It might not have been in the way that coach John McNeal envisioned it a year ago, but Friendship Christian is back in Cookeville to defend its Class 2A state championship.
The Commanders (12-1) will take on Adamsville (12-1) at 11 a.m. today prepared to show off a multi-threat offense that might not be familiar to fans who last watched Friendship in last year's championship game.
"Last year we were very one-dimensional and successful doing it," McNeal said. "This year we're able to do more offensively. That means hopefully keeping the defense from being able to target in on just one thing. If we need to throw, now we can throw. If we need to run, we can still run."
The difference in the offense is A.J. Long, a junior quarterback who transferred to the school last spring after moving from Pennsylvania to live with his mother.
Long, who has scholarship offers from UCLA, Arizona and Syracuse, has thrown for 2,391 yards and 35 touchdowns and just one interception.
"We are very dangerous, being able to use both the running and passing games," Long said.
"If we get our running game going, then our play-action passing game is probably the most dangerous passing game in the state because you don't know if we are actually running it or are going to pass it."
Senior lineman Ian Isbell agreed.
"You have teams that can run and you stack everybody in the box defensively because you know they won't be a pass threat, but we have both a run and a pass threat," he said. "It's going to hard to defend both of them. They're going to have to pick and choose."
If Adamsville chooses to take away Long's passing, they will have to watch out for running back Steven Hollis. The sophomore leads the Commanders with 1,049 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Long is second on the team with 639 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
Like any smart quarterback, he knows who to attribute the offense's success this season -- the offensive line.
"They're awesome. They're the best line I've ever had," Long said. "I don't know a group of guys that work harder than they do every day to keep me protected and to give the backs holes to run through. Without them, we would not be here."
Joining Isbell on the Commanders' offensive line are fellow seniors Gregg Norton and Mr. Football finalist Tanner Martin.
"They all started last year, so they understand what it takes," McNeal said.
"We felt like last year the offensive line was the key to us having the successful season that we had, and we feel like this year was a carryover from that. We had two guys graduate and replaced them with two sophomores that were very capable. So really, we're kind of in the same situation. Our offensive line has been our strength once again."