By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team is already preparing for the 2019 season.

“We finished up two weeks of spring practice with a scrimmage at Sullivan Central last Friday,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “I think we had a great two weeks of practice and we got to evaluate a lot of different guys at a lot of different positions. I thought the scrimmage served its purpose – we found some guys we can for sure count on and identified some areas where we definitely have to get better.”

Rice and the Blue Devils are looking to continue their successful run in the 2018 season when they finished with a 9-3 overall record, took second in Region 1-AAA with a 4-1 league record and won a playoff game. Working toward that goal began earlier this year.

“We have been in the weight room, either lifting or speed training five days a week since Jan. 7,” Rice said. “These guys love to work and I think them having the success they did last year only fueled that desire even more. Our numbers in the weight room have been really good; we have some guys who are really moving some weight around.”

The Blue Devils completed spring practice with 45 players on the roster. This number only includes players who will be sophomores, juniors or seniors at the start of the 2019 school year.

“We expect a big freshman class coming in this week to start summer workouts, so we hope to be at or above 60 kids by the fall,” Rice said. “We are really excited about the incoming freshmen. They had a lot of success last year in middle school and it’s a really talented group that we can’t wait to get with us.”

Friday’s scrimmage saw the Blue Devils’ strength training pay off, according to the head coach.

“I think our offensive and defensive lines were in control most of the scrimmage, which I think is a testament to the offseason our guys had in the weight room,” Rice said.

The head coach also saw room for improvement.

“We had some mistakes at some key positions that we are going to have to get corrected if we want to be the type of team we think we can be,” Rice said. “I think our offense, minus a handful of plays, executed really well for spring ball. (Quarterback) Brock (Thompson) really took control of the offense and made some big time throws. I think our passing game is well beyond where we have been in the past during spring practice. We have a really talented receiving core with a lot of depth there.”

The Blue Devils will continue preparing for the 2019 season in the coming months.

“We will start summer workouts this week as soon as school lets out,” Rice said. “We will go five days a week until the dead period which starts at the end of June. We will be lifting, speed training, and doing some 7-on-7 passing work during that time. We will be working every day to build off of the success we had last season.”

The Blue Devils will open the 2019 season on Aug. 23 at South Greene. The first home game will be Aug. 30 against Hampton.