KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Students at Dobyns-Bennett High School won’t return to the classroom until after this weekend. But, the football team is already hard at work at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.

The Tribe will carry a big squad into the 2023 season – 78 players to be exact. Still, numbers alone will be difficult to replace 28 seniors lost due to graduation from last year’s team.

It’s a team that rolled in the early going, starting the year with an 8-1 record – the only loss coming by a single point to Greeneville. Another close loss to Science Hill closed the regular season on a sour note, as D-B bowed out of the Class 6A playoffs the next week to Bearden.

“Science Hill makes me mad,” senior linebacker Branson Carswell said. “I’m looking after that conference championship this year.”

“We’re obviously going to use that as motivation, because we don’t want anything to repeat [itself],” senior running back Brayden Simpson. “Something happens once, it’s a fluke. Something happening twice – that’s a streak.”

But, head coach Joey Christian believes the Dobyns-Bennett football history should be enough to motivate this year’s group.

“That’s just the standard,” he said of deep state playoff runs. “We just need to live up to the standard that is Dobyns-Bennett football, 820 wins in program history. Things like that will take care of that.”

Christian knows that graduation and roster attrition are all parts of high school football – and it doesn’t get easier. But, he is confident in the next guys stepping up into starting and leadership roles.

“I’ve been very close with this senior class upcoming – our seniors are helping with the sophomores and juniors coming up, because we lost a lot of seniors last year,” Carswell said.

“They were really teaching what it takes to be a leader,” Simpson explained of last year’s senior class. “They really stepped up to the role, and us juniors at that time really saw that and we’re going to be able to replicate that.”

“A lot of them started for two years and a lot of them played at different times,” Christian said. “So, you talk about the seniors this year, they were able to watch them – how they did things, how they handled things … It has to be a passing of the torch leadership-wise.”

Dobyns-Bennett opens the 2023 campaign with a road trip to Farragut on Friday, August 18.