L-R: GAGE OWENS (DB/RB) SR DJ ROGERS (DB/RB) SR PARKER GLENN (DE/OL) SR - Photos Andy Calvert
Last season proved to be a tale of two seasons for the Dragons. Pepperell started the year losing five of its first six games, including its first two region contests. Pepperell recovered, got better, and won the next four games to reach the playoffs before losing by a touchdown in the opening round to eventual Class AA state semifinalist Callaway.
The Dragons have worked to build off the second half of the 2021 season with a strong showing this summer in off-season workouts.
“It’s been generally good. Our overall numbers are down a little bit, but our school population is down too. We’ve had about 58 kids out, and we’ve had more than 40 of them not miss a single day this summer,” Pepperell coach Rick Hurst says. “I think these kids believe in what we are doing, and you can tell that with how they are training this summer.”
Pepperell moves into the new Region 7A Division 1 and will face familiar opponents. Like most other coaches from teams in the region, Hurst believes it’s a very strong region with several teams capable of winning the title or reaching the playoffs.
“Looking at this region from top to bottom I think you have five teams that have a legitimate chance to be in the top two or three,” he says. “I think you’re going to see some good, competitive games in this region all season.”
One thing Hurst says he hopes for is a slightly quicker start for the Dragons in 2022. Pepperell’s four-game non-region schedule to open the season isn’t easy with games against Class 4A Northwest Whitfield, Class 2A Model, Class 5A Woodland, and Class A Temple.
“Our non-region schedule is tough, but not quite as tough as last year. I’m hoping we can put a few wins on that side of the column,” he says. “Last year, we struggled with our confidence a bit early on, and I think if we can get a couple of wins it will be a big positive.”
Speaking of positives, Pepperell returns perhaps one of the best running backs in the state as D.J. Rogers gets ready for his senior campaign. Rogers rushed for more than 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns last season for the Dragons and will be looking to hit the ground running, literally, this season.
“DJ is one of the best running backs I’ve ever been around in high school football,” Hurst says. “And a big strength of ours is that we have five offensive linemen coming back that all played a lot last year. We only lose one starter from the line.”
A healthy, experienced offensive front combined with Rogers in the backfield could spell trouble for opposing defenses this fall. Along with that, Hurst mentions Alex Rhoades, who plays receiver and outside linebacker, as well as Gage Owens as players to watch for this season. Erik Jenson steps into the quarterback role for the Dragons as well, and Hurst says he thinks Jensen will surprise a lot of people.
When asked what it will take for Pepperell to repeat the second-half success from 2021 in 2022, Hurst hesitates a moment before answering.
“I think the big thing is that we’re not focusing on our opponents or anybody else. We’re just focusing on ourselves,” Hurst says. “We’ve got a couple of tough scrimmages before the season starts. If we can come out of them and stay healthy, then I think we are going to be fine.”