ERWIN, Tenn. (WJHL) – On Tuesday afternoon, the Blue Devils started their full-field warmups in the shadow of Gentry stadium – eager for Week 1 to arrive.

“I guess we’re ten days out now,” head coach Drew Rice said. “Tomorrow is single digits out, so that’s always exciting.”

“It’s what I’ve been looking forward to all summer,” senior wide receiver and linebacker Mason Hensley. “All of us have been out here working – I’m super proud of the guys and how far we’ve come since the beginning of the summer.”

Unicoi County got off to a blazing start in 2022, winning its first six games of the season. But, they stumbled down the stretch, going 2-2 in the region before falling to Gatlinburg-Pittman in the opening round of the 3A state playoffs.

“Just kind of stubbed our toe there in October,” Rice said. “Really lost the two games we couldn’t lose.”

“A lot of these guys were part of that,” he continued. “So, hopefully we’ve learned from that and continue to improve.”

The Blue Devils will also be without the services of “bell cow” running back Nehemiah Edwards, who graduated in the spring. Rice and his guys know what they’ve lost, but have confidence in this team’s ability to rise to the occasion – and it all starts with physicality.

“I think that we lost quite a lot of the good guys, but we also gained a lot of good guys that stepped up to the plate and are going to play really well and fill those positions that we lost to people in,” senior defensive end and tight end Jay Snyder said.

“Pushing for extra yards because I mean, every yard that you get is is worth something,” Hensley said. “I mean, that’s huge. And not being soft, not being shy to contact – it’s been great.”

“We preach that and we’ve just preached effort to these guys and, you know, playing the game the right way and being physical,” Rice explained. “And that’s kind of been a focus for us all summer.

“We feel like we’re on our way, you know, we’re not where we want to be yet,” he continued. “But, you know, that’s obviously our end goal.”

The Blue Devils will open the season on the road at Northview Academy on Friday, August 18 at 7:30 p.m.