MOUNTAIN CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Longhorns are still only a few years removed from back-to-back playoff trips in 2017 and 2018, during which the team went 20-3.

However, last season, Johnson County’s young bunch struggled with a tough non-conference schedule, finishing with a record of 2-8. It’s not how the returning players had hoped the 2021 season would play out.

“We got embarrassed last year,” senior center and defensive lineman Nick Speed said. “A lot of soreness in our mouths, so we’re just ready to go at it.”

“We have to let last season’s mistakes and everything push us to move forward and go harder this season,” senior running back and defensive end Nikolas Bigwood added.

So far in the offseason and preseason, the program has done exactly that.

“Our kids have bought in – we’ve got an ‘All In’ t-shirt and like I said, we had a lot of numbers over the summer in the weight room,” head coach Don Kerley said. “You can see them developing – see them getting a lot stronger and we talked about that all last year – we’re gonna grow up.”

“We were super young last year – so all these younger guys just getting a little bit older and getting all these reps and experience is huge,” Speed said.

“We’ve been working really hard – we’ve hit the weight room really hard,” junior quarterback Connor Simcox said. “You can tell a lot of improvement from here and now, and from every scrimmage that we’ve played. It’s going to be exciting.”

Even with all the optimism and a perfect preseason record to date, the Longhorns aren’t getting ahead of themselves.

“One game at a time, one play at a time,” senior wide receiver and running back Grinnan Walker explained, “just get better and ultimately the goal is to win.”

Johnson County will begin its season with an Open Week, which means their opener will come a week later than most teams – Friday, August 26 at Hampton.