Going into his third year as head football coach at Ballard Memorial, John Elliott wants to take the Bomber football program to another level. In the first year, the Bombers went 3-7 and failed to make the playoffs. That was the first year the Bombers had participated in Class 2A competition. In his second year, the Bombers finished 7-4 including going 2-2 in district play and advancing to the Class 2A playoffs for the first time. This year, higher expectations and winning a Class 2A playoff game are on the team’s radar.
The two big obstacles in their path this season are Murray and Caldwell County. Murray had been king of the first district class 2A and is always a force to be reckoned with. Caldwell County dethroned Murray last season by winning the district and advancing to the Class 2A state championship game, where they lost to Newport Central Catholic 30-26. “Our kids are so much stronger this year, but we are not there yet. We’re not as strong as Murray and Caldwell, but we are a lot closer than we were two years ago,” said Elliott.
The schedule appears favorable for the Bombers, especially to start the season. The Bombers begin the season with four home games, something Elliott says he has never had happen before. Those four opponents combined for a 6-55 record last season so it is essential that the Bombers get off to a good start to begin the season. “Those first four weeks are going to set the tone for the season,” said Elliott as he added, “If we keep getting better and improve each week, we have a chance to have a good season.”
The Bombers will return one of the regions big play duos in senior QB Trevor Langston and senior receiver Devoun Bledsoe. Langston led the Bomber’s offense last year as he passed for over 1500 yards, including 17 touchdown passes. His big play target was Bledsoe who hauled in ten touchdown passes and had 709 receiving yards. The seniors will be relied upon to provide the leadership to help the team achieve their goals and to get to the next level. “I need to bring leadership, focus, concentration and just lead the team like I should,” said Langston. Bledsoe added, “We’re going to need hard work, dedication, intense practices, and a lot of coachable players.” Fellow senior Shawn Johnson will help anchor the line for the Bombers and knows those leadership traits needed to help develop the team on and off the field. “I want to be a leader on and off the field and make sure everyone is doing their job, on the field and in the classroom,” said Johnson. He added, “I want to set a good example. I want to show players we don’t take off any plays, and go your hardest in practice and at school.”
The team has set goals for the season that extends beyond the gridiron. The four goals are to win all non district games, win a playoff game, play four quarters of football by giving their best effort for the entire game, no F’s on the players report cards, and not ISD’s (in school detentions). Coach Elliott said they are trying to address the players off the field behavior as well in their team goals this season.
The couple of keys heading into the season will be staying healthy and building momentum heading into district play. With just over 30 players coming out, compared to some teams such as Caldwell that will return over 50 players from last year’s squad, there will be little time for rest. Many players will have to play both offense and defense, so being in good condition will be pivotal. Another item the team will have to address will be defense. Last season, when the defense was good, they were really good, but when they were bad, they were really bad. In the Bomber’s seven victories last season, the Bombers surrendered only eight points a game. However, in their four losses, their opponents averaged over 53 points a game.
The players have confidence heading into the season, and they are talking about finishing the regular season with a perfect record. Reaching that may be a stretch, but that is what they are working toward. And they don’t want to just make the playoffs, they want to win a playoff game. But standing in their way will be a couple of Tigers in Caldwell County and Murray. Coach Elliott sums it up this way, “We’ve got our work cut out for us to compete against Caldwell and Murray, but that is our goal and that is what we are working towards. If we continue to get better every day, then we will take our chances when we get to play them.” The team has a scrimmage at South Fulton, Tennessee on August 15th and the season gets underway on August 23rd hosting McLean County.