Three years ago, Brian Wendel had no idea how useful a Maryville College education might one day prove, even after he decided on a major.
“My sophomore year, when I declared, there wasn’t much going on with economics,” the Maryville senior said.
The job market is likely to be hot one, hopefully, when the William Blount High School product finishes. For now, there’s one final season with the Scots, a team where Wendel’s talents on the offensive line could be just as much in demand.
Maryville opens the 2009 season when the high-flying Huntingdon Hawks come to town on Saturday.
Kickoff at Honaker Field is 1:30 p.m.
WBCR radio, AM 1470, will have the broadcast.
The Hawks edged the Scots in a shootout, 41-35, in the opener for both teams a year ago. Maryville quarterback Derek Hunt, a Maryville High School product, lit up Huntingdon for 326 yards passing and three touchdowns in the loss. Then-freshman sensation Wesley Idlette had eight grabs for 153 yards and two scores in his debut.
Paced by All-USA South selection and school record holder Rommel Hightower at running back, the Scots added 154 yard rushing - 189 discounting sacks - for a robust 542 yards of offense.
It should have been enough, and with each of the Maryville principles listed above back for another go at the Hawks, the Scots have more than enough firepower at the skill positions to avenge the loss. How Wendel and a rebuilt offensive do at protecting Hunt and clearing the way for Hightower and Maryville’s backfield will decide if the Scots get the chance.
“I really believe it’s going to go down to the wire, if you look at past history,” Maryville coach Tony Ierulli said. “This is about as even as any team we’ll play this season. Whichever team can control the other team’s running attack best will have the advantage.”
This year, Hunt believes that team to be Maryville.
“If we can block, we’ve got some weapons,” he said.
Wendel, part of sizeable local contingent on the Maryville roster this season, will be joined up front by seniors Adam Bean and Jake Burns and junior and Alcoa High product Corey Brewer. After them, depth and experience is a concern, Ierulli said.
“I believe we’ve got a great future on our offensive line,” he said, “but they’re all young now. I don’t care if you’re at Maryville or Florida State, you’re going to make freshman mistakes.
“Our playmakers are all back. If we can find an offensive line that doesn’t make mistakes, we’ve got a shot.”
Wendel believes Maryville’s retooled line is up for the challenge, and, when it comes to being tested, the Scots center has more than enough experience to go around.
The former Governor was a highly-rated prospect, with several offers from Division IAA programs, before he broke his ankle his senior at William Blount. Many of the schools once interested backed off, he said. Their loss would prove Maryville’s gain.
“A lot of the schools stopped calling,” Wendel, a champion powerlifter in high school, said, “and coach Ierulli gave me an opportunity.”
Playing sparingly as a freshman, Wendel became a fixture on Maryville’s offensive line from the first game of his sophomore season. He’s been a starter there ever since. While the Scots were hit hard on the line by graduation a year ago, Wendel said enough returned to rebuild.
“We’ve come a long way from the spring,” he said. “We all played a little from freshman year on. This year, we’ve finally come together.”
Their efforts up front often go unnoticed in the grandstand, Wendel said. Sometimes, during film sessions, he even catches himself getting caught up in the bursts of Hightower and Maryville’s plentiful stable of backs, including fellow senior Nick Moore and junior Darrell Tate.
“They don’t see Bean or Burns making a huge block for them,” Wendel said. “Sometimes, when we watch film, I catch myself watching the running backs.”
The Hawks the Scots saw a year ago should look much the same, Ierulli said.
Senior Justin Ridgeway victimized the Maryville secondary for 232 yards passing and five touchdowns last year. Four of the five receivers who caught touchdowns that day return.
Maryville’s also yielded 136 yards on the ground to the Hawks, whose option offense out of the shotgun can keep a defense on edge.
“Their running game is tough because you’ve got a quarterback in the shotgun that who can really throw the ball,” Ierulli said.
Of many things Wendel has overcome in leading Maryville’s charge this season and last is snapping the ball to a player who once quarterbacked his high school’s fiercest rival.
“I didn’t know Derek very well in high school,” he said, “so I wasn’t sure about it. It’s more about Scots football now.
“I would really like to see this team come together and win the conference. That’s been our goal from Day 1.”
Win or lose this season, he said, it’s been some ride.
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Wendel said.