Just in case you’re wondering how serious this thing is, go to borntocompete.com, scroll down and click on the link to the Tennessee All Star Tryouts, then lean back and hit play on the YouTube video that comes up.
You’ll be begging for football season to hurry up and get here.
Former University of Tennessee and NFL player Todd Kelly gives an impassioned speech prior to the tryouts on video. The event was held to select an elite group of seventh- and eighth-graders to represent the state in the inaugural Tennessee/Kentucky middle school all-star game last weekend in Louisville, Ky.
Twelve Blount Countians were named to the two teams, with Maryville Middle’s Cody Carroll, Shawn Prevo, Drew Curtis, Jake Taylor and Caden Ryding among those selected by combine director and former Tennessee strength coach Johnny Long to the eighth-grade squad.
Alcoa Middle’s Braylon Young and Carpenters Middle’s Clark Jones were also named to the team that drew applicants from as far south as Chattanooga, as far north as Clarksville and as far west as Jackson.
Thanks in part to a 24-yard touchdown catch from Carroll and a trio of kicks from Ryding, Tennessee took the eighth-grade game, 17-7.
The Tennessee seventh-graders really laid one on our neighbors to the north, routing their Kentucky counterparts, 33-13. Area seventh-graders making the trip included Maryville’s Dylan Shinsky, Paul Bristol, Brent Sloan and Bryce Miller and Alcoa’s Jacob Evans.
Maryville Middle coach Jay Malone served as coach for the eighth-grade team, with Kelly directing the seventh-graders. Maryville’s Matt Miller served as an assistant coach on the eighth-grade team.
Long and his staff handled selection of the two teams, with more than 300 applicants taking part. The coaching staffs for the two squads had no input as to who would be selected.
Each of Blount County’s 12 participants described the combine and the game itself as an eye-opening experiences. Prevo, a rising Maryville High freshman running back, looked often a man among boys in helping the Bulldogs to a school-record 10-0 season last fall. Despite his size, Prevo said he’d never taken a lick like the one he received from a Kentucky lineman during the game. There was even a little trash talk exchanged.
“He said, ‘How’d you like that?’” Prevo said.
“They were a whole lot bigger,” Curtis said. “They hit a lot harder. They talk a little bit more than we do around here.”
Carroll, who set a bevy of school receiving records during Maryville’s record run, said he took a hit on one of his routes during the game he’ll remember for some time.
“I got leveled,” he said. “I remember I was lying on the ground, and I didn’t get up.”
Carroll would have the last laugh, though, his scoring catch helping to put Tennessee over the top.
It wasn’t just the defense dishing out the hits, Bryce Miller said. Tennessee quarterback Logan Lacey of Powell delivered one of the game’s biggest blasts on an unsuspecting Kentucky defensive back.
“He (Lacey) just lowered his shoulder,” Miller said, “and the DB just fell.”
Lacy didn’t limit the excitement to the offensive side of the ball, either.
“We had him on defense,” Sloan said, “and he just knocked out a receiver.”
The contact in the game was “a little bit more exciting,” Bristol said, “and you could hear the pads popping a whole lot more.”
That’s a lot of what it will be like at the next level, Carroll said. The all-star game was a good time to see some it, he said.
“I figured it would be a really good way to get started with high school,” Carroll said.
Players like Prevo and Carroll did much to display the skill level of players entering area high schools these days. Shinsky, a darting Bulldog running back, and Bristol, a fearless, playmaking receiver, accomplished much the same with the seventh-grade group.
Chattanooga’s George Porter, who had a 6-yard touchdown run during the eighth-grade game, was timed at 4.66 seconds at 40 yards during the tryout combine, with Knoxville Fulton’s Xavier Hawkins blazing in at 4.75.
“When you went from your first string to your second string, there was not a big drop off,” Malone said.
It was in the interior, though, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines, where some of the most head-turning displays took place, Malone said. Sloan, who played center on the seventh-grade squad, said he found the game especially enlightening.
“It was a whole lot different,” he said. “On pass blocking, we were backing up, and I’ve got the whole line coming at me. I was tired the next day.”
Jones, Young, Taylor and Curtis each has the size to have played for any area high school junior varsity last season. At the all-star game, the same could be said for everyone on the other side of the line, too.
“The thing that impressed me the most was their speed and quickness,” Malone said, “at all the positions. Those were the guys that got noticed the most.”
The idea of a Tennessee/Kentucky middle school game, styled much in keeping with its high school counterpart, intrigued him right away Malone said. The curiosity surrounding the event, as it applies to youth football locally, was inescapable.
“I wanted to see how we stack up against some of the other areas of the state,” Malone said.
When asked to lead the eighth-grade squad, Malone said he had only two questions of Tennessee organizer Josh Jones.
“I said all I’ve got is two requests,” Malone said. “I want to take my own offensive line coach, Matt Miller, and I’d like to be my own offensive coordinator.”
After a Tennessee win in the inaugural event, it’s hard to argue with the results.