A perennial playoff contender, the Tigers reached the postseason for the 13th straight season last year, but keeping that streak alive won’t be easy for coach Steve Savage.
Commerce lost nine offensive starters from last year’s team, which finished 7-5 and advanced to the second round of the Class A playoffs.
The Tigers also lost two-time region champ Wesleyan from their schedule, as the Wolves are now in Region 5-A. Wesleyan’s absence opens the door for a team like Commerce to take over as the team to beat in the region.
Any one who has seen the Tigers play knows what they do on offense. They run. They run some more. And just for kicks, they run even more. Not one to spread the field and attack it vertically, Savage relies on a stable of talented players in the backfield to put points on the board.
Leading the charge is quarterback Cody Streetman, who threw for 623 yards with six touchdowns, and rushed for 427 yards and seven scores last year. But Streetman, who is entering his junior season, is one of just two returning starters; the other is the guy he takes the snaps from, center Zach Harmon.
“We gotta find people to go with him,” assistant coach Rex Gregg said of Streetman.
For now, that list includes sophomore fullback Jamal Browner and senior running backs Jessie Savage and Addison Davis.
“We’ll be competitive,” Gregg said. “What we do is tough to stop.”
When the Tigers do throw it, Streetman’s top targets are junior Garrett Wilson, who saw substantial time last year, and senior Anthony Norris, who was injured last season and according to Gregg, “is the biggest kid we have at wide receiver.”
The biggest question on offense is the line, which will start two freshmen and two sophomores alongside Harmon. And if anyone gets injured, the backups are all freshmen.
“We’re young and inexperienced up front,” Gregg said. “It’ll take us a little while to get going.”
The defense makes up for the lack of experience on offense, as six starters return to a unit that surrendered 13.6 points per game over the final five games last year.
“We have a good foundation,” Gregg said. “I feel good about the six returning starters, especially since they’re spread throughout the defense.”
Three of the returners are on the defensive line in senior Michael Moon, sophomore Micah Eason and junior Jake Vaughn, who had 80 tackles as a sophomore.
Gregg also said senior Serguio Rojas “could really help out” on defense.
The linebacking corps is anchored by senior Tyler Adams and junior Josh Swistak, who combined for more than 200 tackles last year.
Like he has the past three years, Savage, who had three interceptions last year, will be leading the secondary.
The rest of the secondary is “green,” but Gregg thinks Savage’s leadership will help overcome inexperience.
“He’s a four-year starter,” Gregg said. “He’ll make sure all of the guys get after it.”
The Tigers will split the kicking duties three ways this year with Streetman handling the punts, Austin Patterson doing the kickoffs and Swistak handling the field goals and extra points.
All three performed well in those roles last year, which makes special teams the least of the Tigers’ worries.
“I feel good about it,” Gregg said. “That’s where we have the most experience.”
With such a young roster on offense, not much is expected of the Tigers this year. But with Streetman still running the show and six returning starters on defense, plus the lack of a powerhouse team like Wesleyan, the Tigers should be able to make a run at a region title and another postseason appearance.