Each of Blount County’s four high schools will debut new quarterbacks this fall.
Alcoa is looking for a replacement for Class 2A Mr. Football Randall Cobb, now a freshman at the University of Kentucky. Maryville is looking for someone to fill the shoes of Class 4A Mr. Football and Middle Tennessee State University freshman Brent Burnette.
William Blount record-setting passer Tyler Burstrom is now at Chattanooga State on a baseball scholarship. Heritage four-year starter Dylan Morgan will be a Maryville College Scot this fall.
The Tornadoes and Mountaineers took advantage of the East Tennessee 7-on-7 Perimeter Practice Day last weekend at Maryville College to continue the search. The brainchild of former Scots Brian Gossett and Nick White, the inaugural event was staged, in part, to honor a former teammate, former Maryville College assistant Cody Bowers, who died in an automobile accident on the campus last November.
As is the case with the four-time defending 4A champion Rebels and 5A Governors, the Mountaineers and four-time defending 2A Tornadoes have as many as four players competing for the start under center. Both have a senior — Alcoa’s Chase James and Heritage’s Chase Boruff — setting the pace, but the race is far from over at either school.
James, competing with junior Logan Sharp and sophomore Austin Talent for the starting nod, showed best among Blount County passers at Saturday’s 26-team event. The 6-foot senior threw the deep ball and the quick out with equal zip. Receiver Sam Thompson and highly-touted tight end prospect Tyler Robinson converted several of James’ throws into scores.
Alcoa coach Gary Rankin would like nothing better than for James to take the job and make it his, but nothing is settled yet.
“We feel like our quarterback position is going to be key for us,” he said. “The emphasis this fall is to find a guy that can step in there and, not replace Randall, not lose games for us.”
That said, James has looked the part so far.
“He’s made great strides this summer,” Rankin said. “He’s also got the ability to be a runner with the football a little.”
Talent, however, may have the best throwing arm of the three.
“They’ll decide who’s going to start,” Rankin said.
Whoever gets the start, he’ll have plenty of targets. Along with Robinson and Thompson, the Tornadoes have a bevy of eager young talent hungry to be Alcoa’s third option through the air. Backs took part in the passing day as well. Rankin worked as many as six into Saturday’s rotation.
“We try to make a conscious effort to work a lot of kids in at practice,” Rankin said. “We don’t go out there with 70 on a team and work 20 of them.”
Heritage coach Tommy Rewis was taking much the same approach with the Mountaineers on Saturday. Boruff, Morgan’s understudy the last three years, knows the system best and is the coolest operator under center of four contenders. He’s led the Mountaineer junior varsity to back-to-back winning seasons the last two years.
Matt Plummer is tall, rangy passer with perhaps the best technique, rivaled perhaps by Eagleton product Tyler Copeland. Michael Clore best combines the run and the pass.
“We’re just trying to roll as many people through as we cane,” Rewis said.
With Morgan’s experience a year ago, Rewis wasn’t afraid to put the ball in the air. This fall, the run game is likely to dominate early to give the new quarterback time to find his footing in the Mountaineer offense.
“We’re working the running game a lot,” Rewis said. “We’re really deep at running back. We’re looking to dominant on defense and run the clock on offense.”
High school teams slip into the pads on Monday. Heritage will begin testing its depth at running back and taking another look at quarterback in a scrimmage with Lenoir City on Friday at Heritage at 5 p.m.
Gone too soon
Bowers, 25, was both beloved by his teammates as a player and respected by those he coached. When his Toyota Tundra struck a tree on the Maryville campus last November, taking the life of Bowers and, eventually, passenger Jack Lefler III, Bowers’ best friend from high school, the Maryville College football community grieved deeply.
To honor Bowers’ memory, White and Gossett organized the passing day as a way to help raise funds for a statue of a cast, bronze helmet bearing the Maryville “M,” resting atop a marble base. The statute, which all Maryville players will now touch upon entering Honaker Field on game day, is to honor all Scots past and present. There’s little question, though, Maryville coach Tony Ierulli said, Bowers will be its enduring inspiration.
“After the accident, we wanted to do something special in honor of him and how much he meant to the program,” Ierulli said.
Tammy and Robby Bowers, Cody’s parents, and Casey Bowers Chaney, Cody’s sister, were touched by the sentiment. All three attended the passing day, coming eight months to the day from the date of the accident. They took in much of Saturday on a picnic bench near the spot where the statue will rest, less than 200 yards from where Cody lost his life.
It was the family’s first trip to the Maryville campus since the accident.
“I still think he’s out recruiting or out with his friends,” Tammy Bowers said. “It’s like he’s going to show up at any time. He really loved this school.”
“I don’t think he’d have been any more proud of (coaching) if it was UT or a professional job,” Robby Bowers said.