‘Something to build on’

Rebel ‘Decade of Excellence’ took root in a loss

Maryville players hoist the 2007 state championship trophy during postgame ceremonies at Middle Tennessee State University’s Floyd Stadium.

Maryville players hoist the 2007 state championship trophy during postgame ceremonies at Middle Tennessee State University’s Floyd Stadium.

Carl Stewart, Auburn.

Cade Thompson, South Carolina.

Aaron Douglas, Tyler Maples, University of Tennessee.

Brent Burnett, Middle Tennessee State.

Each was a Mr. Football winner at Maryville. Each had a lot to do with the Rebels’ “Decade of Excellence,” a booster club-sponsored documentary scheduled for premier at the Clayton Center for the Arts on Aug. 14 at 7 p.m.

Burnett, Maples, Douglas, Thompson and Stewart are the names everybody remembers from a program that won seven state titles from 2000-2009, reaching the championship game on two additional occasions. Douglas, Maples and Burnett never lost a game in high school, finishing their careers at Maryville an unbeaten 60-0.

Then there’s Nick Giles.

It’s easy to forget Maryville’s decade of dominance began as anything but. The Rebels dropped their first four games in 2000, the first time in school history a Maryville team had gone 0-4 to open the season. Those four losses included a 14-7 loss to Alcoa in the season opener and a 28-0 blanking at Heritage two weeks later.

Week 4 was Halls, and, while the Rebels would lose, 21-14, something changed that night, Giles said. For the next 10 years, Maryville would become all but untouchable.

“It’s amazing,” former Rebel Ryan Tallent said. “It really is.”

Giles hadn’t been the starter at quarterback when the 2000 season began. Starter and eventual Marshall signee Scott Wilks had struggled the first four games, the Rebels right along with him. Against Halls, the Rebels trailing, 21-0, at the half, Maryville coach George Quarles made a change, inadvertently igniting one of the great runs in state history.

“That second half, it finally clicked,” Giles said. “We said, ‘OK. Now, we’ve got something to build on.’ From then on, the switch was flipped.”

The Rebels broke through for their first win a week later, turning back William Blount, 19-7. Ten straight wins and the first of the seven state crowns followed. By mid decade, Maryville was en route to a state-record 74-game winning streak.

That Giles would prove a catalyst of sorts is in many ways fitting, booster club member Archie Anderson said. Players like the hard-running Stewart or the rifle-armed Thompson are due their share of the credit, he said. You don’t win all those titles without a lot of players who simply grew up loving the program, though. Players like Ryan Singleton, Cody McCoy, Broughton Greene, Brandon Waters and Jeffery Smith and others are not to be overlooked, either.

From the Pee Wee level up, many of them dream of the day when they’ll take their place inside Shields Stadium in a Rebel uniform.

“It kind of all culminates on Friday nights,” Giles said. “You get to be with your friends. You got to touch (the players) with your hand when they were sitting on the bench. You get that at such an early age, you start to feel a part of the Maryville football community.”

The Rebel coaching staff is due the lion’s share of the credit, said Tallent, Class of ‘06, who went on to an All-American career at Tusculum College after Maryville.

“It doesn’t surprise me with the coaches they have up there,” said Tallent, now coaching running backs at Maryville College. “Everybody reaches their potential up there because everybody’s on the same page.”

The state-record winning streak ranks fourth all-time nationally. Word of such success travels. Stewart, an accountant who now lives in Houston, said when co-workers hear he’s from Maryville, they want to know how the Rebels did it. Sometimes, he isn’t quite sure himself, Stewart said.

“There’s a core group of guys I still communicate with,” he said. “I don’t think we realize the magnitude of what we did yet.”

Like Tallent, Stewart credits the coaching staff at Maryville for the decade-long celebration.

“I’ve always been an advocate of coach Quarles and that group of coaches he put together,” Stewart said. “We were a rag-tag bunch. We were a nuisance, but they held us together. They reminded us you’re always being watched.”

High school football in Texas takes some getting used to, Stewart said.

“They die for football down here,” he said. “Everything is based on football.”

A drive into the Houston suburbs recently displayed just how much. Along the way, Stewart and a friend came upon a 20,000-seat football stadium sitting next to the road.

“I’m looking at it, and I said, ‘I didn’t know there was a college out this way,’” he said.

The stadium in question belonged to a local high school. It helps to make what happened at Maryville the last 10 years all the more special, Giles said.

“In a little old pocket in East Tennessee,” he said, “we created a dynasty.”

Tickets for the gala at the Clayton Center are $10 and are available at the Center box office or at the door. Those attending the event will have the opportunity to pre-order the Decade of Excellence DVDs.

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