By Mac McLeod,

OCN Sports

“We don’t have any more excuses,” stated Livingston Academy quarterback Will McDonald. “We came in here four years ago as freshmen, we were expected to do well, and now those of us who came in together are all seniors now and we have got to get it done. We haven’t done all that well for various reasons, but now we can’t wait any longer.

“It’s now or never.”

When this year’s senior class showed up in 2016, they had been successful in Outlaws ball and also at the Junior Wildcats level. When the 2015 class graduated, Livingston head coach Bruce Lamb decided it would be a good time to insert as many of these young players into the lineup as he could, hoping that as they gained experience, they would get better and better.

“That was kinda the plan,” Lamb pointed out, “but it hasn’t always worked out for one reason or another. We didn’t do well at all when they were freshmen (2016, 2-8) but in 2017 things seemed to come together and we went 8-3. We lost to Nolensville in the first round of the playoffs, and that was not good, but last year, injuries, like in 2016, really set us back. I’m like Will now, there’s no more excuses.”

This year’s Wildcats will have several things going for them, including a senior starting quarterback that’s started every game since he was a freshman, and in those three seasons has been coached by one of the best offensive coaches anywhere.

“I’ve really been lucky to have had coach (Danny) McCoin working with me,” McDonald pointed out. I’ve had the chance to go to some very good summer camps that have really helped, but coach McCoin is just so good, and working with him I know he’s been right here where I am, and that means so much.

“This year we will have a pretty good balanced attack throwing and running, and if we can just stay healthy, we should have a good season,” McDonald concluded.

McDonald did point out one more thing in that he’s setting several passing records but they don’t mean a thing if the team isn’t winning.

“The only record I’m concerned with is the one that shows wins and losses,” he added.

This time around, the Wildcats will be relying on 12 returning juniors that have played a lot of ball in the past three seasons. To polish the passing game, McDonald will have several outstanding receivers in Wesley Smith, and Aubrey Hollars along with Raven Carpenter and Bryer Mosley, to name a few.

And when McDonald isn’t throwing, he’s got a strong running game behind him in Nate Neely, Kaleb Robinson, Clay McDonald, and Nate Carwile.

“We lost a good running back when Mitchell Ayers graduated,” Lamb continued, “but we’ve got several coming back that can get the job done. Neely has gained a lot of weight and power and should really make defensives pay to stop him. Robinson came in for us last year and did an outstanding job, as did Carwile. If we stay healthy here, we’ll be okay.”

And while the offensive attack seems well in hand both in the passing and running game, this year’s offensive line as well as its defensive line and backfield are well represented with players with experience.

Four seniors return to anchor both sides of the ball. Donnie Phillips will hold down the center position while Cole Spears, Bailey Johnson, and Dustin Parrish will present opponents trouble on offense and defense.And Austin Reeder might just be the best of them all. He has the size and talent and has been a starter for the past two seasons and he’s a junior. Lamb also has some underclassmen that saw considerable playing time last year for one reason or another that promise to make things happen.

Carson Smith has moved in from Monterey and “can really play” and will add power to the line along and juniors Ethan Romanzik, Dexter Wright, Xander Cantrell, and Dustin Parrish promise to be bigger and better along the linebacker spots, and throw in Carwile, Neely, and Westyn Clouse and the Cats will have good depth at that position. Clouse, a sophomore this season, might be the smallest defensive lineman in the state of Tennessee high school football, but without question, the toughest.

“If Clouse weighed a little more than 140 pounds, it would be almost criminal to let him hit somebody,” Lamb laughed. “He’s as tough as they come and loves to hit.”

In the kicking department, senior Tee Beaty is ready to go for 40-yard field goals and he will be the starting punter while senior Joseph Dees will also do some kicking. Perhaps Beaty’s biggest asset is he can kick off 50-60 yards, many times preventing a runback by opponents.

There are a few changes on this year’s coaching staff. Returning to assist Lamb will be McCoin, Tyler Livingston, Mark Winningham II, Jeremy McDonald, Darrian Barlow, and Matthan Houser. Nate Kennard has returned to full time basketball assistant and filling his spot will be one of LA’s finest athletes, Wade Eldridge.

“Wade has the respect of all these kids because they remember when he played here,” Lamb explained. “They know he was an outstanding player and they will listen to what he has to say.”

Lamb continued, saying that senior leadership has already presented itself and that’s going to be one of the strong points.

“We’ve got some very experienced seniors and Will (McDonald) has taken charge and that’s outstanding,” the coach added.

As far as the region goes, the same five teams that made up Region 3-4A are back, including DeKalb County, Macon County, Stone Memorial, Cumberland County, and Livingston.

“Macon is always tough and so is Stone, although they graduated their quarterback, who was a really good player,” the LA coach continued. “I think DeKalb will also be a big factor this year. With those four opponents, we also have Cookeville, Upperman, Westmoreland, Smith County, White County, York, and a bye. We open with Westmoreland and go back to York again this year so that the schedules work out. Right now I know we open with Westmoreland, have Cookeville here for the second game, and have to travel to York for the second year in a row.

“It’s time to get back to football and I really believe this year will be a good one for Livingston Academy,” the coach concluded. “This year we will have a very good saying: ‘Find A Way, or Make One!’. I really like that and the kids seem to as well.”

The Wildcats will open the season at home Friday, Aug. 16 hosting Jackson County in the Shawn Moffitt Memorial Jamboree that will honor the memory of the former LA trainer who passed away this year.