Coming off a 2011 season that saw them post a 9-4 record and advance to the quarterfinals of the Class 4A playoffs, the Marshall County Tigers are looking to continue their success on the gridiron under new coach Aaron Pitts.
After beginning the 2011 campaign with convincing road victories over Coffee County (28-0) and Hickman County (28-7), Marshall County dropped a 27-10 decision to a strong Columbia Central team at home before notching impressive wins over archrival Giles County (26-7) and Spring Hill (35-14).
Following a surprising 7-3 road loss to Page, Marshall County ended the regular season with a 39-18 win over East Hickman to finish second in the District standings before defeating Notre Dame (28-6) and Sequoyah (31-6) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The Tigers then took on Giles County again in the third round, but the Bobcats got their revenge in the rematch and defeated MCHS 28-0 at Preston Hopkins Field to end Marshall County's postseason run.
"The goal every year is to challenge for the District title and make the playoffs," said Pitts. "When I took the job here, I didn't promise a certain number of wins or losses. If we work hard and compete, those other things will take care of themselves."
Junior quarterback Austin Stacey will guide the MCHS offense for a second straight season after turning in a solid sophomore campaign. Stacey possesses good mobility and is an effective passer especially off of play action. During his sophomore year, Stacey completed 67-of-121 passes for 949 yards and 10 touchdowns to go along with six interceptions. He also carried the ball 66 times for 277 yards and scored two touchdowns.
"Austin is one of the toughest players on the team. He's not real vocal, but leads by example," said Pitts. "He tries to win all the sprint workouts and is the first one out to practice. He has gotten better as a passer too and has worked hard at it. It's always enjoyable coaching players like him."
Although the Tigers won't be able to replace Irizarry's production with one player, Marshall County will feature a trio of talented tailbacks this year in Malik Crawford (Jr.), Quantae Alderson (Jr.), and Quinnie White.
Crawford is the most complete back of the three and has good vision and balance along with being a sure handed receiver out of the backfield. Alderson received little playing time the previous two years, but has worked hard in the offseason and has come into his own as a junior. Possessing excellent speed, Alderson can take it the distance once he gets into the open field, but is also a physical player and runs hard between the tackles. While he is the smallest of the three backs, White is a quick and elusive runner that does not shy away from physical contact.
The Tigers have a pair of capable players at the fullback position in seniors O'Shea Tears and Jalen Jones. Tears is a good blocker at the point of attack and can also catch the ball out of the backfield, while Jones has better speed and is a good north/south runner.
At wide receiver, Stacey has two big play threats to throw to in senior Kevin Peterson and sophomore Chris Walker. Blessed with good size and speed, Peterson is tough to bring down in the open field and could also see time at tailback after playing there some last year. As a junior, Peterson hauled in 28 passes for 427 yards and five touchdowns, while adding 537 yards rushing and five scores on 65 carries.
After catching 15 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, Walker broke his arm at a basketball camp this summer but is expected back in the early part of the season. When healthy, Walker possesses deceptive speed and excellent leaping ability that allows him to bring down the ball in traffic.
Junior Payne Smith and senior Rhye Stephens will also see playing time at wide out. Smith has good speed and is capable of picking up big chunks of yardage after the catch, while Stephens is a smooth route runner and a dependable target that will work the middle of the field.
Marshall County returns only two starters along the offensive line in left tackle Rakeem Alexander (Sr.) and right guard Logan King, but have some talented players waiting in the wings in left guard Jay Murphy (Jr.), center Eric Endsley (Jr.), and right tackle Tyler Sechrest (Sr.).
Alexander and Secrest both have good feet and are solid pass blockers, while Murphy and King both have excellent size and strength and have the potential to be dominant run blockers. Endsley is a fundamentally sound player and is charged with making all the line calls. Brandon Outzen (Sr.), Tyrone March (Sr.), and Curt Taylor will also be in the mix for playing time along the offensive front.
After yielding only 13.3 points per game last year, the Tigers will employ a 3-4 base defense this season.
Although they lost All-State performer Davey Maddox to graduation, the Tigers should field another stout defensive line. Alexander and March will line up at the two defensive end spots and are both physical players along with being good pass rushers. Murphy will man the nose guard position and is tough to move off the line of scrimmage, but is also very quick for his size and has the ability to get into the backfield.
At linebacker, Jones is the lone returning starter in the group and was the second leading tackler on the team last year with 97 stops. Jones is also a smart player that makes all the defensive play calls for the Tigers.
Cain Hendrix will line up at the other middle linebacker spot, while Outzen and sophomore Antonio Shelton will start at outside linebacker. Possessing good speed, Hendrix can run sideline to sideline and excels in pass coverage. Outzen is physical at the point of attack and is a strong pass rusher, while Shelton is a raw, athletic player that is quickly improving.
Senior safety Mariel Nicholson is the leader of the secondary that lost three starters from last year's unit. Nicholson is a ball hawk in pass coverage and is capable of making the big play after an interception, but is a physical player and a sure tackler as well.
Hasain Jefferson will join Nicholson at safety, while Alderson, Barry Mayes (Sr.), and Ben Braden (Soph.) will rotate at the two cornerback spots. Although he is still learning the position, Jefferson is very aggressive and excels at run support. Alderson has the best technique of all the cornerbacks and is a solid tackler, while Mayes is dependable in coverage and plays the ball well in the air. Braden is inexperienced and still honing the technical aspects of the position, but has the potential to be an excellent cover corner.
Junior Aaron Medley will handle all the kicking duties for Marshall County for the third straight year. Ranked among the top high school kickers in the country, Medley has helped the Tigers win the field position battle the last two seasons by booming nearly half of his kickoffs into the end zone while averaging 34.6 yards on 74 career punts. During that time, Medley has also converted 51-of-56 extra points and 14-of-20 field goal attempts, highlighted by a career long 44-yarder last season.
Peterson leads a potentially explosive group of return men that also include Payne, Crawford, Walker, and Alderson.
Given the talent level of their skill position players, the Tigers have a chance to match or exceed last season's win total if they can consistently win the battle in the trenches. Marshall County, however, will have to navigate a tough schedule that features six teams which qualified for the playoffs last year.
After opening the 2012 campaign with home games against Coffee County and Hickman County, the Tigers will face Columbia Central and Giles County on the road in consecutive weeks. Following a home game against Spring Hill, Marshall County travels to Fairview prior to taking on Summit at Preston Hopkins Field. MCHS will travel to Hohenwald in Week 8 to take on Lewis County before battling Page at home on Oct. 18 in a My TV 30 Thursday Night Lights game. The Tigers then wrap up the regular season with a road game against East Hickman.
2012 Marshall County Tigers Football Schedule
Date Opponent Location Time
Aug. 24 Coffee County Home 7:00 p.m.
Aug. 31 Hickman County Home 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 7 Columbia Central Away 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 14 Giles County Away 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 21 Spring Hill Home 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 28 Fairview Away 7:00 p.m.
Oct. 5 Summit Home 7:00 p.m.
Oct. 12 Lewis County Away 7:00 p.m.
Oct. 18 Page Home 7:00 p.m.
Oct. 26 East Hickman Away 7:00 p.m.