The starting backfield must be replaced.
High school All-American and Class 4A Mr. Football Tyler Maples will
be in a University of Tennessee uniform this fall.
Defense, though, was of greater concern as Maryville High Schools state champion Rebels concluded spring practice earlier this week.
"For spring practice, linebacker was probably top priority," Maryville coach George Quarles said. "We lost all three."
Seniors Tanner Caylor and Landon Hall finished one-two in tackles during Maryvilles unbeaten run to a third consecutive state crown last fall. Fellow senior Travis Carpenter finished in the top five. Senior Dwight Wood, a down lineman with a linebackers size and speed, was third.
Juniors Tim Rodriguez, Jordan Halsne and Tyler Morton and sophomores Jeffery Booker and Cody McCoy each auditioned well for the spots that Hall, Carpenter and Caylor are vacating, Quarles said. Itll be fall, though, before any decision is made.
"Nobody really stood out," Quarles said. "Were still going into spring with a lot of questions. I wish somebody had stepped up."
While little was resolved at linebacker, the conclusion of Maryville spring drills on Monday only enhanced a big plus the Rebels will have going for them this fall. Junior Brent Burnette passed for 1,958 yards and 18 scores in 2006, a season during which Maryville extend its current win streak to 45 games.
The last three state crowns have all come with unbeaten, 15-0 seasons.
Burnette split time at quarterback with senior Derek Hunt in 2006,
with Hunt throwing for 927 yards and 11 touchdowns.
This fall, Burnette, a highly-touted, strong-armed Division I prospect, will have the offense all to himself.
"Im excited about it," he said. "I think our offense will be a little different this year. Well be throwing it around more."
Losing Maples, who set a bevy of school receiving records the last four seasons, is big, but, in junior Mr. Football tight end Aaron Douglas and junior Division I prospect Stephen Shiver, the cupboard is anything but bare. Juniors Tyler Clendenen and Caleb are both returning fast, deep threats.
"Well have a lot of weapons out there," Burnette said. "I think theyll be one of the best receiving groups weve ever had."
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Burnette is working with nationally-renowned
strength coach Charlie Petrone this spring in
preparation for his final season at Maryville. The famed speed and conditioning guru sports a client list that includes such luminaries as New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington and baseballs Todd Helton.
"I just want to be stronger overall," Burnette said. "Most of (the work with Petrone) is mental. I want to be able to work on the defense, just toy with them. Thats what separates the good quarterbacks from the great ones."
Maryville may need much from Burnette in 2007, at least initially. Seniors Adrian "Tank" Baker and Ryan Singleton had all but a handful of carries out of the backfield for the Rebels last season. Baker, who signed with Furman University earlier this month, roared back from a preseason thigh injury to pace Maryville with 1,055 yards and 13 touchdowns on 153 carries.
Singleton beat on opposing defenses for an additional 629 yards and 13 scores, finishing among the teams leaders in receiving.
The Rebel coaching staff found what it hopes are their replacements the last two weeks.
"The backs we pretty much know," Quarles said.
Sophomores Cody McCoy and Thomas Shuler are the heirs apparent. McCoy, who rushed for better than 200 yards and four touchdowns in 2006, impressed during spring and looks ready. Shuler, a jet-quick sprinter, suffered a torn ACL during fall practice last year and missed the season. Had he been healthy, many of the questions concerning running back this fall would already have been asked an answered.
"That was a blow," Quarles said. "I thought we did a good job of overcoming that. He was a home-run hitter. He could go 80 (yards)."
Shuler, back in pads for the first time since last fall, was limited during spring, but hell be full-on by August, Quarles said. Booker, he said, is another option.
A youthful, albeit talented, backfield only heightens the importance
of what Burnette, Douglas, Shiver and the rest can
accomplish through the air this fall.
"Well probably have to spread it out a bit," Quarles said. "Were a lot more experienced at those positions. We should see some good things in the passing game, and Brent is only going to get better."
Often overlooked in the change from season to season is the losses suffered up front. The Rebels will be without the services of seniors Louis Darras, Justin Huskey and Josh Caraway along the offensive line in 2007. A pair of gems in juniors Broughton Greene and Caleb return to begin the rebuilding. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Douglas constitutes a third of a line on many high school teams all by himself.
"What he does well more than anything is the blocking," Quarles said. "He can dominate the line of scrimmage."
Junior Todd Hollingsworth spent much of last season on defense but a noteworthy spring has seen the former tackle switch sides.
"We were doing the Oklahoma drill and we found out he can block pretty good," Quarles said.
The Rebels are able to consider such of move because the front returning on the other side of the ball could prove as formidable, or better, than ever. The loss of Wood and his team-leading 16 sacks is huge. In sophomore Justin Smith, however, Maryville looks to have another quarterback-sacking machine in waiting. Junior Joshua Cantwell and sophomore Marcus Engelhardt both return at the tackles.
Engelhardt had a whopping 49 stops from his tackle spot a year ago.
Junior Brett Wadham and sophomore Brad Coulter are slated for the end opposite Smith.
"I think were in better shape (overall) than last year," Quarles said. "Anytime you lose a Tyler Maples, its a blow, but its exciting to see what guys will step up."
Quarles, who claimed his 100th win in only his eight season at the Maryville helm last fall, has long favored having spring practice early. Alcoa, Heritage and William Blount wont begin addressing next seasons concerns until April.
The reasons for braving the frosty breezes of February are twofold, Quarles said.
"Spring practice is more about blocking and tackling," he said, "things you cant get done in the summer."
Spring is also about returning to fundamentals, he said, relearning things like pad leverage, things that have more of an impact come fall than given credit.
"All of us are too high right now," Quarles said, "but it was a good, physical spring, and that was our goal."