Eleven months ago, Hayden Candela was Bearden’s leading receiver, punt returner, and a starting safety.
But the standout tore his ACL against Science Hill on Sept. 14, ending his junior year on the field.
This year, Candela is back healthy along with a senior class that is stronger than ever and ready to continue leaving their mark on the Bearden football program.
“It’s all really about establishing a culture and that really started my sophomore year,” Candela said.
Added Coach Morgan Shinlever: “Being able to get a talent like Hayden back is something that we’re definitely excited about. He has worked very hard this offseason.”
Bearden will unofficially open the season on Friday night at Neyland Stadium, when the Bulldogs will scrimmage for one quarter against South-Doyle as a part of the KOC High School Football Jamboree. The jamboree starts at 6 p.m., and the Bulldogs and Cherokees will be third up in the rotation.
Bearden’s first game is at West on Saturday, Aug. 24.
Last season, Bearden went 8-3 with a signature win over rival Farragut and a last-second win over Dobyns-Bennett. However, the Bulldogs lost in the first round of the playoffs to Maryville, a loss that can potentially be avenged in week two this season when Bearden travels to play the Rebels.
The 2020 class has plenty of experience. Collin Ironside is a rare four-year starter at quarterback, Gavin Campbell is a strong force on the line of scrimmage, and Connor Cross is a veteran on special teams. This season is looking special for the Dogs, despite the large number of players lost due to graduation.
“Last year, we were very large size wise,” Coach Shinlever said. “This year, we will have to be more technique-oriented.”
This year, the players have been working out heavily to make up for the size loss with strength and speed.
“It’s all about carrying on the legacy that past players have left behind and their love for the weight room,” Candela said. “When the younger guys see how much the upperclassmen enjoy working out, normally they fall right in line.”
The connection between quarterback and wide receiver is important on any team. For Candela and Ironside, things just seem second nature, making life on the field a lot easier.
Candela had 24 catches and 225 receiving yards in 2018 before he was injured in the fifth game of the season.
“Hayden and I have been friends since like fifth grade, and I have always loved playing ball with him,” Ironside said.
This senior class has helped bring BHS football back to its best, reminiscent of seasons like 2007 when the Dogs made a playoff run to the state semi-finals, the closest Bearden has ever gotten to winning state in program history.
“I have been telling the other seniors we were 4-6 our freshman year, 6-4 our sophomore year, 8-3 junior year, and I want to continue that trend and add two more wins to make us 10-0 this season,” Ironside said.
Added Candela: “Our goal as a senior class is to leave the best legacy we can for future Bulldogs.”