They began their Alcoa careers four years ago with a family legacy as big as a house hanging over their heads.
On national signing day Wednesday afternoon, Darrell Warren and Taharin were joined by Tornado teammates Derek Evans, Austin Tallant and Steven Isom in the Alcoa gymnasium as all five signed National Letters of Intent to continue their careers at the next level.
Warren, a Class AA Mr. Football winner, is on his way to the University of Kentucky, where he’ll join former Tornado and current Wildcat tight end Tyler Robinson. Tyson, who’s been the lead blocker for Warren since both were middle schoolers, is headed to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Evans, a finalists for Mr. Football lineman, inked a letter of intent with powerhouse Appalachian State, with Tallant, 30-0 as the starter at quarterback for the Tornadoes, on his way to Tennessee Tech.
Isom, who could prove the prize catch of the lot, will join his uncle, Mark Isom, at Carson-Newman. Mark Isom is an Eagle assistant coach.
“It was a great senior class,” Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. “We started out with 30 of them (as freshmen) and it dwindled down to 13. You’ve got to be pretty tough to play here. There are a couple more that may get some offers before its over.”
For Warren and Tyson, Wednesday was especially bittersweet.
Less than 24 hours after leading the Tornadoes to the school’s record seventh consecutive state championship last December at Tennessee Tech, Alcoa’s starting backfield announced verbal commitments to Chattanooga. The Wildcats were still in conversation with both. Kentucky assistant coach Randy Sanders had been there the night Warren ran wild on Christian Academy of Knoxville in a late November playoff game. It must have made quite an impression.
Monday night, the Wildcats informed Rankin the Wildcats were still interested in Warren.
“They’d looked at him early, but it was a pleasant surprise when they called and said they were going to offer him,” Rankin said.
Tuesday, the Wildcats made it official.
“First of all, I was shocked,” Warren said. “My mind went blank. I couldn’t think straight. Not having heard from them for a while made me think I didn’t have a chance.”
While many project Warren as a rush end or linebacker at the collegiate level, don’t be so sure offense is out of the question, Rankin said. Warren ran for 175 yards and five touchdowns the night of the Christian Academy game.
“Offensively, he caught (the Wildcats) attention, too,” Rankin said. “I’m not sure where they’re going to use him.”
After returning from a game with the Alcoa basketball team Tuesday night, Warren, cousin of former Alcoa Mr. Football winner Brandon Warren, called the Chattanooga coaching staff and told them he was accepting the Kentucky offer.
Tyson, cousin of former Tornado greats Shannon Mitchell and Dustin Lindsey, said he understood his longtime backfield mate’s decision. Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman had phoned him early Tuesday with the news the Wildcats had offered Warren. Throughout the recruiting process, the Mocs had been up front with both of them, Tyson said. If Kentucky extend an offer to either, Tyson said the Chattanooga coaching staff informed them to accept.
“They told us, ‘If you commit to us and Kentucky offers, by all means play in the SEC,’” Tyson said.
When he informed Tyson he was accepting the Kentucky offer, Warren said his friend and backfield mate understood.
“He supports me, and I support him,” Warren said, “and I know he’ll do great things.”
When they began their Tornado careers, Warren and Tyson did anything but run from the shadows cast by their famous relatives. Both, instead, chose the jersey numbers their relatives had worn — Warren No. 1 in tribute to Brandon, Tyson No. 2 in honor of Mitchell and Lindsey.
“Every time they talked about me, Brandon was never far from their minds,” Warren said. “I kind of wanted to write my own story.”
For Tyson, it was much of the same.
“(Mitchell) told me, ‘You’re not me and I’m not you. You go out and play your game,’” he said. “Dustin Lindsey was a great running back here, but I’m not Dustin Lindsey.”
Together, Tyson, Warren and the rest were part of four state titles with the Tornadoes, an active school-record 43-game win streak and back-to-back wins over arch-rival Maryville included.
Tyson was an unselfish leader and “a horse” for the Tornadoes the last four years, Rankin said.
“He’s a great runner and a great blocker,” Rankin said. “He could play some linebacker in college.”
Warren, who doubled at defensive end, was simply “a winner,” he said, who often “willed” the Tornadoes to victory.
The BlueCross Bowl moving to Cookeville the last two years had a lot to do with Tallant becoming a Golden Eagle. The quarterback/defensive back had 10 tackles and an interception during the 56-14 demolition of Goodpasture in the Class 3A championship game at Tech in December.
“I think it had a huge impact,” Rankin said. “He (Tallant) looked phenomenal down there. I think him and Isom (also offered by the Eagles) both benefitted from us being in the state championship game the last two years.”
Tallant’s speed proved a selling point for the Eagles. His 4.6-second 40-yard dash is the fastest among Tornadoes, junior running back Vanderbilt Hambrick the only possible exception. He’ll likely move full-time to defense back in Cookeville, Tallant said, but that’s fine by him.
“Honestly, I like hitting people,” Tallant said. “I’m not the prototype quarterback at the Division I level. Defense is my main priority.”
Evans, a finalist for Mr. Football lineman, is joining arguably the most prestigious small-college program in all of America. Appalachian State shocked the entire sporting world when it knocked off national headliner Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., three years ago.
Few thought the smaller Mountaineers had much of chance entering the contest. It’s one of the reasons Evans said he chose the Boone, N.C., power.
“I’ve always been told I’m too short,” the 6-foot-2 guard said.
For the Mountaineers, Evans said he anticipates a move to center, a change he welcomes.
“They pull their center like they pull their guards,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”
Isom, a gazelle-like 6-4 receiver, perhaps wrestled longest with his college choice. He snared three touchdown passes in the December championship game, prompting an offer from the Golden Eagles. Carson-Newman’s Eagles had extended an offer earlier in the season. Before the end of recruiting process, Tusculum College was courting his services as well.
Carson-Newman got in early and stayed there, and, for him, that made all the difference, Isom said.
“To me, they showed the most interest,” Isom said. “They sent me an offer two games into the season, and they called me often.”
As a consequence, the Eagles may have come away with the steal of the class.
“He’s a good looking kid in uniform,” Rankin said. “He certainly looks the part.”