Behind an SEC-bound lineman playing a tight end, an all-state running back and a cast of seniors knowing what it took to win games, Nashville made its deepest postseason foray in 11 years.
After losing three of their last four regular season games to miss out on even a share of the SIRR Mississippi title, the Hornets rattled off three playoff wins to reach the state semifinals, where they lost at Auburn on a late November Saturday with temperatures careening through the 20s.
That his fourth Nashville team was within a win of playing for a state championship still hasn’t sunk in for fifth-year coach Tim Kuhn.
“It seemed like it went way too fast,” he said. “The excitement it generated was indescribable. When it was over, it was like the air was let out of a balloon.”
Some think the Hornets might not be able to reinflate their balloon in 2016. The graduation of Royce Newman, who signed in February with Ole Miss, removed a once-in-a-generation talent from the program. Hunter Schultze was one of the top running backs in the state, and there were several other solid players committed to winning.
But Kuhn is hoping this year’s senior class embraces the challenge left to them by the last two teams, which combined for 17 wins and a 4-2 playoff mark.
“People expect things once you’ve had success,” he said. “Going 4-5 or 3-6 isn’t getting things done. We’re no longer flying under the radar. People want to beat us. We’re going to get their best shot.”
And Nashville will have to answer with only four starters back on each side of the ball. However, one of those starters was the guy who triggered its offense to three straight games of 31 or more points in the postseason, senior quarterback Andrew Kash.
Although Kash isn’t your prototypical pocket passer, he throws well enough and can move well enough that Kuhn can do plenty of things with him to keep a defense off-balance.
“He’s a student of the game who improves every single game,” Kuhn said of Kash.
Grant Reed, Schultze’s backup last year, will get the majority of the carries this season. Ethan Reid returns at wide receiver, while junior Tyler Klingenberg anchors the offensive line after drawing 11 starts last year.
On defense, sophomore Dylan Kwaitkowski started 10 games last year at nose guard. Reed returns at outside linebacker, with Reid back to anchor the secondary at free safety and Neil Kachuba starting for a second year at cornerback.
An admitted worrywart, Kuhn frets that this new group of Hornets isn’t as far along as he’d like, although he says that there is room for growth on both sides of the ball.
Simply put, what this season comes down to for Nashville is this: Can a somewhat callow cast carry on a new tradition of winning and playing football in November?
“These seniors have been part of the last two years,” Kuhn said. “With success comes expectation. They have embraced the challenge.”