Pigeon Forge aims high after historic 2013 season
The 2013 season was a record-breaking one for Pigeon Forge.
The Tigers won a postseason game for the first time ever, beat Austin-East for the first time and very nearly notched their first victory over Carter. Pigeon Forge was also wildly inconsistent in Scott Meadows’ first season as head coach, alternating between consecutive wins and consecutive losses on one maddening eight-game midseason stretch.
“The biggest thing we had looking back, we’re five points away from being 9-3,” Meadows said. “Those type of games that we lost I believe, looking back, made us grow up mentally in our offseason work, in our spring practice, in our summer work and so forth. As much as we’d like to have had a better record than 6-6, we made a lot of progress.”
Meadows and the Tigers hope that progress leads to more wins in one of the most highly anticipated seasons in school history this fall. Pigeon Forge returns 18 starters. Nearly every offensive weapon from 2013 will suit up for the Tigers this fall, from Noah Whaley and Chase Effler at running back to Tanner Sharp at quarterback and Kolby Black at wide receiver. Players who had a hand in at least 40 touchdowns last season return for Pigeon Forge.
Oh, and leading tackler Jerrod Jinnette is back, too.
“We actually have depth now at each position,” Jinnette said. “We’re rotating in running backs every two plays, every three plays. We’re rotating receivers in every play. We’re always going to stay fresh throughout the game.”
That abundance of skill could be a game-changer for the Tigers. Meadows said there’s competition at most positions, forcing those veterans to improve or risk losing their spots. The coach called this roster perhaps one of the most experienced and talented he’s had in his career, comparing it to the loaded teams he coached at perennial power Alcoa.
The depth chart has inspired chatter of an eight or nine-win season. More importantly, Meadows said, Pigeon Forge has looked better in the preseason than it did a year ago when both Meadows and the players were just getting to know each other.
“We were inconsistent last year in our workouts,” Meadows said. “In our preseason work this year we’ve been very consistent. They came in here and got the job done. They see, and a lot of players came up to me and said ‘We were so close. We should’ve done this, done that. Wish we could’ve won that ballgame.’ We were five points away from it and they see that. They see the benefits if we push just a little bit harder.”
That work included a serious approach to the team’s weight-training program. Meadows said the team tried to incorporate games to make weightlifting more interesting and spent some time in the wrestling building cross training with wrestling coach Greg Foreman.
Several wrestlers from the school’s state championship dual team are on the team’s line, including Alex Breeden, Christian Sisto, Elijah Kingery, and Chris Poole. The Tigers have as much experience up front as at the skill positions, with all but one starter bringing significant experience into 2014. Assistant coach Lee White said the improvement he’s seen has been remarkable.
“It’s really been amazing,” White said. “They worked really really hard. Some of these guys, it’s impressive how much, they’ve gained weight but they’ve lost fat and trimmed up. They look really, really good and they’re really, really strong, a lot stronger than we were last year. It’s really fun to watch them because we don’t know how good they can be this year.”
The linemen aren’t the only ones who have bulked up. Meadows said Effler (637 total yards, 8 TDs in 2013), Sharp, Whaley and Jinnette have all gotten bigger and stronger in 2014. He said Effler has the potential to be as good as he wants to be while Whaley continues to be that blue-collar back after a breakout sophomore season. Jinnette is up about 20 pounds and just as fast. He’ll move from safety to cornerback this fall.
Sharp dealt with a nagging shoulder injury last year that limited him late in the season. Meadows said the quarterback is throwing the ball now better than he ever has in five years the coach has known him.
“I’ve worked out a lot harder than I did in the past,” Sharp said. “I’ve done extra things, like going to a chiropractor and working on my shoulder and stretching my arm out a lot more, icing it and just keeping it ready for the season. That way I can stay strong and not fall apart.”
A stronger Sharp could spell trouble for school records again this fall. Meadows wants to keep raising the expectations at Pigeon Forge and said it was clear that another trip to the second round of the playoffs wouldn’t be enough for this team.
“You can’t really say, ‘Well we had a good season last year,’ “ Whaley said. “You’ve got to look forward to this year. It’s kind of starting over from scratch.”