'Our goal is to win it all'

Governors eye nothing short of Murfreesboro finish

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

This could be the team.

These Governors could be that good.

Seniors T.J. Walker and Josh Madden highlight a William Blount football team that opened spring practice on Monday with one goal in mind come fall.

"State," Walker said. "That’s our No. 1 goal. We can play with anybody if we play as a team and do what we’re supposed to do."

William Blount dismantled the Class 5A state football rankings with one blow with a 13-10 upset of top-ranked Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett in the opening round of last year’s playoffs. Coupled with a first-ever win over Oak Ridge and a last-second loss at second-ranked Ooltewah, it was tangible proof the Governors had the talent to be mentioned with the
state’s best.

William Blount in Murfreesboro come December?

You bet, Governor coach Scott Meadows said.

"Our goal is to win a state championship," he said. "I feel like this group -- and I’ve been around some awfully good 5A teams -- is as good as any I’ve had.

"Our goal is to win it all."

Walker and Madden are the crown jewels of a prospect-laden roster, one that could rival some of the best in school history before they’re done. Walker, a sportswriter’s All-State selection last season, is noticeably bigger from his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame of a year ago.

South Carolina assistant coach Steve Spurrier Jr. stopped by practice on Monday to talk about the Gamecocks interest in the super-athletic defensive end. Virginia Tech, Alabama and Wake Forest are also coveting Walker’s skills as a rush end.

"They’re after him real hard," Meadows said. "He’s a special player."

Many of the same schools are growing quite fond of the 6-foot-5½, 265-pound Madden as well.

"Army was in (for a visit)," Meadows said. "They’re going to offer him, and Auburn is looking at him. Michigan State has
shown some interest."

Madden is the cornerstone of a bigger-than-life sized offensive line, both tackles coming in at around 270 pounds, the center at 260. Guards are normal sized, but then William Blount runs the wing-T.

"They’re the pups," Meadows said. "They only weigh 240."

William Blount will be without a sizeable part of its offense from a year ago with 1,000-rusher Darran Walker off to college after graduation later this month. Darran, like his brother, T.J., had the size and athleticism to often run over many would-be tacklers. His replacement, rising-junior Darrin Garner, will run by them.

Garner has put on a lot of muscle during the off-season, Meadows said, but it’s his speed that’s turning heads.

Brad Walker, T.J. and Darran’s older brother, won the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes his senior year at William Blount
two years ago. His sprint times in a football uniform were thought to be untouchable until the Governor coaching staff measured Garner against the watch recently.

"They (the coaches) said it’s the fastest 40 times since Brad Walker was a senior," Meadows said. "He (Garner) has got incredible quickness and unbelievable strength."

Unlike a year ago, the Governors aren’t looking for a quarterback this spring. Rising senior Tyler Burstrom became the starter in Week 4 and led William to a strong finish, including the shocker at Dobyns-Bennett and the win over Oak Ridge, William Blount’s first in 12 tries. In rising senior Grey Clevenger, the Governors also found themselves a playmaking receiver a year ago.

Offensively, William Blount already has many of the pieces in place, even with Burstrom currently with the Governor baseball team entering postseason play.

"We’ve got to develop some depth," Meadows said. "I’ve been impressed with some of our young people."

Defensively, the Governors were one of the region’s best teams a year ago, a young but physical stop unit surrendering 763 yards rushing combined to its 12 opponents. Along with Walker, the core of the defense, namely twin linebacking threats Cole Lail and Will Irwin, returns. A pair of football-seeking missiles at the position, Lail and Irwin, last season’s top tacklers, are both big hitters. Both, like Walker, are eyeing nothing short of a state berth as this year’s goal.

The upset of the Indians, Irwin said, was a point of no turning back.

"With them being No. 1 in the state, this year that’s going to help us realize we can beat anybody we play, (that) it’s not a big deal," he said. "We had so many close games last year, we’re just hungry."

When the Governors began winter workouts in January, Meadows made a point of finding out just how much, he said.

"That (reaching the state championship game) is all we talked about the first day we started working out," Irwin said. "Coach came in and talked to us and said, ‘We’ve got just one goal, and that’s to make it all the way to Murfreesboro.’"

Just how serious the Governors are about that goal was evident Monday. Within minutes of the start of practice, the hitting was full speed.

"We’re pretty intense out there," Irwin said.

A defensive end of Walker’s quality and a pair of linebackers like Lail, a sophomore, and Irwin, a junior, is a lot to build around. Each plays at a fast tempo.

"It’s an awfully good group," Meadows said.

William Blount hopes to increase the pace even more defensively in 2007 by switching to a 3-5 alignment. It’s the players behind those down linemen and linebackers, though, where the Governors could prove strongest. There, a secondary of sophomore Don Cope, junior Chase Helton and Burstrom returns complete.

A winning football team, one with even better things seemingly just off the horizon, has a noticeable effect on a school. Many faces not with the Governors a year ago are out for football this spring. It’s likely finding some depth, as Meadows stated as top priority, will be located.

"We’re just going to try and get it done," said Meadows, who directed Alcoa to an unbeaten state championship in 2000. "We feel we are a heckuva football team."

Interest from top colleges is all well and good, Madden said, but it’s the least of his concerns at present. The scary-quick
offensive lineman said his top priority is "just finish out this year. I’m not too worried about getting to college. I’m just worried about getting to state."

Even the trainers are fired up about William Blount’s chances this fall.

"You just have to have your goals set high," freshman Cheyenne Lane said.

2007 William Blount Governors

  • Key starters lost offense: Darran Walker, RB, Mohamed Baskin, RB, Ryan McHale, RB.
  • Key starters lost defense: Darran Walker, Pete Evans, Zeb Kasemeyer, Thomas Waggoner, DL, Dominique Brown, LB.
  • Key returnees offense: Tyler Burstrom, QB, Darrin Garner, RB, Grey Clevenger, WR, Josh Madden, OL.
  • Key returnees defense: T.J. Walker, DL, Will Irwin, Cole Lail, LB, Don Cope, Chase Helton, Tyler Burstrom, DB, Kase Whitehead, P.

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