Last season, Dalton High School’s football team had a lot of youth on defense. This season, that’s where the experience is.
The Catamounts enter 2013 coming off their best season in eight years. Dalton reached the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs after starting the year 2-3, but a 24-19 victory at home versus rival Northwest Whitfield launched a six-game winning streak which included the first playoff win since 2005.
The 2012 offense had eight seniors — including three-year starter Cole Calfee at quarterback — while the defense returned just four. This year, it’s flipped. The Cats defense brings back nine players who started in at least one game last season and received considerable time in any game they were active.
And coach Matt Land couldn’t help but acknowledge the defense’s depth and experience, especially at linebacker and secondary, at the program’s Parent Day Saturday after the team returned from the annual preseason camp held at Tusculum College in Greenville, Tenn.
“We have a lot of returning experience on defense,” Land said. “We have nine guys that started but only five true returning starters. So you have a lot of experience back there. ... Last year we had a lot of young guys and most of them were on defense. With that being the case, offense had to be the big brother to a degree. This year, I’d like to think it’s a little more balanced.
“One of our concerns (in the) preseason is on the line of scrimmage, offensive and defensive,” Land said.
The only returning starter on the defensive front is senior Jordan Keener, but seniors Chipper Elrod and Chase Todd are in the lead for the two defensive end positions.
“I think the defense is going to be the threshold of the team,” Keener said. “The offense just isn’t as experienced as the defense is.”
Land called the camp “one of the most physical camps” the program has had. He attributed it to one less day of work, due to the college’s school schedule and the GHSA’s heat acclimation and game schedule. Dalton hosts Ringgold Aug. 23, one week before most teams play their first game.
Land said there are still many positions up for grabs on offense.
“There are many, many guys fighting for positions — ones not won at camp that will continue into this week and even the scrimmage and first game,” Land said.
“The great thing about us this year is we look like we’ll have pretty good depth. Last season we had anywhere from 25-32 kids playing in a game, and this year doesn’t seem much different.”
One of those positions still up for grabs is quarterback. Payton Veraldi, a junior, and sophomore Jase Chastain are the two front runners.
“Neither guy has distanced himself,” Land said. “Right now they both help our team in their own unique way.”
Land said a pleasant surprise from the camp was the emergence of two freshmen who could earn starting positions. Zek Cobb could play wide receiver or running back, and Tucker Sumner could earn reps at fullback.