Cats and dogs, living together.
“I’m the dog,” Maryville College junior Ryan Radcliffe said.
Few high schools are fiercer rivals in soccer than Farragut and Knoxville Bearden. The games are physical. They play for keeps. There’s an honest to goodness chance you or one of your teammates could get hurt.
“Ben sent me to the hospital my sophomore year,” said Radcliffe of current Maryville teammate Ben Lawson, then an All-State midfielder at Farragut.
Radcliffe, then an All-State midfielder at Bearden, won his share. Each helped their respective schools to state championships during their stay.
Rivalry is a healthy thing, though, so much so Maryville coach Pepe Fernandez has continued the trend with Blount County rivals Maryville and William Blount. Fernandez brought former Rebels Ridge Carter and David Large into the program this season, where they’re now teamed with former Governor Daniel Gomez.
Former Knoxville Catholic standout Brian Beckham is also now a Scot, further seasoning the mix.
The Irish heat up for a match with Farragut and Bearden every bit as much as the latter do for each other.
Together, Carter, Large, Gomez, Beckham, Lawson and Radcliffe comprise a midfield that has Maryville 8-2 heading into a key South Region match at Greensboro College on Saturday. Like Radcliffe and Lawson, Gomez, Carter and Beckham were each All-State players in high school.
“It’s a big weekend for us,” Fernandez said. “The times we’ve made the NCAA tournament, we’ve beaten Greensboro. It’s one of those games that defines us as a team.”
Maryville has proven a tough team to prepare for this season. Fernandez’s women’s team at school is powered, primarily, by a pair of prolific scorers in senior Sarah Harmon and sophomore Jessica Peterson. Harmon is on pace to break Maryville’s all-time record for goals. Peterson is currently second nationally in Division III in goals scored and points.
The Scots have no such a player.
“It’s spread out,” Fernandez said. “The one thing we don’t have is that one person who’s going to take the ball and dribble through the whole defense and score consistently.”
Sophomore Lee Ross sits atop the Maryville scoring table with five goals on the season, with four others tied at three, including Beckham and Lawson. No one dominant goal scorer means no one player for opponents to defend. It works for Maryville because of a midfield that can push an opposing team in on itself from all sides. It starts on the outside, Fernandez said, with players like Carter and Gomez down the flanks.
“They’ve become like our playmakers,” he said. “It’s like your outside backs are handling the ball more than anybody else.”
Carter is a tough, quick defensive midfielder whose anticipation may be unrivaled among Scots. There’s speed there. Uncharacteristic for a player who operates primarily from a defensive position, there’s also opportunity.
“Anybody that watched Ridge play in high school knows if he can find a seam and get though that seam, he’s explosive,” Fernandez said. “We told him when he sees a seam just go! When he gets up a head of steam, he’s so dangerous.”
While rivals on the high school level, Carter and Gomez were once club teammates. It’s led to an almost instinctive knowledge of where the other is on field, both said. Add Large off the bench, and you’ve got a quick-thinking midfield that often doesn’t need words to communicate intentions. The local part only sweetens the deal.
“It’s great having locals do that,” Fernandez said. “Think back to the day when we had to go to Florida and Ohio to find players. It great to be able find players around here. I like winning too much just to play someone because he’s local.”
Large is fast developing into specialist who can deliver the long ball.
“His left foot is just a cannon,” Fernandez said. “He can really put the ball on goal.”
Then there’s the Knoxville trio of Beckham, Lawson and Radcliffe.
Winning is contagious.
“You’ve got a few state championship teams they’ve played on,” Fernandez said.
Helping the Scots to a championship on a national level is why they’re all at Maryville, Lawson said.
“My goal is to go to the NCAA tournament and win it all,” he said. “This is by far the best team we’ve had here.”
They talk occasionally about their high school days, Lawson said.
“We always joke about it,” he said. “‘Which team won this game? Which team won that game?’”
There are things about the Farragut/Bearden rivalry that will always be fresh, Radcliffe said, a kick to a lower extremity from Lawson during a particularly heated match perhaps foremost among them. Asked if he and Lawson have completely buried the hatchet since becoming Scots, Radcliffe offered a terse, “No.”
“I thought it went away,” Lawson shot back.
Some things you never forget, what winning feels like foremost among them.