Kyle Chewning came to Maryville College sure of what he wanted to do with his future.
What the junior linebacker did on the football field this past season, however, is unprecedented.
Chewning was named the USA South Defensive Player of the Year in voting by league coaches announced last week. The 6-foot, 210-pound elementary school teacher to be led all conference tacklers with 71 stops in becoming the first Scot to secure the USA South’s top defensive honor. Maryville only joined the eight-member league three years ago in Tony Ierulli’s third season as coach.
The Scots, who would see record-setting running back Rommel Hightower join Chewning as an All-South first team selection, with five others named to the second team, scored a landmark win over defending conference champion North Carolina Wesleyan College, 37-24, in a season that saw Maryville (5-5, 4-3) finish fourth in the final league standings. The Scots were a preseason pick to finish third in voting by conference coaches.
The .500 finish withstanding, Maryville was a contender for the conference crown much of the season. Eventual champion Christopher Newport University escaped Honaker Field with a 38-31 win over the Scots on homecoming. Conference losses to Ferrum College, 24-10, and Averett University, 20-17, were winnable games.
It was an up and down year, Ierulli said. Chewning’s selection as defensive player of the year is a fantastic way to finish it, he said.
“That’s a great honor for Kyle and the program,” Ierulli said.
The player of the year selection means a lot, Chewning said. It’s just not what the Scots were hoping for most this season.
“I really just wish we could have performed better as a team,” he said. “It’s really not about individual statistics.
“I was incredibly happy with the award. Don’t get me wrong. I felt really honored, but, again, it goes back to it’s all about the team.”
The Scots were a potential playoff team for much of the season. The Wesleyan win marked the first time in his tenure at Maryville the Scots were everything it needed to be in a big game, Ierulli said.
Many wins slipped frustratingly through Maryville’s fingers.
“Either the offense would show up or the defense would show up,” Chewning said.
It simplifies the approach to next season.
“We need to focus on bringing everything together as a team,” Chewning said. “We need to be competing for championships.”
The Scots bid farewell to 26 seniors this season. Many, like all-conference second team selections Chase Roper, Russ Harris and Spencer Clancy, will be tough to replace.
Maryville, however, returns the school's career rushing leader in junior Rommel Hightower next season. The record the Lenoir City native broke had stood for nearly 30 years, since his coach was a Scot.
Maryville also returns All-USA South freshman receiving sensation Wesley Idlette next season, along with honorable mention freshman quarterback Derek Hunt and back Tim Conner.
It’s a lot to build on.
“I’m just ready for next year,” Chewning said. “Teams are going to try to count us out, but they shouldn’t.”
When he makes his last tackle next season, Chewning, a biology major at Maryville, said he’ll pursue elementary education as a career. He’s always wanted to be a teacher.
“I think that’s my calling in life,” he said.
There are none too few ball carriers spread out across the USA South who likely can’t wait for Chewning to get started.