Looking to the right and left, Beardenâs linebackers see they have become a unified group of leaders to push the team forward into the rest of the season. Junior Kole Matherly leads one of Beardenâs most experienced and talented units. âKole is the leader of the defense,â Coach Brian Tanner said. âHe started every game last year, gets every one lined up and in the right position, and is probably the heart and soul of our defense.â Seniors Jake Jolley and Trent Waters are also veterans, who have also been improving during the regular and off-seasons. âJake has been great, has had a great off season and has come on strong this year, and we are expecting even better things from him as the season continues,â Coach Tanner said. âTrent, when he has his mind right, is one of the best players in Knoxville. He plays hard and goes hard and has done a great job for us as well.â This yearâs lineup has tried to live up to the dominating core of two years ago, led by Peyton Landers and Drew Williamson, and they hope to eventually reach that level of excellence. âWe are getting to the level of play that Peyton and Drew brought to the team,â Coach Tanner said. âThey were three year starters, and Kole and Jake both have a chance to do that. Weâre not to that level yet, but we are getting there.â Several of this yearâs players have even been compared to Landers and Williamson, who are widely considered as two of the best linebackers the school has ever seen. âBeing compared to them makes me feel a lot more confident, but we have all been great out there,â Jolley said. âI donât feel like weâre at that level yet, but we are working to get there.â Linebackers normally lead defenses in tackles, but after two games, this yearâs linebacker group boasts an impressive stat â the top five tacklers on the team (Jolley, Zack Messing, Matherly, Griffin DeLong, and Waters). âI feel like weâre more of a group,â Matherly said. âLast year, we were more focused on ourselves and playing as individuals, this year we are playing more as a unit for the linebackers, playing more for that guy next to us.â The Bulldogs have already seen some adversity with an injury to the talented sophomore DeLong, but they expect to see him back in action soon. âGriffin DeLong being injured has slowed his progression in him being where he should be but hopefully we will get him back in the next couple of weeks and have him for Lenoir city, then Maryville and on down the line,â Coach Tanner said. And once the linebackers are all playing at full strength, theyâll hope to lead Bearden deep into the season. âI expect a lot of success this season,â Jolley said. âWe have a lot of potential as coach says, but he also says itâs just potential, and until we show that we can accomplish something itâs nothing more than that.â Brooke Williams is a staff writer for The Bark. Follow The Bark on [email protected] and like The Bark (Bearden High School) on Facebook.