Football is a game of being tough, but sometimes the best in that category don’t get the most recognition.
It’s time to change that a little bit as the Johnson City Press presents players who made the most of their talents and those who weren’t afraid of delivering or receiving college-football sized hits.
Leading the way on the 24th annual All-Tough Guy team is captain Chad Pritchard of Elizabethton. He takes after his coach Shawn Witten, who was a two-time ATG captain and a member of the team for three seasons in the late 1990s.
Pritchard does a little bit of everything for the Cyclones. First, he is one of the area’s top defensive backs with six interceptions and three pick-six returns. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown.
Also, he is one of the area’s top receivers with 30 catches. And he has been a solid punter for the Cyclones.
Pritchard is not a giant at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, but he plays much bigger than his size.
Joining Pritchard on the first team is Hampton’s bowling-ball running back Justin Adkins, Elizabethton’s body-masher linebacker Thomas Miller, Daniel Boone’s cage-fighter lineman Trevor Duncan, Happy Valley’s trench-master lineman Travis Lowe, and Science Hill’s collision-causing linebacker O’Ryen Scott.
The second team has plenty of grit and determination and is led by Johnson County’s pound-and-ground running back Patrick South, Dobyns-Bennett’s do-it-all-and-then-some receiver/defensive back Malik Foreman, South Greene’s hammer-tackle linebacker/running back Cole Baxley, Chuckey-Doak’s rugged-force defensive lineman/running back Julius Montgomery, and Sullivan North’s heady-and-steady linebacker/tight end Chase Arnold.
n Monday was the first official day of practice for Science Hill’s basketball team, but the Hilltoppers could really use a few more weeks.
All three of the Hilltoppers’ seniors have suffered injuries: one definitely major, another possibly major, and a third that was fairly serious.
Hunter Leveau had fully recovered from a meniscus injury back in the summer, but can’t shake loose from a hamstring problem.
“It’s a weird situation,” said Science Hill head coach Ken Cutlip. “His hamstring was bothering him in May and that’s why he got his leg checked and they found the meniscus tear. He may have to have another MRI.”
Also, the Hilltoppers lost Buddy Gosey to a likely season-ending meniscus injury.
“He probably would have started, but he definitely was in the top six,” said Cutlip. “He had a great summer, and he’s a hard-working kid.”
The third senior out is Zach Howard. He tore ligaments in his ankle and will miss 3-to-6 weeks.
Science Hill already lost two of its top players — Shannon Hale and Jaylen Allen — as they transferred to another school in the offseason. The football team made the playoffs, so at least three varsity players are tied up with that.
Adding up what’s left, Science Hill might have eight or nine kids ready to go for practice Wednesday after two days of tryouts. That’s the total number of players from the sophomore through the senior classes.
When Science Hill scrimmages Saturday in the Chattanooga area, Cutlip will start four sophomores and one junior.
But despite the injuries the Hilltoppers will press on, said Cutlip.
“We have been very fortunate the last several years,” he said. “We’ve dealt with injuries, but not several injuries at once. It’s stuff that is out of our control.
“We will take the kids we’ve got and get done what we can get done. We will be behind early in the year.”
And players’ roles will be magnified from previous assessments, said Cutlip.
“This program has been very good when people are out, having people step up,” he said. “We will expect kids to take on roles and contribute early on.”
Science Hill starts for real on Nov. 17 when it travels to play William Blount in a TSSAA Hall of Fame contest.
n Here’s a look at who is favored and by how much in this week’s first-round football playoff games.
Class 6A — Science Hill by 14 over Knox Karns, Maryville by 30 over Knox Bearden, Dobyns-Bennett by 21 over Jefferson County, Sevier County by 14 over Hardin Valley.
Class 5A — Knox West by 18 over Daniel Boone, Morristown West by 24 over Cocke County, Morristown East by 7 over Cherokee, Sullivan South by 6 over South Doyle.
Class 4A — Greeneville by 38 over Scott County, Strawberry Plains Carter by 15 over Sullivan East, Livingston Academy by 17 over Corryton Gibbs, Knox Fulton by 14 over Stone Memorial.
Class 3A — Elizabethton by 14 over Happy Valley, Sullivan North by 22 over South Greene, Austin-East by 8 over West Greene, Pigeon Forge by 6 over Chuckey-Doak.
n Stat chat: Science Hill set a school record by scoring 354 points in the regular season. It tied the overall record of 354 points, which was scored by the 1988 team in 11 games. …
Science Hill lost to Jefferson County 21-7 in the first round of the 1992 Class AAA playoffs. Since that game, Dobyns-Bennett has gone 36-0 against the Patriots and Hilltoppers. …
Perennial area powerhouses Hampton and Dobyns-Bennett have combined to go 2-6 in the playoffs since 2008. …
Science Hill has lost five straight playoff games. Its last win came in 2001, a 14-13 decision against Soddy Daisy that was followed by a 35-17 loss to McMinn County.
n Coaches records in TSSAA playoffs:
Coach, school W-L Pct.
Shawn Witten, Elizabethton 6-3 .667
Stacy Carter, Science Hill 12-7 .632
Graham Clark, D-Bennett 20-18 .526
Jeremy Jenkins, D. Boone 4-4 .500
Larry Shively, Happy Valley 1-1 .500
Mike Lunsford, Hampton 13-16 .448
n Volleyball update: Brentwood Ravenwood won its second straight Class AAA state volleyball title, knocking off Independence in three straight games in the final.
In Class AA, Franklin Page won its second straight championship, beating Goodpasture Christian in a five-game battle in the finals.
And the Class A champion was first-time winner Friendship Christian, which defeated Summertown in three straight.
n Soccer update: Knox Farragut (20-0-2) and Franklin (21-0-0) appear to be on a collision course for the Class AAA girls state title as the tournament gets underway Wednesday in Chattanooga.
In Class A-AA, Christian Academy of Knoxville and Gatlinburg-Pittman could meet in the finals. Chattanooga Christian could thwart those plans.
The finals are set for Saturday in both classes.
n Pick of the week — Science Hill 31, Knox Karns 17.
The decade-long drought for a playoff win should end as the Hilltoppers’ offense will be too much for the Beavers to contain.
Picks record: 10-1.
n Player of the week — Corey Rowe of Sullivan North.
It was a 10-0 regular season for the Raiders, and the junior quarterback made sure it was finished in style.
He led his team to a 40-6 win over Unicoi County by completing 3 of 4 passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns. He also carried seven times for 68 yards and scored two other touchdowns.
n The Hogs Award — Daniel Boone Trailblazers.
A muddy environment was just dandy for the “Trail Hogs” as they pushed their way to a 27-0 win over rival David Crockett. Boone’s offensive line cleared the way for 370 yards rushing on 40 attempts, an average of 9.3 yards per carry.
n Defensive unit of the week — Elizabethton Cyclones.
In a 48-6 win over Sullivan East, the Cyclones’ defense turned things up a notch.
Elizabethton held the Patriots to 173 yards of total offense, and came away with two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. One of those fumble recoveries was returned 25 yards for a touchdown by Chad Pritchard.
The Cyclones also forced five punts by East.
n This Week in Prep History — Oct 27. 2000.
Clinching the first playoff berth in school history, Crockett defeated Cherokee 28-21. Quarterback Wes Dulaney connected on 15 of 20 passes for 229 yards.
n Dobyns-Bennett held off Greeneville for the top spot in the final Prep Top 10 of the season. Sullivan North moved up to No. 3 for its highest-ever ranking.
Team W-L Prv
1. Dobyns-Bennett 10-0 1
2. Greeneville 9-1 2
3. Sullivan North 10-0 4
4. Science Hill 7-3 3
5. Elizabethton 7-3 5
6. Hampton 9-1 6
7. West Greene 7-3 8
8. Sullivan East 7-3 7
9. Daniel Boone 5-5 9
10. Sullivan South 6-4 10