Summit Indy

It'll be the most exciting Border Battle in quite some time.

Summit is fresh off a Class 5A state appearance with two of the best prep football players in the country. Independence never lets up, and they're now a perennial contender for the Region 6-6A crown. 

Last year, the Spartans got a surprising win over the Eagles as local phenoms Destin and Keaten Wade gave the county and beyond a first glimpse at their sensational sophomore campaigns. 

But, like with everything in a pandemic, things are just different than they might've been if both teams had a normal offseason. That doesn't take away from the excitement, though, of two strong outfits meeting for their annual rivalry game at the county's border. 

Spartans prepping for life as 'the hunted' 

"It's definitely different," Summit head coach Brian Coleman said of life in a coronavirus world while prepping for a season. "The last couple weeks, we've had a little bit more contact. We're still not tackling to the ground...been tackling dummies and things like that, preparing against each other with limited contact.

"You know, all the distancing and all the stuff that we have to do now is just the way life is nowadays." 

Instead of scrimmages, 7-on-7 tournaments and opposing film, Coleman said Summit will forging a different path to prepare for Friday's game. 

The Spartans did indeed finish second in Class 5A last year, a team buffeted by two Power 5 college football prospects in the Wade twins. 

Both juniors, Destin stands under center and is the best dual-threat quarterback in Middle Tennessee; Keaten plays on both sides of the ball and wrecks equal havoc as an offensive weapon and a staunch linebacker. 

They've both got offers from Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Penn St., Ole Miss and Baylor, just to name a few, and Keaten has additional offers from big-time programs like LSU and Oklahoma, per 247 Sports. 

Coleman was the one watching them blossom into two of the most sought-after high school athletes in the state last fall. 

"They had a great offseason...but you never really knew what to expect," he recalls of the time leading up to their standout 2019. "They are truly gamers...they practice great. They're happy to be out there. They do great.

"Just the special things to see them do on a football field was awesome to see. To begin the season last year is kind of when you started seeing it a lot." 

Coleman said he feels that more visibility of the two's game tape, coupling with the team's rise in recognition, helped college teams see the Wades for who they were were, "great kids," as Coleman describes them. 

Summit is the likely favorite to repeat Region 5-5A despite the presence of the always formidable Page and Shelbyville Central. The team must now get acclimated to life as the top dog after spending so many seasons playing spoiler. 

"Now, we've got the target on our back. Going that far last year is not going to win us any games this year," Coleman said.

"Now, we're the hunted, and we've always been the hunter because it was little ole Summit back in the day...we could sneak up on people, but now, we're going to get everyone's best games. We have to play our best game every week also." 

Coleman says a mental reset of where the team is, 15 games from state, just like everyone else in the region. 

"We've got to start over...let's start fresh, let's start with Indy, see what we've got and then try and win the region," Coleman said. 

Independence will start surprise choice at quarterback 

Resilient is the word Indy head coach Scott Blade used to describe his team as it has navigated preparing for football during a pandemic, 

"The kids have really answered the call in everything we've asked them to do," he says of his Eagles. "They've been pretty resilient." 

He says that he's been trying to preach positivity and hope to his team, one he says has been more receptive and engaged than he's seen in a long time. 

"Everything takes on a whole new meaning this year for these kids," he said about football in a pandemic. "And it has been tough, but the kids have been resilient." 

Preparing for a contact sport that only became TSSAA-approved for full practice at the beginning of the month presents unique challenges, after all. 

"The summer, for everybody, has been a big challenge," Blade said. "We're part of the puzzle. The whole world's been flipped upside down."

Under Blade, the Eagles are now an annual threat in the always-tough Region 6-6A (home to two of the state's best teams, Brentwood and Ravenwood) since moving up a few years ago. 

The team hasn't been back to the state game since its 5A days (it won a title in 2015), but they're going to be throwing a fascinating wrinkle at teams who face them this fall. 

After losing stalwart quarterback Ethan Cash to graduation, the team is going to be rolling with none other than Jaxson Campbell under center, the team's leading receiver in 2019. 

"He is our best athlete, and with all the changes and stuff going on...he was a quarterback as a freshman, we liked him enough as a freshman to bring him up to the varsity and dress him out," Blade said. "He even got in a game or two as a true freshman [in 2017]."

Blade said Campbell started as a defensive back as a sophomore and made an all-state recognition at the position. He also led the Eagle in receiving yards in 2019, catching passes from the big-armed Cash. Now, he will be the next Eagles QB to keep its prolific passing attack. 

"He's got a firm grasp of what it is I'm looking for," Blade said of Campbell. "He's got a firm grasp of the leadership role, which was obviously really this past offseason.

"Jaxson is an integral part of this offense, and we said no better way to start off...your best player's putting his hands on the ball every play, and we build around we're happy about that." 

The Eagles are going to the same changes many teams are by trying to adapt to a COVID-19 reality, but sometimes, uncertainty isn't such a bad thing. 

"We'll look a little different this year," Blade said of his team. "I think a lot of people, a lot of teams will look a little different this year. But we're excited to see where that takes us." 

The Spartans and Eagles kick off at Independence Friday night at 7 p.m. 

For those who cannot attend, a livestream has been set up to view the game.