Breakfast must be awesome.
At 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, Jeremiah Scott isn’t just big. The Alcoa Middle School eighth-grader is bigger than any defensive tackle at Maryville College. He’s bigger than any defensive lineman on the whole Maryville team.
“He’s a monster,” Alcoa Middle coach Mike McClurg said. “He’s a big kid.”
He’s not the only one, either.
The Tornadoes will dress five players 6-2 or bigger when they host rival Maryville in a pivotal Smoky Mountain Athletic Conference game on Oct. 13 at Alcoa High School’s Goddard Field.
A win puts unbeaten Alcoa (7-0) in the conference championship game against Sevier County on Oct. 22 at Lenoir City High School. If the once-beaten and defending champion Bulldogs (5-1) come away victors, it would force a three-way tie atop the conference with the Tornadoes and Bears. A tie-breaker would then select the championship game participants.
Sevier County suffered its only loss to Alcoa earlier this season. The Bears edged the Bulldogs a week ago in Sevierville.
The Tornado quintet of quarterback Mitchell McClurg (6-foot-2), twin brother and fullback Matthew McClurg (6-3), tight end Ryan Clark (6-4), defensive end Jonathan Decker (6-2) and Scott isn’t just tall. Four of the five play for the school’s basketball team. Clark and the McClurg twins were teammates on the championship Tennessee Elite AAU club this summer.
It’s an athletic group, but that’s not why they’ve got a shot at a school-record nine wins this season, Mike McClurg said.
“They’ve paid the price,” he said. “We’ve worked out as a team since January. We’ve been together all summer. They’ve not just won. They’ve worked.”
The compensation has been forthcoming in impressive fashion this season. Caleb Woody caught a pair of touchdown passes, with Matthew McClurg and Chris Badgett rushing for two each, Mitchell McClurg adding seventh, as Alcoa blew out Sevier County in the opener, 56-20. The score withstanding, the Bears are no creampuff.
Eighth-grader Devonte Matthews, who plays quarterback, running back, receiver and free safety for Sevier County, just may be the most talented athlete in the conference.
“We had (running back Dylan) Shinsky and some talented playmakers at receiver,” Maryville coach Jay Malone said. “The year before, we had (Shawn) Prevo and some talented receivers. A Shinsky or a Prevo can change the game for anybody. He (Matthews) is that good. He’s what we’ve been fortunate to have. Devonte will play next year as a freshman for the high school. He’s that good.”
Convincing wins over Carpenters, Webb and North Middle of Loudon County followed the opener with the Bears for the Tornadoes. Woody returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game against Union Grove, sparking another romp. Heritage and Northview Middle of Sevierville have both fallen convincingly in the last two weeks.
McClurg directs a roster 56-strong, and, while his sons and the other tall five get a lot of the attention, there’s a lot there.
Newcomer Chris Thackett could be “the best running back I’ve ever coached,” McClurg said, “and he doesn’t start. He can turn nothing into something in a hurry.”
Mitchell and Matthew McClurg and Dustin Clabough are the team’s primary ball carriers. Decker reminds those who’ve seen him of a young Brandon Warren, who signed with Florida State after a Mr. Football career at Alcoa High.
“He’s a big, strong, fast kid,” McClurg said, “and he’s real coachable.”
So is linebacker Nathan McClanahan, who just may be the best hitter on the team.
“We’ve got a really good little team,” McClurg said. “Our kids just don’t get their heads down if things go wrong. They just encourage each other and keep playing.”
Where the Tornadoes are surging entering next month’s showdown, the Bulldogs welcome the approaching fall break to get healthy. Maryville ace Brian Tillery is an explosive back but has been slowed by a hip injury.
“Even his 85 or 90 percent is going to be a little better than some guys 100 percent because his motor is full go,” Malone said.
The Bulldogs have a slick field general at the controls in quarterback Zach Cardwell, the team’s leading rusher. Tyler Zwolinski has raised his game at running back while Tillery has been slowed, Malone said.
It’s Maryville, so the Bulldogs know a thing or two about the passing game. Josh Yoakum and Jacob Blevins are the kind of playmakers at receiver Malone has had the last several seasons. Tight end Evan Porter is not.
Much in keeping with his super-sized Tornado counterparts, the Bulldog eighth-grader is a rare blend of size and mobility. The former Fairview Raider running back isn’t limited to tight end, either.
“He lines up at tight end and wide out,” Malone said, “and he’s scored quite a few touchdowns, catching and running it both. He could play in the backfield. He’s the second-fastest guy on the team.”
The Bulldogs ran off a school-record 26 wins in a row before last week’s loss to the Bears. In its own way, being the team everybody wants to beat is a nice problem to have, Malone said. On the second Thursday in October, however, Maryville gets the chance to play spoiler.
“I feel like going into the Alcoa game we’re definitely the underdog,” Malone said.
From the size of some of the Tornadoes who’ll take the field next month, so would a few high school freshmen teams.