Slade Dale or Boyd-Buchanan's Jim Cardwell. Dale and Cardwell will be back. I honestly think that if Cardwell doesn't get hurt Boyd-Buchanan climbs back into that semifinal with Friendship Christian and likely wins it. Last word I heard on him was that he had a broken ankle (suffered during Friday night's semifinal in Lebanon). Yeah, he's small (5-foot-9, maybe) but what a blend of toughness, intelligence and leadership skills.
Here's as good a place as any to mention Red Bank's Hagen Wilkey, who was probably the best passer, the best runner and possibly the best receiver and tackler on the Lions roster. It will be interesting to see if he signs a football scholarship or waits to see what offers come his way in baseball.
* I've got to point out here something of which I am most proud. I don't think I talked to a single youngster who failed to say "Yes, Sir" and "No, Sir," and it didn't matter where I went. It speaks well for coaches and parents as well as what sports as a tool can accomplish. Of course, I guess I have to admit that some of the younger coaches were in that respectful group, too. Guess it's the gray hair.
*Best pure athlete: Without question, South Pittsburg's Demetric Johnson. I honestly think this youngster could have an immediate impact on most any SEC defense and possible find himself on an SEC offense as no less than a wide receiver. Again, to avoid any controversy, I didn't get to see Ridgeland's Vonn Bell, about whom every college recruiter I know raves. They've literally been watching this kid for years.
* Best rising seniors to watch next year: Put McCallie running back/athlete Chad Toliver near the top of the list and then look across town at Baylor quarterbacks Michael O'Connor and Nick Tiano.
Of course that's just to start a list.
Others who come to mind are the aforementioned Herink from Cleveland, Hixson lineman Charles Franklin, the aforementioned Gatewood, East Hamilton defensive back Tre Herndon, tight end Bailey Lenoir and two-way lineman Cordelle Sands, Tyner receiver Haasan Miller, Signal Mountain lineman Jacob Wright and running back/linebacker Diamez Franklin and East Ridge linemen C.J. Baker and Ryan Young, to mention a few.
* Most unexpected action by a ref: The crew in the playoffs (second round) that checked pressure in all the game balls and then asked a ball boy midway of the second quarter if his team had let some air out of the balls. I wish they'd been more worried about (1) offensive pass interference, (2) trash-talking and cheap shots and 3) letting the game get out of control.
* Best coach/administrator: South Pittsburg's Vic Grider. You did know, didn't you, that he spent most if not all of this season as a fill-in principal?
* Best individual performance: Polk County's Zach Miller in the Wildcats' opener against Bradley Central. The Bears won, wearing the Wildcats down, but honestly had no answer for Miller, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound total-package athlete. A junior, Miller came back with at least another half-dozen 100-yard rushing outings including one for 400-plus yards, which was probably the best performance I didn't see.
Want to see him without driving to Benton? He's penciled in as Walker Valley wrestling's 225-pounder thanks to a co-op program. Polk doesn't offer wrestling.
* Biggest surprise: Marion County reaching the state quarterfinals or Hixson getting into the playoffs. Both coaches (Marion's Mac McCurry and Hixson's Jason Fitzgerald) will be considered for postseason honors.
Of course, you wouldn't be wrong to point out Charles Fant's contributions at Notre Dame. He and athletic director Howie Sompayrac put together a really good staff, and Fant had the personal security and confidence to give them room to do their thing, which freed him to handle head-coaching responsibilities.
And while it might be a stretch to call it a stunner, I was surprised to see Chad Barger "resign" at Sequatchie County. I hope he finds that which he seeks. Good person, good coach; does the right things by and for the kids.
* I wouldn't be surprised to see Ken Colquette -- yes, he of Marion County 1990s state-titles fame -- step in at Dunlap. I am hearing that the job has been offered and I think there are changes elsewhere coming.
The good, the bad, the ugly.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...