Blount bonanza

Four from county could feature for Vols come fall

We have a new word, Vol fans: “crunked.”

Of several definitions, the online Urban Dictionary cites one meaning as “to have fun and get wild, usually in a club or place where there is dancing and alcohol is served.”

While the very last part is strictly prohibited during the Vol Walk, there was certainly plenty of the rest last Saturday as Tennessee’s football team made its way to Neyland Stadium.

“It was crazy,” Vol junior Brandon Warren said. “(First-year) coach (Lane) Kiffin had those fans crunked!”

Things would only get better for Dr. Crunkenstein and his new-won faithful once the Orange and White Game got underway later in the afternoon. For Warren and fellow Blount Countians Aaron Douglas, Tyler Maples and Rae Sykes, it could hardly have gone better.

In front of 51,488 fans, the second-most in school history to see a Tennessee spring game, Warren would catch a pair of touchdown passes as the offense bested the defense, 41-23, on a fast, loose and upbeat day. Maples, a redshirt sophomore seeing his first extended playing time with the varsity, would finish with two catches for 28 yards, including a key, third-down grab on the offense’s fourth possession.

Place-kicker Ethan Ingham would add a 10-yard field goal soon after for a 17-5 lead late in the opening quarter.

Sykes, a junior in his first season with the Vols after transferring from Coffeyville Community College, would see extended time at defensive end and come away with a sack and an early fourth-quarter deflection of a B.J. Coleman pass. Douglas, a redshirt freshman who moved from tight end to right tackle this spring, would be the only member of the Blount County quartet to get the start, his day highlighted by a crumpling block at the line of scrimmage to open a throwing lane for Coleman on the same drive.

Quintin Hancock would make the catch, the offense finding the end zone six plays and 43 yards later for 34-23 edge with 10 minutes remaining.

Sykes and Warren, at Alcoa, and Maples and Douglas, at Maryville, have helped Blount County secure multiple state football crowns since the turn of the millennium.

“That would be neat if they could all get on the field together (at Tennessee),” Maryville coach George Quarles said.

After a successful spring by all four, it isn’t much of a stretch anymore.

The move to tackle has been a welcome one, Douglas said.

“I’m liking it a lot,” he said. “It was kind of tough at first, moving from a position you’ve played your whole life, but I trust these coaches, and I’ve always loved blocking.”

Quarles said he sees nothing but an upside concerning the move.

“He’s so athletic for a big guy,’ he said. “I think if he stays healthy and continues to get stronger, he could have a bright future ahead of him.”

Redshirting last year while rehabilitating from shoulder surgery, the former Mr. Football said he was informed of the change during winter workouts. Immediately, Douglas said he phoned his father, David, himself a tackle on Tennessee’s 1985 Sugar Bowl team.

Since father and son were now going to play the same position, at the same school, the next move was a slam dunk.

“He’s got David’s number,” Karla Horton Douglas, Aaron’s mom, said.

Wearing his father’s No. 78 made the move seem even more of a good fit, Douglas said. The abundance of NFL experience Kiffin and his staff possess, he said, removed all doubt.

“The schemes we’re running, 10 teams in the NFL are running the same offense,” Douglas said. “That’s a huge positive.”

Tennessee’s new offensive schemes are proving a big hit with Warren as well.

The former Mr. Football caught four passes for 50 yards to go along with his two scores Saturday. The number of catches was nearly half last season’s total of 10 in 12 games. Last season’s 85 yards receiving was a disappointment also, Warren said. It’s why Saturday was such a lift.

“It just felt good to have fun again,” he said.

Warren earned freshman All-American honors as a tight end with the Seminoles. At 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, the former Tornado was never the best fit as a collegiate tight end. As a slot receiver, however, Warren’s size, speed and athleticism might pose a matchup nightmare for linebackers and the unsuspecting defensive back. After a couple of weeks of spring practice, Warren said Kiffin was in agreement about a change.

There’s been a lot to learn, Warren said, much of it about himself.

Having someone like Maples around helps at times, Warren said. The former Rebel, himself a Mr. Football winner, was a record-breaking receiver at Maryville.

“Tyler’s really good at the top end of his routes, coming out of his breaks, because he’s so quick,” Warren said.

It wouldn’t be football, however, that would pose the biggest challenge for Warren this spring. He wasn’t doing what he should in class, he said. He wasn’t doing much of what he should anywhere, either.

Prior to practice one afternoon, everything changed.

“I went to my locker, and my jersey was gone,” Warren said.

Kiffin had ordered Warren’s jersey stripped of its No. 1, the number Warren had worn since high school. The move hit home for his friend, former Alcoa teammate Logan Love said.

“Taking his number away, and everybody knowing about it, it was do or die,” he said.

The other Vol to be so demoted this spring, running back Lennon Creer, would eventually quit the team.

“It hurt,” Warren said, “but I knew they (the coaching staff) wanted the best out of me, not just as a football player but as a young man overall.

“Sometimes, when you’re young, you need to have your butt kicked once in a while, and I needed it. Mom can’t do it all.”

Just days before the Orange and White game, Warren got his number back.

Warren’s ordeal after transferring from Florida State, which included a year away from football at a local junior college, has been well documented. What hasn’t been much discussed is how it taught him to hang in there, he said. While the circumstances are different, Warren said he sees parallels with the emergence of Maples this season.

“I just tried to stay as focused as I could and try to see the positive in things,” he said. “My time was going to come, just like it has for Tyler.”

The objectives are simple from Kiffin and his high-energy staff, Douglas said.

“Win championships,” he said. “That’s what these coaches are all about. That’s what this team is all about.”

Continuing to mine for talent from a town that’s produced 13 state titles since 2000 is a good place to start.

“It definitely says a lot about the football played in Blount County,” Douglas said.

Wonder if that means the football here is crunked?

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