By Steve Williams

An increase of 10 players on its 2016 squad is the best preseason news for Tennessee School for the Deaf’s football program.

“We have 18 players on our roster now,” said TSD head coach Barry Swafford through interpreter and assistant coach Jordan Cooper following last Wednesday’s third practice day. “That’s good.”

Now with a roster size that can easily work for the 8-man game, TSD has set its sights on winning another Mason-Dixon Conference championship.

“We have four upperclassmen, including three seniors,” added Swafford, who is beginning his fourth season as head coach. “More than half of our players are freshmen and 8th graders.”

The Vikings will start practice in full pads today (Aug. 15). They play their first game Saturday, Aug. 27, at Georgia School for the Deaf.

Last season, due to a lack of players, TSD had to forfeit two games in 8-man football and finished with a 1-2 record, while it had a 2-2 record in 6-man football.

Six players return from last year’s squad, with junior Marcus Jones heading the list. The 5-10, 160-pounder will play his first season at quarterback and free safety or linebacker on defense.

“He’s our franchise player right now,” said Swafford. “His footwork is wonderful and his hips are awesome.

“He’s a complete player. He can lead the offense and read the defense.”

Other returnees are senior center and noseman Clarance Cunningham, senior guard and defensive back Cornelius Johnson, sophomore tight end and linebacker Matthew Neely, sophomore running back/wide receiver and cornerback DeSean Freeman and sophomore tight end/running back and linebacker Jacob Johnson.

“I also have a few prospects I think can help us a lot,” said Swafford.

Tristen Davidson is a freshman lineman with good size (5-10, 190) and a good frame. Lorenzo Currie is a swift eighth grade running back.

“He’s very fast,” said Swafford. “We look forward to having him the next five years.”

The Vikings made a good first impression on their coach.

“I found them to be very motivated and willing to learn,” recalled Swafford. “They cooperate with each other and don’t complain. They’re very coachable.

“I know we have very little experience. They need a lot of learning time. Each time we play we’ll get better. I know we will.

“They have a lot of athletic skills, but they’re just very raw. They need polishing.

“TSD always has been well known for speed, and that will carry us through this season.”

The Vikings won Mason-Dixon Conference titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014. They captured the national deaf championship for 8-man teams under former coach Dick Henley in 2011 and were national deaf runners-up under Swafford’s direction in 2014.

Swafford expects Mississippi School for the Deaf to be his team’s chief challenger for this season’s Mason-Dixon title. Mississippi will be TSD’s homecoming game opponent this season on Oct. 1.

The Vikings are scheduled to play their first home game at Chambers Field against South Carolina School for the Deaf on Sept. 22.

Ethan Swafford, former TSD quarterback (Class of 2013), has been assisting his dad as a volunteer coach and will continue in that role until he returns to Gallaudet University in about three weeks for his senior year.