Outside the lines: Rebel seniors continue to make mark
By Grant Ramey | (email@example.com)
COOKEVILLE — The Maryville locker room was quiet just minutes before the program’s 19th all-time state championship game Saturday night in Cookeville.
Players sat in locker stalls, quietly finding focus, while George Quarles and his coaching staff leisurely paced the length of the room, casually giving game-plan council to the silent players or conferring with fellow coaches.
No coach, the Maryville head coach most importantly included, raised a voice. There was no inspirational coach’s speech in front a kneeled down team. No fist pumps or thrown clipboards to motivate the Rebels before the biggest, and last, game of the season.
To outsiders, it might sound strange; a quiet, restrained yet focused locker room. But for Quarles and his football program, state champions time and time again, this is Maryville football.
It’s a program built beyond hope or expectation. It’s business — and the Rebels’ business has been playing for the right to bring home that all important golden football — and in the locker room before taking the field to face a talent-laden Whitehaven team from the opposite side of the state, it was business as usual.
But for this group of seniors, the class of 2013, earning that Rebel insignia was a steady process of leaps and bounds, from pee wee football all the way to Saturday night in that quiet locker room buried beneath the concrete stands of Tucker Stadium at Tennessee Tech.
“I think their middle school eighth grade year they were 4-3 or something like that,” Quarles said Saturday night. “I’m not exactly sure of that, but I know they had some losses.
“They competed and got better,” Quarles continued. “From where they started to where they ended was just a great leap. I’m really proud of them for achieving that.”
That achievement ultimately came up one play short, falling 36-35 in the dramatic overtime Class 6A state title game to ‘The Haven’.
The Tigers used their stable of Division I-ready running backs to wear down the Rebels in the second half and ultimately win the title on the game’s last play, an overtime two-point conversion.
The game-winner came just minutes removed from a Maryville two-point try of its own in the waning seconds of regulation that seemingly handed Quarles’ team another state title before being wiped off by an official’s flag.
“I hate that we came up one game short,” Quarles said with the smile that he’s worn after any of his 194 career wins, but this time wearing it all the same after a rare Maryville loss.
“But it still doesn’t take away from all the great effort, the great jobs they’ve done to get to this point.”
Up until that final play Saturday night, “this point” for Maryville and that senior class was a 43-game win streak, a two-time defending state champion label and one two-point conversion, one flag and only a couple yards away from a three-peat.
Senior quarterback Nick Myers, like so many Rebel quarterbacks that had come before him, was leading his team down the field for a win in the final minutes, just like a week earlier in the state semifinals at Siegel.
He went 5-for-5 on the final regulation drive, tying the game with a 13-yard touchdown pass to first-year receiver T.J. Kimble.
But the undersized, underrated signal caller was doing nothing different Saturday night, with a title on the line, than he did the first 14-undefeated games of the season.
“Nick’s a winner,” Quarles said of his quarterback. “He’s a gutty kid. He’s one of those, that, he can put stuff behind him if he’s made a mistake, he can shake it off. That’s what I just told him.
“One of the things I’m going to miss about him is he’s one you could get after a little bit and it didn’t faze him. He took it the right way and knew he needed to get better. He’s a competitor, a fighter.”
The senior roster proved to be full of fighters.
Guys like middle linebacker Will Murrin, who was relegated to leading an injury-deflated Maryville front-seven against Whitehaven’s battle-tested run game, playing without fellow run-stoppers Dylan Shinsky and Haden Townsend, who were both lost to injury in the two weeks leading up to Cookeville.
“We were beat up, we had some injuries,” Quarles said. “But that didn’t slow us down. We kept fighting, kept making plays and kept advancing.
“I’m proud of this group. I think they’ll look back and achieved a lot.”
Including guys like Logan Winders, the big senior tight end who gave Maryville a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter on a 2-yard, fourth-and-goal pass from Myers.
Winders claim to fame, though, was making ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays after a circus catch in a nationally-televised win over rival Alcoa in August.
And guys like undervalued but never underutilized running back Trenton Shuler. Or safety Brian Coulter, the heavy hitter who led the Maryville defense from the back end all season, who helped cement his senior class with a memorable mark in a the storied football program’s history.
It was Coulter serving as one of the few players to speak up in the pre-game locker room. Reminding his teammates that, at least for those seniors, this was it. Win or lose, their football careers were over after the game.
But don’t confuse the quiet focus before the game for a lack of confidence or an unprepared football team. It’s what they had done all year.
“This was a loose group,” Quarles said. “... but when it was time to play, they showed up to play. There weren’t any games, that I can remember, that we just didn’t show up.
“Every game, they showed up, competed. And I’m proud of that. As a coach, all you can ask for is great effort, and these guys gave it to us each and every week.”
But Saturday night the ‘each and every week’ gave way to the stinging tears of a loss and the finality of a prep football career for a group of seniors.
And make no mistake, it’s not easy on the coach, either.
“This day is always sad to me because you know its the last game,” Quarles said. “You know its the last game you’re going to have them in pre-game meal.
“It’s an emotional time for me. It just kind of wells up inside of you a little bit. Because you know that you’re never going to get to coach them again. It happens that way every year, and this year is no different.”
“Awesome careers,” Quarles then added with a reminiscent smile, “A lot of great memories with these guys.”