Of seven District 5-AAA quarterbacks that started in 2013, two threw for at least 1,000 yards, three had 2,000-plus and one soared over the 3,000-yard barrier. A seventh added 652 yards and didn’t start in the final game.
However, only two of those signal callers — Soddy-Daisy’s Hunter Maynor and McMinn County’s Corbin Powers — are back for the 2014 season.
Five other coaches, who gathered at the District 5-AAA media day in Ooltewah on Wednesday, are basically starting from scratch at the most important position on offense.
A year ago, Ooltewah coach Mac Bryan had strong-armed Brody Binder, a senior, at quarterback. Binder was able to adjust to Bryan’s spread attack and passed for 2,110 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Now, Bryan is trying to decide whether senior Kelvin Leon or junior London Elrod gets the starting nod for the Owls’ season opening game against Brainerd on Aug. 22.
When asked about statistics for Leon and Elrod from 2013, Bryan said, “They had no varsity stats.”
That’s part of the dilemma Bryan and four other coaches are facing.
“When you’ve got an experienced quarterback coming back, who has been through it, you know what to expect,” said Bryan, a co-offensive coordinator at UT-Martin before replacing Shannon Williams as the Owls’ coach. “If he’s been good and successful, then you have a great security blanket.
“Having an inexperienced quarterback, you’re wondering how he’s going to respond when the lights come on that’s not like a scrimmage. You have a gut feeling of what you think of him, but until he does it a few times you just don’t know. That’s a major difference.”
Maynor and Powers — both seniors — fit the bill for coaches Justin Barnes and Bo Cagle, respectively.
Maynor completed 136 of 259 passes (52.5 percent) for 16 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. Powers hit on 146 of 252 attempts (57.9 percent) for 1,692 yards and 15 touchdowns, and also threw 10 picks.
Powers showed his capabilities in the season finale against Ooltewah, punishing the Owls’ defense for a school-record 507 yards and three touchdowns. Clay Bennett, Trevor Crisp and Dre Hall each had a touchdown reception and each had 100-plus receiving yards in a game Ooltewah managed to win 36-35.
Powers’ scintillating aerial performance broke the single-game record for passing yards held by Phil Pierce, who later played at Tennessee.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 184-pound senior says he’s primed for another solid year and the primary reason is that show against the Owls last November.
“That game really boosted my confidence,” Powers said. “I was feeling it and felt good in the pocket. I didn’t know I had that much yardage until the coaches told me after the game. That blew my mind.”
Over the summer Powers attended several camps, including Furman, Middle Tennessee State and Kennesaw State in Georgia.
This will be Powers’ third year to start, but most of the offensive load will be on his shoulders. That wasn’t the case his sophomore year when the Cherokees relied heavily on a tremendous running game.
“I know the coaches are expecting a lot from me this year,” he said. “This is a tough district and we’ve got some tough games early. I feel good about what our team can do this year.”
The Cherokees, picked to finish fourth in the district by the local media and fifth by the coaches, open the season with what Cagle calls a football murderer’s row – rival McMinn Central, McCallie, Cleveland, Alcoa and Oak Ridge. After an open week McMinn County plays five straight district games against Soddy-Daisy, East Hamilton, Bradley Central, Walker Valley and Ooltewah.
Despite his solid numbers Maynor admitted some of the 2013 season was just a blur.
“Last year things were a hundred miles an hour for me at times,” he said. “Now it’s a lot slower. I can get through my reads easier, I know where the receivers are going to be and I’m more comfortable with the linemen.”
Maynor missed a lot of summer work after suffering a torn labrum late in the baseball season, an injury that required surgery. He was still doing rehabilitation work as late as two weeks ago, but is a “full go” right now.
Talented receivers like junior Tre Carter and senior Blake Smith will help Maynor catch up quickly. And having a full year of experience won’t hurt either.
“Hunter understands the offense much better,” Barnes said. “And he gets through his reads 10 times faster.”
The biggest quarterback shoes to fill of all the teams in District 5-AAA are those of Cleveland’s Austin Herink, the offensive sparkplug that led the Blue Raiders into the state semifinal game against once-beaten Knox West where they lost, 49-14.
Herink, now a walk-on at MTSU, passed for 3,421 yards and a district-leading 35 touchdowns. He completed 65 percent of his passes and took almost every snap during the season.
Austin Massey, whose playing time was strictly at linebacker, is a senior and will replace Herink. Massey, a hard-nosed 6-3, 235-pounder, had 14 plays last season – eight passes and six rushes for a combined 135 yards.
“I knew coming in at Cleveland I would have to wait to play quarterback,” Massey said. “I was always behind Chad (Voytik, who is now the starter for the University of Pittsburgh) and Austin. I’m thrilled I can lead the team this year. I’ve wanted to be the quarterback since middle school, but I was OK helping the team out by playing defense. At least I was on the field.”
Ironically, Massey’s go-kill-the-guy-with-the football defensive mindset could be his biggest asset playing quarterback for coach Ron Crawford, who was voted into the Riverdale High School Hall of Fame during the summer.
“The thing he has going is having played linebacker last year and that helped his mental toughness,” said Crawford, who coaches linebackers. “I put a lot of demands on him last year and that’s why we can hang our hats on his mental toughness, and that will help us down the road.”
Crawford is trying to harness Massey’s defensive enthusiasm that potentially could cause him some problems on the other side of the ball.
“We’ve got to keep him calm because he’s been at linebacker where he’s able to be excitable,” Crawford said. “I’m sure there will be times, just like me after 30 years of coaching, that he could get a little rattled. In those times, he just needs to breathe, calm down and play the next play.”
Crawford praised Massey’s perseverance in biding his time behind two of the area’s top quarterbacks over the past four or five years.
That’s not easy for any player at any level.
“This is the moment he’s waited for,” Crawford said. “He’s been patient and didn’t complain a bit. Instead of ditching our program and going somewhere else where he thought he could play, he stayed the course and waited his turn. Now it’s his turn.”
Massey, a frequent visitor to offseason camps, was at Ohio State, Kentucky, MTSU and Tennessee-Chattanooga this summer. He’s gone as a quarterback to each camp he’s attended over the past few years.
The district’s seven starting quarterbacks combined for 14,803 passing yards and 132 touchdowns a year ago. This year’s crop of signal callers, other than Powers and Maynor, put up 522 yards (just 5 more than Powers got in the Ooltewah game) and two touchdowns – both by Walker Valley’s Josh Jones in his only start in the Mustangs’ 34-28 win over Soddy-Daisy in the season finale.
At Bradley Central, coach Damon Floyd will go with sophomore Cole Copeland after losing Brett Standifer (2,239 yards, 19 touchdowns) to graduation after the 2013 season. Copeland completed 19 of 31 passes for 287 yards and two scores, with three interceptions.
Sophomore Nick Woods, who is replacing Hunter Moore (2,982 yards, 22 touchdowns) as East Hamilton’s starter, also comes into this season with no varsity statistics.
(Posted on Chattanoogan.com. Reprinted by permission. E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)