The state record for passing touchdowns in a season is 48.
Austin Tallant opened Tuesday’s inaugural maroon and white scrimmage with a quick, sideline strike to senior Steven Isom. One play later, the Alcoa quarterback went deep down the right side to junior Lajaun Warfield.
Isom again, and the ball’s at the 13.
Two plays later, Tallant connects with the 6-foot-4 Isom in the back of the end zone on a jump ball, and the Tornadoes’ first-ever fan day workout to introduce the team to the community is off to a flying start. In four stints with the first-team offense in the 45-minute session, Tallant, a senior, would hand the ball off to a running back only twice.
“It was fun,” Tallant said. “I’ve got to start getting these boys the ball in a place where they can make a play.”
Styled along the lines of the University of Tennessee’s orange and white game to conclude spring practice, Alcoa’s fan day came complete with the team in game uniforms, a big crowd, cheerleaders, the school band and a stoked group of elementary school students leading the Tornadoes onto Goddard Field.
The Alcoa Middle team began the afternoon’s festivities with a maroon and white game of its own.
Alcoa High athletics director Josh Stephens, who came up with idea, said his only regret is not being able to get the event scheduled for later in the evening. For those able to make Tuesday’s 6 p.m. start, Tallant, Isom, Warfield & Co. made sure they got their money’s worth.
Airing it out was by design, Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. The six-time defending state champion Tornadoes drilled extensively on the running game on Monday. A year after former Tornado JaRon Toney smashed the state record for rushing touchdown in a season with 50 last fall, Alcoa isn’t abandoning the ground game.
Toney may be gone, but the Tornadoes return a stable of talented backs. The offensive line, with three returning starters, looks as big — or bigger — than last year.
“We feel like we can throw the football if we need,” Rankin said, “(but) we feel the strength of our team is our running backs.”
A highlight-reel receiver at times, Isom said if that’s the best way to a win in a given contest this season that’s fine with him.
“If we’re having a running game, I’m going to block as best I can because coaches watch that too,” he said.
Tallant throwing on every play Tuesday was a way to give the offense a break, keep it light and give the fans a good show, Rankin said. Whatever the reasons for putting it up so much, Isom loved it.
A budding major college prospect, Alcoa’s top playmaker on the outside ran under a trio of Tallant’s passes for touchdowns Tuesday, two of them covering better than 60 yards. Warfield got behind the second team defense for a fourth score of the same distance. Senior John Roy had a nice, lunging grab along the sideline.
“You’ve got to give the quarterback another option,” Warfield said. “If I’m open, I’ve got to make a play.”
Warfield’s development this summer, both in the weight room and on the practice field, could mean a lot for the Tornadoes come the season opener with Adamsville in Middlesboro, Ky., Aug. 20. When Alcoa needed to throw a year ago, Isom was it. Warfield and Roy could change a lot.
“That was a concern,” Rankin said. “We knew Isom was a proven receiver. John’s been around a long time, and he’s a smart kid. We’re still trying to play a lot of people and trying to find some depth.”
Balance will be key as Alcoa seeks an unprecedented seventh consecutive state title, Tallant said. Fifty-touchdown running backs don’t come along everyday. Fifty-touchdown quarterbacks?
“The ultimate goal is No. 7,” Tallant said.
By the by, the state record for yards receiving in a season: 2,286.