2017 Marshall County High School Football Preview
Coaches: Head coach-Thomas Osteen, 4th year, (32-7, Back-to-Back Region 4/3A Champions)
Jerry Cobb (Defensive Coordinator)
Greg Cloutier (Athletic Trainer)
Over the past two seasons, Marshall County football has firmly established itself as a state wide football power in any classification, with two consecutive semifinal appearances, two Mr. Football Finalists, and seven players signing to continue playing careers at the college level.
That kind of success includes many advantages, but also presents unique challenges which Tiger coach Thomas Osteen experienced firsthand when putting together the 2017 schedule.
Osteen, who is known for putting together challenging schedules to get the squad ready for region and postseason play, strung together possibly the toughest schedule is recent memory with non-conference games against 6A Cane Ridge (12-1 in '16), 5A Shelbyville Central (8-3 in '16), 4A powerhouse Pearl-Cohn (12-2 in 2016), longtime region rival Giles County (8-4 in 2016 and who moved down to 3A for the 2017 campaign), and 6A Brentwood (9-5 in 2016).
"As a coach you always want to balance challenging yourself and getting beat up too much," Osteen, stated. "To make a long story short, a lot of the traditional rivalries we've been playing don't want to play us right now for lack of a better term."
"That's just how things go," Osteen added. "Community rivalries, you wish they were still on your schedule but with that being said, it's a great problem to have when you're having to play up in classifications in your non-region games."
"When it's all said and done, your five region games are essentially all that matter and our goal is the win our region and to give ourselves the best position possible entering the playoffs."
Tiger faithful will immediately notice the absence of longtime offensive and defensive stars Jay Howard, Tre Crutcher, Cain McWilliams, D'Andre Brown, Tae Tae Lytle, Donathan Tears, and Blair Conger, but Marshall County does return 11 starters (six offense, five defense) including 2017 preseason Mr. Football hopeful Bryce Wallace, who will lead the offense for the second consecutive season.
Wallace, who gained valuable experience as the understudy of 2015 Mr. Football Finalist Ashton Posey as a freshman, was nothing short of amazing in his first year as a start for the blue and white.
The rising junior quarterback threw for 2,870 yards to go along with 31 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Wallace looks to use 2017 to prove that he can lead the Tigers to the Promised Land without the use of mega-stars Crutcher and Howard, who combined for nearly 3,000 all-purpose yards in 2016.
"Going into this year I feel like I'm the leader now," Wallace, who completed 72 percent of his passes last season, stated. "I feel like the offense is my offense now. Last year I was just trying to get the ball to these playmakers and get it to them and let them do their thing."
"Now, everybody is looking towards me to do that thing so that's what I'm going to try and do," Wallace continued. "I'm going to take full control of the offense, take what the defense gives me, do what coach Osteen tells me, and I think I'll be alright."
The cupboard is not entirely bare for Wallace, as 1,000 yard rusher Kamron Liggett returns to lead the charge in the backfield. The senior workhorse ran for 1,294 yards on just 193 attempts (6.7 average) despite sharing the backfield with departed seniors McWilliams (360 yards, 11 TDs) and Brown (260 yards, 2 TDs).
"I haven't had this opportunity (to be the lead back) so I've got to run with it and hit it as hard as I can," Liggett, who crossed the end zone 24 times in 2016, explained. "Everyone has worked harder in the weight room this off season. The size isn't there this year so everyone had to work harder in the weight room."
Liggett will also get help in the backfield from junior Elijah Taylor, who rushed for 162 yards on 40 carries in limited action in 2016.
The receiving core will have the most eyes focused on a position, with the fewest returning players having proven themselves as weapons during the past season.
Senior Matt Runions (eight catches, 90 yards) will lead the charge, but will also pair with Devon Wilson (six receptions, 28 yards) as early targets.
Dagon Stacey (three receptions, 25 yards, TD) will also be counted on after transitioning to a tight end/full back hybrid.
The offensive line returns just two starters (Dave Roberts and Taylor Clark), but Roberts is a three-year starter and is being heavily recruited by a host of Division I programs.
"We've got some kinks to work out because we've got some new guys playing that didn't see the field much last year, but we've got two returning starters to show them the way," Roberts, who picked up an offer from FBS member Appalachian State over the summer, said. "We're looking pretty good. We've been working hard every day and getting stronger."
"We've also got a transfer from Giles, Brandon Rowan, who is going to play Z, which was Jay (Howard)'s position," Wallace pointed out. "When he catches the ball it's off to the races. Devon (Wilson) is going to be really good. He's so quick, he's the closest player to Tre (Crutcher) that we have as far as route running and catching to ball and moving, so I'm really excited about those guys.”
The Marshall County defense, which has stacked up against the best in the state over the past two seasons, returns only five starters, but those players come highly regarded as leaders along with playing ability, so expect the rest of the defense to follow suite.
"As far as our basic mentality and how we've been working, we've been approaching everything the same way we would any other year," defensive coordinator Jerry Cobb offered. "Probably a little more aggressively and a little bit more push because of the way the past two seasons ended.”
The obvious strong point of the defense is the line, which returns three all-region standouts and pre-season All-State performer Tavi McLean.
McLean (88 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and 10 quarterback hurries) anchors a defense that gave up over 20 points just two times in 14 games (Stratford, Knoxville Central) which both resulted in losses.
"Really, we're going to have to play a lot harder because we had a lot of talent last year that is gone now," McLean, who holds offers from Chattanooga, Samford, East Tennessee State, Jackson State, and Murray State, stressed. "We still have a fair amount of talent coming back, but we lost a lot of experience to go along with that talent as well."
McLean will team with fellow senior Josh Johnson (41 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and 4 quarterback hurries) and junior standout Jayshon Wilcox (55 tackles, five tackles for loss) in what appears to be a nearly impenetrable defensive front.
Although the remainder of the defense took a huge hit due to graduation, the linebacker corps will be led by one of the most underrated player in the state in the slight but stout Hunter Cummings (88 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, three quarterback hurries).
"We definitely lost a big key with Cain (McWilliams) graduating," Cummings stated. "We don't have much size, not very much speed either, so we're just going to have to read our keys better, be smarter on the field and study film. We play a lot better teams this year, it's going to be a way harder schedule."
Billy Cheek will be a name for Tiger fans to pay attention to this season. Cheek contributed just 10 tackles and one tackle for a loss in 2016, but was all over the field and led Marshall County in tackles during the jamboree against Pope John Paul II.
The defensive backfield will be the biggest question mark for the Tiger defense in 2017. Losing J.Q. Haislip, Brown, Tears, Crutcher, Howard, and Tre Fields due to graduation was a big blow.
Miciah Greer will be looked at as the leader of the defensive backfield with 31 tackles in 2016 and the junior was thrown into action due to injuries early in his freshman season, so the part-time kickoff return man has plenty of experience.
The Tigers are also counting on 2016 back-up quarterback Malik Thomison to fill the graduation void.
Thomison's athleticism was too valuable to keep on the sideline and the Osteen made the decision to put the junior in the defensive backfield.
Marshall County's strongest area is perhaps the kicking game as nationally ranked kicker and punter Caleb Estes returns for his final season in blue and white following a junior season that ended with 71-for-73 extra points and 7-out-of-11 field goals. Estes also split punting duty with Stacey, averaging 37.1 yards on nine punting attempts.
Marshall County came excruciatingly close to advancing past the semifinals in back-to-back seasons in 2015 and 2016, but came up short both times.
With many of the annual road blocks either moving up to 5A (Fulton, Knoxville Catholic, Knoxville Central, Page) or down to 3A (Pearl-Cohn, Giles County) the Tigers look ready to make another move to the 4A finals.
"Just on paper our biggest difference is that we've graduated so many skilled players that played a whole lot so the toughest thing as a coach is just trying to find those young skilled players to fit those roles," Osteen said. "If you're looking at it from that standpoint, just seeing a bunch of new names and faces will be different."
"We graduated so many guys that started for 2-to-3 years and replacing those guys is going to be tough, but we feel that the best thing those (graduated) guys did was set a new standard for these guys to hopefully live up to,"
The Tigers open the 2017 season with a bang on Friday night against Cane Ridge from Antioch at Preston Hopkins Field in Lewisburg with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
2017 Marshall County High School Schedule
|Friday, August 18||7 p.m.||Cane Ridge|
|Friday, August 25||7 p.m.||Shelbyville|
|Friday, September 1||7 p.m.||at Tullahoma|
|Friday, September 8||BYE|
|Friday, September 15||7 p.m.||at Maplewood|
|Friday, September 22||7 p.m.||at Pearl-Cohn|
|Friday, September 29||7 p.m.||at Lawrence County|
|Friday, October 6||7 p.m.||Giles County (HC)|
|Friday, October 13||7 p.m.||Spring Hill|
|Friday, October 20||7 p.m.||at Brentwood|
|Friday, October 27||7 p.m.||Nolensville|
Marshall Co. High School
2017-2018 Football Roster
|50||Noe Eusebio Pablo||OL||So.|
The Marshall County Tigers 2016 All-Region Selections
Bryce Wallace (QB, 1st Team All-Region), Donathon Tears DB, 2nd Team All-Region), Hunter Cummings (LB, 2nd Team All-Region), J.Q. Haislip (DB, FB, Region 4/4A Most Valuable Player), Tre Crutcher (WR/DB, All-Region Co-Offensive MVP), Miranda Fagan (Region 4/4A Manager of the Year), Kamron Liggett (RB/LB, 1st Team All-Region), Tae Lyttle (DL, 1st Team All-Region), Micajah Gold (OL, All-Academic), Dave Roberts (OL, 2nd Team All-Region), Hayes Crosslin (OL, 2nd team All-Region), Blair Conger (OL, 2nd Team All-Region), Tavi McClean (DE, 1st Team All-Region) Cain McWilliams (LB, Region Defensive MVP), D'Andre Brown (DB/RB, 1st Team All-Region), Jay Howard (WR, DB, KR, All-Region Athlete MVP), Caleb Estes (K/P, All-Region Special Teams MVP), Tristan Maxwell (OL, 1st team All-Region) and Jayshon Wilcox (DT, 2nd Team All-Region).