It was really something watching them stand there shoulder to shoulder for a photograph one last time.
Maryville’s Aaron Douglas, the state’s top-rated prospect, was following his mother and father to the University of Tennessee. Brent Burnette, as decorated a quarterback as the Rebels have ever known, was signing with Middle Tennessee State University. Maryville’s Stephen Shiver, tall, fast, the very image of a high school football player, had chosen the University of Tennessee at Martin.
National Signing Day last Wednesday was big at Alcoa and William Blount as well. Mr. Football and Tornado quarterback Randall Cobb signed with the University of Kentucky after leading Alcoa to its fourth consecutive state championship. William Blount enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history last fall. The colleges came calling, with punter Kase Whitehead leading the Governor charge when he inked a National Letter of Intent with Marshall University. Super-fast defensive end T.J. Walker signed with Tusculum. Linemen Josh Madden and Sam Greene signed with Cumberland University.
It was watching Tyler Clendenen join his Maryville teammates at the signing table and ink a National Letter of Intent with Tusculum that brought the moment home.
Clendenen didn’t enter the season with the numbers his more celebrated teammates did. Shiver, Burnette and Douglas, a sheer colossus at tight end, had played prominent roles in Maryville’s previous three state championships. Clendenen had played sparingly, a clutch fourth-quarter catch in the 2006 title game his biggest claim to fame.
You remembered that catch, though. You remembered the way he lowered his pads as he turned up field to make sure he got the first down. You remembered, and you thought: “Watch this kid. When he gets his chance, he’s really going to make them remember his name.”
Near the close of fall practice 2007, the Rebels held a media day. At the conclusion, as the team was finishing the group photo, Maryville coach George Quarles asked if Blount Today would like to break anyone out for a possible feature photo.
It didn’t take a mastery of rocket science to know Maryville was going to have to throw the ball a lot this season. Burnette, Douglas and Shiver, a big, fast-moving wide out, were natural choices for any feature. And then there was that catch Clendenen had made.
“And Tyler,” I said.
Clendenen had some big shoes to fill. The home-run threat he was replacing from the year, former Mr. Football Tyler Maples, had finished his high school career an All-American and signed with Tennessee. Still, somehow you just knew the kid was ready.
It took all of two plays, before the Rebels even played a game, to show just how much.
Sevier County struck for the opening score in the 2007 jamboree, Shawn Hodge tearing down the right sideline for a 60-yard touchdown. Clendenen, streaking across Alcoa’s Goddard Field turf from the other side of the field, almost ran Hodge down. The Rebel safety lunged and slid grudgingly off Hodge’s shoulder pads at the goal line.
On the first play of the next series, Maryville hit right back. In the huddle, Burnette told Clendenen to go deep.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Clendenen said.
The sprint to catch Hodge had been made at full tilt. When Clendenen lined up at receiver on the next play, his shoulder pads were still heaving. When he raced into the end zone with a Burnette bomb 70 yards later, Maryville was even and leavin’, going on to take the quarter, 20-7.
Maryville would go on to win its fourth consecutive Class 4A championship and its 60th straight game later in the season. Burnette and Douglas would be named Mr. Football back and lineman of the year, respectively. Shiver, battling injury much of the season, put some real pop in a defense that seldom got its fair share of the credit.
It was watching Clendenen hang in there, wait his turn, then really light the place up that made the 2007 season most memorable. Watching him stand there with Douglas, Shiver and Burnette last week reminded you sometimes things work out exactly as they should.