BLUFF CITY, Tenn. – An unprecedented three straight trips to the postseason has been followed at Sullivan East by five wins over the last two seasons, including one in 2018.

The Patriots are putting in the work to turn that around.

“I hope it is way better than last year,” Sullivan East speedy running back and defensive back Mason Hayworth said. “I believe it will be better this year.”

He isn’t the only one who feels that way.

“I am pretty excited,” Sullivan East senior interior lineman and linebacker Cameron Tolbert said. “I think we are going to have a good season.”

They definitely have the support of the community. A large audience of parents and supporters gathered for “Meet the Patriots” at the Sullivan East football field last Friday night, with all fall sports athletes, cheerleaders and even band members introduced to the crowd.

The turnout was certainly appreciated

“It is unique,” Hayworth said. “Everyone out here is watching and seeing who is going to be playing this year.”

“It is a good feeling to get some support,” added Tolbert. “Normally we have really good crowds.”

The Patriot Nation, as they were called on Friday, will certainly be cheering for this duo, who are expected to play key roles for Sullivan East. The Patriots will open their season on Aug. 23 at Johnson County. The home opener is slated for Sept. 6 with Elizabethton.

Hayworth has moved from receiver to running back, with plans to use his speed to hit holes and run to paydirt. Also a track standout who qualified for the state meet in May in the 300 hurdles, Hayworth runs a legit 4.5 in the 40-yard dash.

“Mason brings a lot of speed. He is excellent in track, qualified for state track,” Sullivan East head coach Mike Locke said. “He is a legitimate 4.5 guy so if we can get him loose he can be a threat. He was usually a receiver and we tried to move him back in to a running back spot.”

He is making progress in that adjustment, having already participated in three scrimmages, with one more to go this Thursday with Virginia High before the season starts for real against the Longhorns.

“What that does to a guy is they are not quite sure where their cuts are so they look slower at first because they are not sure where they are supposed to go,” Locke said. “If we can get him to where he understands where he needs to get, run Mason run, go, go, go.”

That is what Hayworth hopes to do.

“I want to show them what I can do,” said Hayworth, who will share running back duties with Hunter Brown, Eric Hare and Thor Poe, while Dylan White returns at quarterback. “I am pretty quick. I just have to hit [the holes] right on time. This is my first year as a running back, I guess we will see.”

Those holes won’t open by themselves. That is where Tolbert steps in.

“My responsibility is basically to open up a hole for whoever is running the ball and keep the quarterback clean,” Tolbert said. “We have some fast running backs.”

Locke is confident that Tolbert will be able to combine with Jett Jones and others in helping to make that happen. He is also an aggressive hitter at middle linebacker for the Patriots.

“As an offensive lineman he has continued to progress and get better. He gives us a lot of great push up front,” Locke said. “He is also going to play some linebacker for us on defense and we hope he will be a great stopper for us in there because he brings a lot of punch when he gets there.”

Playing both ways can be tough on any player, but Tolbert certainly isn’t going to complain.

“I like it. It is tiring, but you just have got to have a love for it,” he said.

Tolbert knows the prescription for a better defense this season.

“Everybody has to be able to swarm to the football,” he said, “Everybody has to be in on a play.”

Tolbert is also a talented wrestler and baseball player who certainly has the respect of his teammates.

“He plays middle linebacker and he is on the line,” Hayworth said. “He is pretty aggressive, he is good at football.”

While Sullivan East won’t be as big in the trenches this season – especially considering that massive Dayne Davis is now a walk-on at the University of Tennessee – that doesn’t mean the Patriots can’t still do the job.

“They are not as big as they were last year,” said Hayworth, who also participates in the long jump, 100 meters and 110 hurdles for the track team, “but I just think they are more aggressive and know what they are doing.”

“We are not as big, but I think we are just as strong and we are faster,” added Tolbert, who is undersized at 225 pounds, but makes up for it in other ways. “You just have to stay lower and just be stronger than them,”

Tolbert definitely knows what he envisions for the Patriots in the season ahead.

“Hopefully we can just run the ball down people’s throats,” he said, with a smile.

Do that and perhaps the Patriots will meet their expectations, and maybe even get back into the postseason.

“I believe we will go like 6-4, something close to that,” Hayworth said.

“It would be nice,” added Tolbert. “I would like to make the playoffs.”

No matter what happens in the season ahead, Tolbert knows how he wants this particular team to be remembered.

“I want them to think that we played harder than everyone else,” he said.

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bwoodson@bristolnews.com | Twitter: BHCWoodson | (276) 645-2543

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