Blackman will be taking on all comers during the 2019 football season.
The Blaze will not only face the always rigorous District 7-AAA schedule, but their non-conference schedule will certainly test them early.
Blackman will open the season Saturday, Aug. 24, at home against perennial state power Alcoa, and they'll also face BlueCross Bowl contender Ravenwood and Independence in non-league games.
(Alcoa) coach (Gary) Rankin in the best there's ever been in this state in my opinion, and the record speaks for itself," said Blackman coach Kit Hartsfied, who played for Rankin at Riverdale. "They're like a 6-A program and have over 100 kids like us. It's a great challenge the first week to see where we're at. We need to be in midseason form at the beginning, but it should be a fun night and a great atmosphere and great competition."
The schedule might seem a little aggressive considering the Blaze lost several talented players from last season's 10-2 team. However, it's a challenge Hartsfield eagerly awaits.
"We're just focusing on competing," Hartsfield said. "We want to compete every play with everybody we play against. We're going to compete with relentlessness. We want to win every game. We want to practice on Thanksgiving. It's been a few years since Blackman has been able to do that, but that's what everyone plays for around here. We want to be in that last game at Tennessee Tech (BlueCross Bowl). That's our goal."
The Blaze lost three dynamic receivers who are now playing collegiately in Trey Knox (Arkansas), Adonis Otey (USC) and Micaleous Elder (Charlotte). However, Blackman is still blessed with plenty of talent at the skill positions.
The Blaze return junior quarterback Drew Beam, who had an outstanding season in 2018 as a first-year starter. The backfield features senior Connor Murphy and senior Antonio Malone.
“Beam is a multi-sport guy who just has it," Hartsfield said. "He's a 28 ACT kid and a great kid who will end up with a 30. He is a hard worker and very intelligent, and being a two-sport guy (baseball) he is very athletic and has a great demeanor. He's put on about 15 or 20 pounds and we're excited to see his growth."
Despite losing the talent trio of receivers, the Blaze return senior Dajeun Gibson, who has multiple power 5 offers, junior Luke Hayes and senior Malachi Burns. Additionally, Brighton transfer Keionte Newson, a Texas-San Antonio commit, is a dynamic player on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, we'll be pretty multiple," Hartsfield said. "We've got Drew back at quarterback and we've got several weapons we think we can do things with.
"I think we'll be able to spread it around and make it where nobody can just key on one person. Hopefully someone will step up on any night, and we might not know who that is until the game is over."
Up front the Blaze will relay on seniors Bowdy Boyce and Josh Meany, while senior John Hartman, junior Brock Rhoden and junior Malcom Smith round out a big and physical line.
"Boyce and Meany are two of our smaller ones, but they're seniors and tough kids who will lead that unit," Hartsfield said. "We've got a bigger junior class with Malcom Smith, John Hartman and Brock Rhoden.
"We'll be bigger than last year, which is a good thing with the people we play against. We don't have as much experience, but we're probably a little more talented going into the season opener."
The Blaze will feature a bigger defensive front, outstanding linebackers and a talented and deep secondary.
The defensive line will be anchored by seniors Lorenzo Smith, Marcelous Daniels and Zack Fowler. Outside linebackers, who will also line down up front at times, include junior Elijah Smith and Boyce.
"Up front in the past we've been quicker, but we're bigger and stronger," Hartsfield said. "Three-year starter Lorenzo Smith is extremely strong. He's a 600-pound squatter and 345 in the bench. We've got good depth and we've got about five guys we can rotate."
At linebacker, the Blaze are loaded with senior Aidan Allen, senior Ahmad Collins and senior Murphy, who is has a great nose for the football.
"Aiddan Allen is a good looking kid who has been waiting his time," Hartsfield said. "Connor Murphy is a player everyone knows about back there."
The secondary is talented a deep, led by Gibson, Hayes, Mark Cooper, Todd Lark, Burns and Alex Garrott.
"We only return five starters on defense, but we've got more experience than it seems," Hartsfield said. "We've got guys who still have a lot to learn, but they've got a lot of ability."
2018 Record: 10-2, reached second round of 6A playoffs
Head coach: Kit Hartsfield
Assistant coaches: John McCreery, Aaron Pitts, Joe Moos, Kevin Meadows, Ryan Knox, Vince Henderson, Sam Turner, Lance Kelly, Jacques Williams, Kirk Bagley, Brandon Holiday, Alex Taylor
W – Hendersonville, 28-0
W – Florence, Ala., 44-22
W – Coffee County, 42-0
W – Smyrna, 45-10
W – Siegel, 59-14
L – Oakland, 24-14
W – Warren County, 42-3
W – Cookeville 49-14
W – Stewarts Creek 34-21
W – Riverdale, 41-0
W – Lebanon, 44-7 (6A playoffs)
L – Mt. Juliet, 35-14 (6A playoffs)
9/6: at Coffee County
9/13: at Independence
9/20: at Warren County
9/27: at Riverdale
10/18: at Rockvale