Senior Curtis Lowe is the latest in a string of great linebackers for the ’Horns, following in the footsteps of Tyler Norris and Hayden Osborne. Both of those players were chosen as Johnson City Press/Kingsport Times News “Defensive Player of the Year,” in 2018 and 2017, respectively. Lowe hopes to follow suit and keep the tradition going.
“It’s great following in their path and I’ve had a lot of wisdom passed down to me over the last few years,” Lowe said. “I’ve gotten a lot of experience with them showing me the ropes and they've taught me how to be a leader and a great player on the field.”
Lowe is like both Osborne and Norris before him, but he has something that sets him apart from them as well and that is size. Norris was undersized, but he made up for it with his speed and he had a nose for the football. Osborne seemed to be everywhere on the field at once and was a head-hunter much like Norris. Lowe has that same type of mentality and is soft spoken like the other two, but Lowe is taller and maybe a bit quicker than his predecessors.
“Those guys are my brothers and are both really great players, but I feel like I have the potential to go to the next level. I’m faster and I’m an athlete. I have the potential to do whatever my coach needs me to do,” Lowe said.
Lowe also is part of one of the winningest senior classes in Johnson County history, having been on both the 11-1 team in 2017 and the 9-2 squad in 2018. The Longhorns in 2016 went 4-6 and missed the playoffs. If the Longhorns were to win the conference again this year, it would be three consecutive, which has never happened before. That could be some potential history for a program that for the longest time did not have a playoff win.
“There’s a lot of guys around those linebackers that make them as good as they have been,” Johnson County head coach Don Kerley said. “There were a lot of plays that were funneled towards Tyler Norris last year and he was just there in the middle ready to make the play. When you play the kind of 3-5 defense that we play, there’s going to be a lot of tackles made by the guys in the middle. Both Tyler and Hayden had a desire to get to the ball and they each had a knack for it.”
The Longhorns over the past two season have been decimated by graduation — losing a combined 38 seniors — but they just continue to find a way to plug-and-play every week. The numbers are down this year, but everyone that will start this year played some extended portion of minutes last season. That experience says a lot in a league that over the last five years has been one of the toughest in East Tennessee. With Unicoi County returning a lot of starters from last season as well, Region 1-3A could be wide open as ever.
The ’Horns last season lost two games by a combined four points including a one point heartbreaker two Hampton at home and then a 36-33 loss to Gatlinburg-Pittman in the first round of the playoffs. That loss weighed heavily on the minds of the ’Horns throughout the offseason and it will certainly fuel them in their quest to get back to the second round of the playoffs.
“That loss is going to make us even hungrier for this year,” Lowe said.
“Those two teams, but we turned it over several times in both games,” Kerley said. “We jumped offsides on the extra-point attempt against Pittman and they ended up going for two and beating us. It really doesn't matter what everyone else does because we can't control that. It’s about what we do. We’d like to make an impact in the playoffs, but sometimes things don't go your way for whatever reason. We remember both those games quite a bit, though.”
Lowe will be wearing the No. 1 jersey this fall and his expectations are lofty.
“I want to be the best linebacker in East Tennessee. I think I have the potential to be better than both Tyler and Hayden,” Lowe said.
Johnson County opens the season on August 23 at home against Sullivan East. The following week against Sullivan North will also be at home before they hit the road on September 6 at Chuckey-Doak.