Ellis island

Commemorative wall testament to often unsung heroes

They stand guard like sentinels on the wall behind his desk.

There’s the 2002 grouping of Isaac Cline, Drew Eubanks, Brandon Waters, Chris Large and John Raulston, the only offensive line ever to be named The Associated Press state player of the week as a group.

Close by is a photograph of Nick Black, Chuck Prugh, Isaac Simerly, Matt Sharp and James Richards. Maryville had an All-State quarterback and a halfback with super speed during that 1998 season. Black and the rest were so good, though, so outsized from what anyone had ever seen, Smiley Miley Cyrus, in all likelihood, could have quarterbacked Maryville to a state title that year.

“The ones in ’98, you could look at them and say, ‘Oh, yeah. That’s why you win a lot of ball games,’” Rebel offensive line coach David Ellis said.

Ten years ago, Ellis began the practice of having the line’s five starters, once the collective was set, photographed and hung on the wall of his Maryville High School office as a testament to the players who often go unsung. The photograph is never taken until a collection of five distinguishes itself as a group.

Following last week’s convincing, 52-20 quarterfinal trouncing of second-ranked Red Bank, Ellis felt the time was right. Seniors Caleb West and Broughton Greene, juniors Marcus Engelhardt and Brad Coulter and sophomore Dylan Beets had their picture taken to join the wall.

It’s been a long time coming.

Junior Thomas Shuler became the second Maryville back to rush for 100 yards in a game this season as the top-ranked Rebels (13-0) blew out the Lions to reach Friday’s Class 4A semifinal with Sullivan South (12-1) at Shields Stadium. Shuler would finish with 127 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, averaging 7.9 yards per rush. Backfield mate Tim Rodrigues, who gashed Rhea County for 159 yards and two scores in the postseason opener two weeks ago, added 54 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.

With quarterback and Mr. Football finalist Brent Burnette throwing for 286 yards and five touchdowns, Maryville’s balance offensively was decisive.

“It was the best performance of the season, by far,” Ellis said, “top to bottom.

“Thomas and Tim are both running downhill when they get the ball now. They’re behind their pads and there’s no hesitation at all.”

That wasn’t case during the season opener at Alcoa. The Rebels won big, 42-14, but the final margin was deceptive. Shuler managed only 35 yards on 10 carries that night, Rodrigues 17 on three rushes, junior Cody McCoy five for 14.

Maryville would lead 21-14 at the half, the go-ahead score coming only seconds before intermission.

Burnette threw for 313 yards that night, with senior Tyler Clendenen emerging as a big-play maker at one of the receivers. With tight end and Mr. Football finalist Aaron Douglas, senior Stephen Shiver and sophomore Chris Jordan also posing deep threats, it was plenty. It just wasn’t what the three-time defending state champion Rebels knew they would need if they were serious about a four-peat.

After grading the film from the contest, Ellis discarded the results.

“The first week, they didn’t even grade us,” Greene said.

“Coach Ellis didn’t even put it up,” Coulter said. “He said it made him sick.”

In fairness, injury during preseason had wreaked havoc on an already thin list of returnees. The Rebels would try five combinations along the offensive line — including five players at guard spots — in an attempt to dislodge the Tornadoes. Maryville would fare little better with the ground game through the season’s first five games.

Burnette has thrown for better than 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns this season. There are few better, Ellis said. That, along with the head coach George Quarles’ often fiendishly clever playbook, he said, has been enough to keep Maryville’s four-year winning streak humming right along.

The Rebels enter Friday’s game with the streak at 58 games, a feat encompassing three undefeated seasons and three state titles.

As the competition grew steadily stiffer, the Rebels grew all the more urgent to get the running game going. In looking for a player who best typifies how it got done, look no further than Coulter.

Engelhardt is Maryville’s most accomplished player up front, Greene, the center, its most important. It’s the 180-pound Coulter you notice, though. There may not be a smaller right tackle on any team still alive in the playoffs.

“Yeah, I’m a wide receiver,” Coulter said. “We just started off slow this year because we had a lot of new guys.”

One of the new guys was Coulter.

“A year ago, he was wearing (No.) 89 and getting some snaps at defensive end,” Ellis said. “He has a motor that’s always running, a lot of energy. He just wanted to get on the field, wherever it was.”

Taylor Stinnett, a 6-1, 180-pound junior, would also come over from receiver. Like Coulter, he would try his hand at one of the tackles and acquit himself well. They weren’t Prugh, Simerly and Black, who each played for Division I colleges, but, slowly but surely, they got the job done.

“Given my choice, I’d like to have those big ones,” Ellis said, “but these guys have accomplished so much together. It just says a lot about what’s in their hearts and what they can do if they work hard. It’s not your typical offensive line, size-wise, at all.”

With senior Jeremy Sands filling in at one of the guards, the Rebels held on until the injuries abated. When West, one of the preseason injured, returned for Week 5, Maryville got going.

Last week, they wanted to let Red Bank know right away this was not the Maryville team they’d likely seen on film, Greene said. By halftime, it was 35-7 Rebels, with much of the damage inflicted by way of the new-found ground game.

“We knew we had to establish something, but we didn’t know we’d establish it that fast,” Greene said. “We decided as a group we were tired of it.”

Maryville’s rushing numbers the past four weeks bear testament to that.

“It’s definitely improving,” Ellis said. “The backs playing better makes the line look better. The line playing better makes the backs look better.

“It’s one of those synergy things.”

Ellis balked at naming an all-time favorite five.

I can’t do that,” he said. “My favorite five are the ones that will play Friday night.”

Who knows?

If Coulter, Beets, Greene, Engelhardt and West perform the way they did in polishing off the Lions, maybe next week, too.

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