At powerhouse Whitehaven, coach Rodney Saulsberry said, “We work hard and we prepare. We tell our guys, ‘It is all about the work you put in.’” (Photo: Terry Davis)

The Shelby County Interscholastic Athletic Association football jamboree – held last week – ushered in a degree of normalcy, with all schools playing on a 24-minute running clock as they prepared for their first game in two years.

None of the area’s public schools were allowed to play any organized sports last year. This as some chartered schools were allowed to play. And, some did choose to play; others found out too late to put a team together.

During the pandemic-forced off-season, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) shifted where some schools would play, basing the changes on total enrollment. Here are the updated classifications for the next two years:

Class 4A – Craigmont, Fayette Ware, Kirby, Melrose, Ridgeway and Wooddale.

Class 5A – Brighton, Dyer, Kingsbury, Central, Munford, Overton and Southwind.

Class 6A – Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Cordova, Germantown, Houston, White Station and Whitehaven.

The reclassification may make the Class 6A Region 8 one of the toughest in the state. Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville and Houston all played last season and may have a slight edge over the schools that did not take the field. Germantown and Whitehaven are always ready for the task at hand.

Eugene Robinson, who was named head coach at Germantown in 2020, is set to coach his first game this season. He added two really tough games – against Christian Brothers and Memphis University School – to the team’s out-of-conference schedule.

“I am just happy to compete,” Robinson of the long wait to start his coaching at Germantown. “It has been a long time coming. … We had to get creative this year without being able to coach. We spent plenty of time coaching them in life.”

Robinson is convinced that his Red Devils are “in one of the toughest regions in the state. As a player that is what you want. The spotlight is on you. We are excited about it.”

The Red Devils’ on-the-field success is being tied to leadership skills from Malik Young, a 6-feet 1-inch senior quarterback, who played as a freshman at Harding Academy. On the defensive side of the football, many eyes will be Mar’Reion Claybrooks.

At Whitehaven, head coach Rodney Saulsberry’s dynasty-level program is set for this year’s run. The team’s last game was a loss at Houston (27-6) with a chance to advance in the state playoffs on the line.

The missed year “slowed some development,” Saulsberry said. “We are extremely proud of these guys. They have showed dedication through the pandemic. We had a core group of guys that worked out the whole time. …

“We do what we do. … We may have had a year off, but things don’t change. We work hard and we prepare. We tell our guys, it is all about the work you put in.”

Linemen Taylor Williams, Eddie Chalmers and Branson Conner will be the backbone of the offense. On the defensive side, Taylor Burton and some younger guys are expected to be ready. The defensive backfield is very good with Cam Robinson, A J Robinson and Jaquez Bradley. At the linebacker position Memphis will meet Javante Mackey.

Melrose moves up to Class 4A this season, with coach Cedrick Wilson on track to field a young team that features seniors at skill positions. (Photo: Terry Davis)

 At Melrose, coach Cedrick Wilson and his Golden Wildcats are moving up to Class 4A and hopes to have his team ready for the higher classification.

 “We have a very young group,” said Wilson. “We have seniors at the skill positions. The interior line is very young, but they are getting better every day.”

To Wilson, “It is all about discipline and these young men doing what they are supposed to do. It is a tough world out here today. The biggest challenges are just to keep them focused. You have to reiterate it every day and do the right thing.”

Going into the season, players that Melrose looks to count on include running backs Jermaine Dodson and Deqwan Belvill, with Christopher Grandberry and Kwame Taylor on the defensive side.