At 5Star Preps, our staff loves to share its thoughts, takes and ideas. Granted, it’s usually on a text-message thread at random times during the day or night — or even the wee hours of the morning.
But what it shows is: we love high school football.
And so we’ve decided, at the midpoint of the season, to share some of our own personal analysis on what we’ve seen or what we expect.
East Tennessee still rocks
In the some-things-stay-the-same department, the latest check of the Associated Press rankings find East Tennessee teams atop the polls in six classifications.
So much for those misguided souls who believe the best football in the state is played in Middle Tennessee.
Holding down the top spots this week are Greenback (1A), Meigs County (2A), Alcoa (3A), Greeneville (4A), Fulton (5A) and Maryville (6A).
I’ll take Alcoa and Greeneville as prohibitive favorites to repeat as state champions. No surprise there.
Last season, Greenback handed South Pittsburg its only loss of the season in the 1A semifinals. The Pirates will likely be the major roadblock for the Cherokees once again.
In 5A, any one of several area teams – Fulton, South-Doyle, Oak Ridge, Central or Catholic – have the potential to reach the state championship game. I’ll take any of those five against the team that emerges from the other side of the bracket.
As usual, East Tennessee’s top hope in 6A is defending state champ Maryville.
Farragut figures to have its say, but if a rematch against Maryville unfolds, the Admirals will have to play much better than they did last season in a 38-6 second-round playoff loss to the Rebels.
Under-appreciated: Farragut senior Tanner Corum gets my vote as the area’s most under-valued player.
Corum is a Southern Illinois commitment who is on the mend after suffering an ankle sprain two weeks ago against Oak Ridge.
He takes the Admirals to another level with his explosive, play-making ability at both receiver and defensive back.
Corum is Farragut’s X-factor.
Arm talent: Imagine if Greeneville quarterback Cade Ballard was 6-foot-3?
If the 5-9, 200-pound Ballard was about half a foot taller, the Army commitment would be one of the most highly recruited quarterbacks in the nation.
Ballard has completed a staggering 65 of 78 passes (83.3 percent) for 1,192 yards and 16 touchdowns for the 5-0 and No. 1-ranked Greene Devils.
Ballard, a noted runner, also has underestimated arm talent.
He can make all the requisite throws – from deep outs to touch passes to post-pattern bombs – and has plenty of zip on the ball.
The Greene Devils, who have won 20 games in a row, are off next week and will host Sullivan Central on Sept. 28.
Dream matchup: It can never happen, but one game I’d pay to see this season would be Alcoa vs. Greeneville.
I would like both of their chances against any team in any classification in the state.
It will be an upset if both teams don’t go 15-0 and win state championships.
Anybody up for a 5Star Preps bowl game between the teams to cap the season?
Under the radar: Each year, I put less and less stock in these outlets that evaluate high school players as college prospects.
For example, you won’t find Oak Ridge’s Herbert Booker on any prospect lists.
Booker (6-0, 185), who starts at quarterback and corner back for the Wildcats, is one of the best defensive backs I’ve seen this season.
Booker has picked off four passes, including touchdown returns of 99 yards against Farragut and 81 yards against Campbell County.
He also has five pass deflections and is one of the surest open-field tacklers in the area.
Oak Ridge coach Joe Gaddis said recruiting interest is finally picking up.
Tulane and Carson-Newman stopped by ORHS to inquire about Booker last week.
Step in and extend an offer.
He’s a steal.
Bearden lost at home to Science Hill? Alcoa got off the schneid versus Maryville? Webb’s first victory came in Week 5? Games aren’t played on paper, and predicting the athletic performance of a teenager is no simple task. (This is why we love high school sports.)
Stay tuned because there’s more to come in the second half of the season. The 5-Star Preps staff will continue to run ragged to bring all the latest news to the forefront, but there are a number of contests on the horizon that will be worth the price of admission.
Odds are a number of these games will include a rematch at some point in November. Get out your red markers. It’s time to circle some dates on the calendar and postpone some date nights:
Sept. 21 Maryville at Fulton
Sept. 28 Webb at Notre Dame
Oct. 5 Coalfield at Greenback
Oct. 11 Farragut at Bearden
Oct. 12 Oneida at Meigs County
Oct. 12 Elizabethton at Greeneville
Oct. 19 South-Doyle at Central
Oct. 26 Powell at South-Doyle
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? No matter how these games come out, all these teams are formidable and have a chance to earn their way to the state championships at Tucker Stadium in Cookeville.
Yes, the Webb Spartans are 1-4 but their destruction of Grace in the Rams’ backyard last week shows that David Meske’s non-region slate bettered his bunch in Division II Class AA East Region play. They have a legit shot at winning six in a row and could enter the postseason riding high.
The battle brewing within Region 3-5A is arguably the most competitive in the 5SP coverage area. Before the season it was apparent that Powell’s offense under Matt Lowe would have some octane and here are the Panthers averaging a region-best 34.2 points per game. That’s just one more team to add to the mix that should leave the four representatives for the TSSAA playoffs battle tested.
Next to Alcoa, Bearden and Greeneville, Fulton has one of the best defenses in the area, allowing a mere 33 points in four contests. What’s not yet shown up with the Falcons is the explosive offense that can score at will on formidable competition and a kicking game. If Rob Black’s staff coaches up the this squad to match its defense, look out. If passes keep sailing out of the back of the end zone and PATs aren’t nailed down, it’ll be a case of what might have been. Show me.
Farragut exited the Class 6A playoffs in 2017 with a 32-point defeat at the hands of eventual champ Maryville. The Admirals don’t figure to go away so easily this year. The Ads showcased their depth with a 30-point win over Jefferson County without a pair of DI-bound talents in wide receiver Tanner Corum and runner Isaiah Gibbs.
The phrase “don’t sleep on Bearden” circulated heavily in the 5SP group text in late July. Why? Because the Bulldogs have a healthy quarterback in Collin Ironside and took weight training seriously in the offseason. They’re playing complimentary football. Their falling to the Hilltoppers did come as a shock, but now we get to see what Morgan Shinlever’s bunch is really made of.
When Gary Rankin tells you during summer 7-on-7 work that his team is ahead of where it normally is, that’s code for: we’re going to be awesome. It’s one of the main reasons why I predicted Alcoa to beat Maryville in Week 4 and why I continue to tweet that Alcoa QB Walker Russell will be, at least, a Mr. Football finalist.
Having been on those Mr. Football committees for years and years, I know how they work. And at Alcoa, there’s no one skill guy who is the bell cow. But the committee will need someone from the top team in the state in 3A that has beaten Maryville and will likely win a fourth consecutive state title. Russell is talented enough and has had the season so far to warrant a Mr. Football award.
Speaking of Mr. Football, I hope Karns’ Thomas Harper gets a sniff in 5A if he continues to produce insane numbers. But, again, having served on the committee, I know that will be tough. The state’s top next-level talents often reside in 5A and 6A. And getting a player a serious Mr. Football look when his team is winless is next to impossible. I think back to current Tennessee freshman defensive back Alontae Taylor. His Hudl films and stats were incredible, but Coffee County went 1-10 his junior season and 3-7 last fall.
But Harper definitely would be in my top 3 for 5Star Preps Midseason MVP. He’s undoubtedly one of the most impressive players I’ve seen — and I even penned a column to Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt to alert him of Harper’s dominance. Unfortunately for Harper’s production levels, Karns QB Daniel Kitts got a little dinged up against Fulton last week and Harper had to move to Wildcat QB. He had been averaging 180 yards per game receiving and 2.5 receiving touchdowns per game until last week’s Fulton game.
Other players I’d put in my Top 3 for 5Star Preps Midseason MVP: Greeneville quarterback Cade Ballard and Farragut running back Kyle Carter. Of course, Ballard was last year’s Class 4A Mr. Football, BlueCross Bowl Offensive MVP and an Army commitment. But he’s been even better this season. Through five games, he’s completing 83.3 percent of his passes. He has more touchdown passes (16) than incompletions (13). He has no interceptions, 1,178 yards and leads the team in rushing (24 carries, 299 yards, five TDs).
Carter has been the week-in, week-out workhorse for Farragut (5-0), while standout players like wideout Tanner Corum and athlete Isaiah Gibbs have battled injuries. Carter leads the area with 10 rushing touchdowns and 714 yards rushing on 59 carries.
I honestly hope Corum and Gibbs are at full strength in mid-October when Farragut plays at Bearden (4-1) on a Thursday night in Week 9. The very first high school football game I went to in East Tennessee was a bonkers 49-42 thriller won by Bearden over Farragut. And I feel like this game in Week 9 could have the same atmosphere and crazy finish now that both teams are atop their games this season.
That’s the one game left, during the rest of this regular season, that I’m really looking forward to in terms of possible outcome and environment.
In terms of playoff matchups, I can’t wait for the Class 5A playoffs to begin. Make them start now, please. Fulton (4-0), Central (3-2), West (2-3), South-Doyle (4-1), Oak Ridge (4-1), Catholic (2-2), Powell (4-1) and even David Crockett (5-0) should make the the top half of the Class 5A bracket one to watch on a weekly basis in November.
So who’s my favorite to come out of the pack in 5A? Ask me in early December.
Finally, Newcomer of the Year leader at the turning point of the season is: Catholic freshman Tommy Winton. If you’re a subscriber to 5Star Preps, then you remember him from our stories over the summer.
We tried to warn everybody that this kid is going to be special. Through four games, he has 391 receiving yards, 82 rushing yards and 177 return yards. He also leads Catholic in scoring.
Matt Lowe has it going again at Powell.
Lowe is in his second stint as the Panthers’ football coach after spending four successful years at The King’s Academy.
He brought Powell to the brink of a state championship once, in 2011, when the Panthers went 14-1 and reached the Class 5A state final.
Don’t be surprised if Lowe makes Powell a state contender again.
Powell (4-1, 2-1 in Region 3-5A) hired Lowe last winter to bring his energy and enthusiasm back to the program. Lowe bleeds Powell football. He’s a former player and graduate of Powell, and he went 49-23 in his previous six-year stint with the Panthers.
Powell is winning with a two-quarterback system run by junior Walker Trusley and senior Deuce Shreve. It’s working. No surprise there.
After a preseason scrimmage at Anderson County, Lowe said he liked both of his quarterbacks – even with competition still open for the starter’s job at the time.
“I think they’re both pretty good at football,” Lowe said that day. “To make it simple, whether you’re talking about running or throwing the football, they can both do some things to help you win football games.”
They did it again last Friday during a 35-0 victory over Clinton.
It was the Panthers’ third shutout of the season (they beat Halls 35-0 and Cumberland County 42-0 in their first two games).
Powell’s only loss was to Fulton by a 21-10 score. It was a 14-10 game at the start of the fourth quarter. The Panthers have won two straight heading into Friday’s non-region game at Lenoir City.
From then on, it’s a rugged four-game region stretch for the Panthers at home against Campbell County and on the road against West, Oak Ridge, and South-Doyle.
It’s going to be a good test for Powell, one which Lowe will embrace.
Alcoa has played up to expectations and perhaps gone beyond.
Veteran coach Gary Rankin returned the nucleus of his 2017 Class 3A state championship team, so we all knew the Tornadoes would be a formidable bunch. Their 34-28 victory over defending Class 6A state champion Maryville on Sept. 7 put them atop the 5Star Preps rankings.
Rankin and his staff motivate their players as well as any coaching staff. It was evident this summer during a scrimmage at West.
After about two hours of a controlled scrimmage, the teams took a 10-minute break. Then Rankin and West coach Lamar Brown told their teams to get ready for a game-like scrimmage with each team getting two possessions with down-and-distance taking place.
You could see the Alcoa players’ eyes light up. It was game on for the Tornadoes. And they dominated the two-possession scrimmage against the Rebels.
Alcoa’s win over Maryville is proof it can play with any team in any classification in the state. Too bad the Tornadoes don’t play Greeneville. What a game it would be.
Webb is the best 1-4 team in the 5Star Preps coverage area – and perhaps the state.
The Spartans have a week off after Friday’s 43-7 victory over host Grace Christian Academy in the Division II-A East Region opener for both teams.
It provided a much-needed confidence builder for the Spartans, who started the season with losses to Evangelical Christian School, Asheville (N.C.), Ensworth, and McCallie.
Senior Alec Boruff, the Spartans’ starting quarterback, suffered an arm injury in the 13-10 loss to ECS in the opener in Nashville. Webb led ECS 10-0 at halftime.
Boruff didn’t play the next week against Asheville in a 35-10 loss, but since has been one of Webb’s top defenders at free safety.
After the loss to Asheville, Webb regrouped the next two weeks in losses to Division II-AA powers Ensworth and Chattanooga McCallie. The Spartans were tied with Ensworth 3-3 in the third quarter before losing 17-3, and they were tied 7-7 at halftime against McCallie of a 27-7 loss.
Webb couldn’t match the depth and size of Ensworth and McCallie but won’t have those mismatches the rest of the season.
Senior Jahlil Jefferson and sophomore Elijah Howard are big playmakers in the Wing-T offense, and senior Roderick Lewis adds another breakaway threat when he’s full speed.
Kaden Armes, a senior, has been the quarterback in Boruff’s absence, and managed the offense to near perfection in the win over Grace.
Boruff, meanwhile, had two of the Spartans’ three interceptions and continues to lead the team without being the QB.
“Boruff is an unbelievable kid,” Webb coach David Meske said after the Grace Christian game. “He’s physical, a great leader, and a great teammate. You couldn’t ask for a better person than Alec.”
Webb has five region games to finish its schedule: at Chattanooga Notre Dame (Sept. 28), home games against Boyd-Buchanan (Oct. 5), Chattanooga Christian School (Oct. 12) and Christian Academy of Knoxville (Oct. 19), and at Silverdale Academy (Oct. 26).
Notre Dame and CCS are pivotal games for the Spartans if they’re going to win out and finish 5-5. They’ll be favored in the other three.
West might not stay in the 5Star Preps Top 15 if they lose a non-region game to Farragut on Friday night, but the Rebels are still in position for a top-four finish in eight-team Region 3-5A.
The Rebels (2-3, 1-1) have region games left at Clinton (Sept. 28), at home against Powell (Oct. 5) and Fulton (Oct. 18), and at Campbell County (Oct. 26).
West will have its hands full against Powell and Fulton and be favored against Clinton and Campbell County.
After scoring 12 points in their first two games, losses to Bearden (9-0) and Hardin Valley Academy (15-12), the Rebels have averaged 32.7 points their last three games (wins over Karns and Halls and a 24-21 loss to Oak Ridge).
There were few questions about West’s team strength when the season started. It was defense. If the offense continues an uptick, West can get a playoff bid. Then who knows what happens?