Opponents may ask or even plead, but Caine Ballard is not going to remove that brick wall facing the offensive line on every snap.
It starts with a pair of Mr. Football finalists — Jamel Hall and Terrell Rollins — and continues through a formidable linebacker group.
“Our front eight is difficult to run against,” said Ballard, Greeneville’s head football coach. “Our four down lineman and four linebackers are as good as I’ve seen at this level.”
That group will be tested tonight at Burley Stadium as the Greene Devils play host to Knox Fulton and star running back Fred Elder in a TSSAA Class 4A state quarterfinal contest. Kickoff is set for 7 o’clock.
In another area game, Sullivan North plays host to Austin-East in the Class 3A quarterfinals.
Hall and Rollins are so tough they each earned a spot among just three finalists for the Mr. Football Class AA lineman award (Austin-East’s Jarod Henderson was the other). Hall is a 6-1, 250-pound senior defensive end while Rollins is a 6-0, 280-pound defensive tackle.
They feed off of each other — at least when they aren’t devouring opposing running backs and quarterbacks.
“It’s someone you can count on, on the other side,” said Hall. “He’s on the far side, so if they run things the other way he’s there to stop them.”
Said Rollins, “It helps a lot that we’ve played together for a while. And we’ve always had a rivalry to see who gets more tackles and sacks and stuff like that.”
Both players are getting their share of statistics. Rollins has 80 tackles while Hall has 64, and each player has racked up 20 tackles for loss. Rollins has seven sacks while Hall has 5.5 sacks to go along with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Teamwork between the entire Greeneville defensive unit will be necessary tonight against Elder, who is coming off a school-record 333-yard rushing performance in a 38-12 win over Livingston Academy. He has rushed for 1,710 yards and 17 touchdowns despite spending the first three games of the season playing wide receiver.
“He runs as hard and fearless as any kid I’ve seen run it,” said Ballard. “He bothers me.”
So how does Greeneville plan to slow Elder down?
“We need to hit him early,” said Rollins. “We have to get after him and tackle good.”
Said Hall, “We’ve got to fill all of the holes and wrap up well. We can’t let him get out in space.”
These are things the Greene Devils have done well all season, and the Mr. Football honors are a product of it.
“Having two finalists says a whole lot, right there,” said Ballard. “And we’ve got two guys who are very overshadowed in (senior tackle) Ethan Malone and (senior end) Garrett Rambo.”
But even though Hall and Rollins have gotten a lot of publicity, their teammates haven’t been jealous, said Hall.
“They have rallied around us,” said Hall. “We are thankful for their support. And we’re also thankful for the support of the community through thick and thin.”
Hall and Rollins each get chances to make an impact on the offensive side of the ball, too. Hall is a fullback, and has been used more in that role late in the season. Rollins gets in the mix on the offensive line during goal-line situations.
“I think defense is a lot better, but I like to be in those goal-line situations,” said Rollins. “That’s fun, too.”
Both players have their sights set on playing college football. Rollins has an offer from Wofford while Hall has Chattanooga, Tennessee State and possibly Virginia Military Institute as options.
“I would really like to play Division I, but just playing somewhere would be good,” said Rollins.
Austin-East (8-4) at Sullivan North (12-0) — The records suggest the Golden Raiders are a big favorite, but the Roadrunners figure to be a tough cookie to break.
“They are by far the best defensive team we’ve played all year,” said North assistant coach Jeremy Harris. “We will to execute offensively like we have been doing.
“But, I don’t think it’ll be anything like Chuckey-Doak. If we win, it will be something like 21-14. They are that good defensively.”
Austin-East boasts running back Curtis King, who has racked up over 1,800 yards rushing this season. North counters with a trio of 1,000-yard rushers in Kairi Thompson, Jacob Jasper and quarterback Cory Rowe.
The task is fairly simple for both teams: Move the chains, dominate time of possession, and keep the other team’s offense off the field.