BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – In just four short weeks, high school football will return to northeast Tennessee.

The Vikings of Tennessee High won’t play inside the Stone Castle until mid-September, but the team isn’t worried about its road-heavy schedule.

“We’ve got a tough schedule, but I think we’ll be just fine and push through,” senior offensive lineman Evan Bedwell said.

In 2021, THS finished the year with a record of 3-7, with all three of those wins coming at home. This season, Josh Holt will take control as head coach of the program. Holt may be new to the role, but he’s been around the Vikings most of his life.

Holt played for Tennessee High and has been an assistant on the coaching staff since 2018.

He understands the long and storied history of the football program – from the first teams more than 100 years ago to the state and national champions of the 1970s.

“That’s who we are – that’s what we have to live by as a tradition, and [the players] need to understand they’re going to be part of that tradition,” Holt said. “That’s what we’re really pushing.”

“I’ve got two pictures of my office of the 1920 football team – you talk about some tough looking hombres right there,” he continued. “You had to be tough to play football in the 20s – and that’s who we are, that’s our tradition. That’s Viking football.”

There are about eleven seniors on this year’s team, many of whom have been around Holt for their entire Viking careers. But, the whole team, young and old, is already learning what he expects as a head coach – and it all hinges on toughness and discipline.

“Like you said – he’s been here for a little bit, so he knows how things roll,” junior quarterback Jimmy Phipps said. “So, he hasn’t changed stuff on us too much. But yeah, he has his own style of doing things – I like it.”

“I think it’s helped us up front a lot – with our aggressiveness up front,” Bedwell said. “It’s really helping us everywhere, but especially up front.”

“They see it as energy, but I see it as discipline,” Holt explained. “That’s how they have to be. We have to make sure they’re aware of – this is what you do in a situation – and by doing that you’re disciplining.”

“They’ve really embraced that, they’ve done a great job,” he continued. “They listen so well – they’re high-character kids. They’re going to be alright in the long run.”

Coaches and players also touched on bond that has been forged in the locker room after a pair of unexpected losses in the program last season: teammate Micah Montgomery and assistant coach Trea Leonard.

“Last year definitely brought us all closer together,” Phipps said. “We’re real brothers now and we love each other.”

“They’ve been through something that nobody else in the state’s been through,” Holt said. “I tell them everyday ‘you, right now, are mentally the toughest team in the state – what are you going to do with it?'”

Tennessee High opens its season on the road against Dobyns-Bennett on August 19 at 7 p.m.