East Carter’s seven-win 2019 season — its first above .500 in nearly a decade and a half — provided the blueprint for how to keep climbing.

“Being part of something successful teaches you to be successful,” Raiders coach Tim Champlin said, “and how we got there was with hard work and determination.”

East Carter has to plug in the spots vacated by all-time leading passer Braden Hicks, four of his six most productive receivers and the team’s leading rusher last season, but returns enough skill-position talent and front-seven defensive personnel to leave Champlin optimistic.

“We feel like we’ve got five or six playmakers on the team and are just trying to spread the ball around,” Champlin said. “We’re trying to be balanced with who’s touching the ball and when they’re touching it.”

Junior Kanyon Kozee is in charge of that distribution. Champlin noted this is a tough year to be breaking in a new quarterback, with no scrimmages and less preseason work than usual due to COVID-19-related scheduling changes, but said Kozee has the tools to be a dual-threat signal-caller.

“I feel like he throws the ball really well,” Champlin said. “He’s got a nice touch on the deep ball, and he brings a running aspect to the game that Braden didn’t. .... We look for him to maybe carry the ball for us a few times each game and keep people honest on the back side.”

Champlin added that East Carter has a wildcat element in its offense too.

Senior Jacob Underwood is the Raiders’ leading returning rusher (355 yards, six touchdowns) and second-leading-returning pass-catcher (108 yards, one TD).

“If he gets the edge on you, he’s fast,” Champlin said of Underwood. “We want to try to get the ball in his hands and let him be explosive. He’s a player that makes coaches look really smart.”

Junior Charlie Terry scored twice and rushed for 114 yards last season and will step into a more prominent role, the coach said.

Junior slot receiver Connor Goodman is “dynamic,” Champlin said. “We look to do a lot of different stuff with him.”

Junior Dawson Witt caught 451 yards’ worth of aerials and six scores last season, second only to the graduated Micah Adams in both categories.

“He does a really good job at catching balls, running routes and making people miss,” Champlin said of Witt.

East Carter returns two starters up front: senior Tyruss Adams and junior Mikey Holbrook. Juniors Garon Castle, Skyler McCormick, Zane Cooper and Devin Carver are working to earn spots, Champlin said.

Defensively, East Carter returns five of its front seven from the defense that generated 18 turnovers last season. The Raiders also graduated three secondary starters and four of their top five tacklers.

“We feel like up front, we’re gonna be pretty decent,” Champlin said. “We expect big things out of those guys, to lead those other guys into how we do things.”

Senior Ethan Moore (11 solo tackles, 27 assisted, three fumble recoveries last year), junior Bryson Kiser (26 solo tackles, 34 assisted, 10 for loss) and McCormick (six solo tackles, 24 assisted) are back on the defensive line.

Seniors Brodey Stamper (18 solo tackles, 18 assisted) and Noah Marshall (19 solo tackles, 20 assisted, seven for loss, two takeaways) are returning linebackers.

Underwood is the lone returning starter in the secondary. He had 15 solo tackles and six assists last season.

Senior Logan Cales punted last season and will take over as the placekicker. Scoring with his foot is nothing new — Cales tallied 16 goals and nine assists for the state soccer semifinalist Raiders last fall.

Underwood returned two punts and a kickoff for touchdowns last year. He’ll be back deep again, along with Goodman and a “variety” of others, Champlin said.

It all adds up to a continued mentality shift for the Raiders.

“It’s expectations,” Champlin said. “They know what it takes to get there now. They know what it takes to compete at that level.

“Now it’s an expectation for us to go out and compete and win football games. Unlike my first year, when it was about winning the little things, we’ve multiplied that over the years now to where it’s winning ball games and competing.”

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