STORY BY CORY WOODROOF | PHOTO BY STEVE WHEELER
It’s only the third fall that the Nolensville High School community can gather on Friday nights to watch the Knights football team in action.
Though, you couldn’t tell it from the success the school has found on the gridiron.
They’ve made the playoffs in both of their seasons in 4A competition and have seen a handful of players accept college football offers, like alums Brandon Wharton (QB, Murray State) and Colton Dooley (Army) and rising seniors C.J. Ware (OLB, Miami-Ohio) and Tim Coutras (DB, Liberty).
With quick success comes expectations, and those expectations will continue to raise, per head coach Paul Derrick, entering his second year.
“As a coach, you always want to see growth, and we did that with our  record,” Derrick said of his young Knights program at the WCS football media event in July. “But, in the playoffs, we made it the same as we did in our first year.”
The team went 7-5 in 2018 before exiting the playoffs in the second round, their same postseason fate in 2017.
“Our challenge this year will be replacing a lot of experience that we lost,” he said. “But we feel like we’ve got some young kids waiting to step up for us and we’re looking forward to seeing the growth of our football team this year.”
The team formed a leadership council of upperclassmen to help govern and guide the program as it lost a chuck of senior leadership with its class of 2019.
“That’s something we really placed an emphasis on, and we think it’s going to pay off for us this year,” Derrick said.
The team returns four starters on offense and five on defense for 2019.
Wharton struggled with injury for much of 2018, which put then-sophomore Ryder Galardi under the spotlight on more than one occasion.
The rising junior will be relied on to keep the pace on offense and lean on two-way player Tim Coutras in the air attack. Coutras will also be switching from cornerback to safety this season to help the Nolensville secondary.
He’ll be playing safety as well in college with the Liberty Flame.
“Moving from corner to safety is definitely hard because, for us, the safety is kind of like the field general,” he said. “They call in the plays, they get everybody lined up. So coming from corner, not having to be that vocal leader, is definitely difficult.”
He feels the time in seven-on-seven competition has made the transition a bit easier. His coach commends his transition.
“We struggled with [the change]. ‘Do we move him? Do we not move him?,'” Derrick said. “His production at corner was off the charts — eight interceptions, two returned touchdowns.
“But we felt like Tim possessed those leadership qualities we wanted at that strong safety position, and that’s kind of where he projected at the next level, so [we] felt like that’d be a good fit for him to grow into that role, and, at the same time, that’s what we felt was best for our football team. … He’s done a phenomenal job.”
Losing Dooley, who by all accounts was the Knights’ bell cow back, is a major blow to the team’s rushing game, which will put the onus on running back Ryan Pistulka, who Derrick mentions will be the first up to fill that role.
The team will have perhaps its toughest slate yet in 2019, with a start at Antioch on Aug. 23 and and a late-season road game against upper-region team and fellow WillCo school Franklin.
Region games are Maplewood (home, Oct. 18, Senior Night), Tullahoma (home, Oct. 4), Marshall Co. (away, Nov. 1) and Lawrence Co. (home, Sept. 20).
Spring Hill joins 4-4A this season, who the Knights will face on the road Sept. 6.
Until the opener, Nolensville will focus on broadening its horizons and continuing to prove to its opponents that they’re not just the new kids on the block anymore.
“I feel like, this year, we have to go with our big pants on,” Ware said of the team’s expectations for the future. “We really can’t be a little school anymore.”