Rebel alum proves Mr. Consistent for Tech
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
COOKEVILLE — Tennessee Tech’s struggles this season continued Saturday when a 28-20 fourth-quarter lead evaporated in a 42-28 loss to Eastern Kentucky. But the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions still have their bright spots — quarterback Tre Lamb is two touchdown passes from breaking the school’s single season record and former Vol Da’Rick Rogers is two away from the receiving TD mark after two scores Saturday raised his season total to eight — and their promising future — Alcoa alum Austin Tallent made it back-to-back games with 17 tackles, while almost quietly Maryville alum and fellow Golden Eagle sophomore Zach Sharp hit his 80th PAT for TTU.
The value of a reliable leg on the point after is an item generally taken for granted, but with the troubles of late at the state’s flagship university in that department, Tech coach Watson Brown is thankful he has Sharp to rely on in those moments.
“He’s been important since he got here. He was important last year, he’s important this year. He does all extra points and field goals. He’s our onside kick kicker and could be the kickoff guy, I think, if we needed him to be,” Brown told The Daily Times last week. “We recruited him to do this, and he’s a two-year starter for us already.”
THE BLUECROSS BONUS
Brown and his staff admit they’ve made the most of Tucker Stadium and its hosting duties for the BlueCross Bowl state championship games for the TSSAA. It’s given the Golden Eagles a first hand look at some of the state’s best players and also brings those players on to the Tech campus, where they get a first-hand look at the football facilities as they use them for a memorable game.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about the hosting value,” Brown said. “The other thing I’ve learned is that everybody in the state has posters and signs in the locker room about the road to Cookeville because everyone wants to get here. That’s a big piece of it too.”
That was a contributing factor to recruiting Sharp two years ago when Maryville was downing Smyrna 23-21 on Tech’s AstroTurf.
“We’d known about Zach for awhile. I watched him, honestly, I studied him hard when he played here in the state championship game when they came to town. I watched him warm up, and I knew how accurate he was, and I wanted to see his leg strength,” Brown said. “Once I saw that, we offered him pretty quick.”
The reward has been noticeable for TTU. Sharp broke the school record for most PAT kicks in a season with 46 in 2011, topping the previous mark of 42 set by Wayne Anderson in 1977. With 73 points, Sharp came up just short of the school record for most points scored by a kicker in a season. The sophomore is 80-of-81 on PATs for his career after Saturday and has hit 12-of-21 field goal tries. That Sharp has stayed so consistent is even more remarkable this year considering he’s had three different holders. Marty Jones was slated to be the holder, but he was lost for the year in the opener. Ryan Tilghman has filled in since, but was injured midseason and missed a game, putting punter Chad Zinchini into the role of holder for Sharp.
“I believe in Zach. I believe he’ll hit the big kick for us,” Brown said. “His range is even better from a year ago. He’s a confident kid. He’s laid back and doesn’t really show you, but I think he’s aggressive and competitive, and I think you have to have that as a kicker because most of the time when you go out there it’s a big kick if it’s a field goal, and honestly we believe in him 100 percent.”
For his part Sharp still comes off quiet and a bit reserved, just like he did when setting the state’s consecutive PAT record at Maryville and winning Mr. Football. But the underclassman, who has a declared major in nursing that is still being actually decided on, says there have been changes in his game since his days as a Red Rebel.
“It’s more business like. When I was in high school people would say, ‘oh you missed a kick it’s OK,’ but in college it’s a little more pressure. I kind of like that because it’s an incentive to work harder and focus in practice to get better,” Sharp said of the transition. “This summer I tried to get more consistency kicking off the ground. That’s the biggest change going from high school to college is the transition from kicking off the block to kicking field goals from the ground. I worked on that a lot more. Last year when I came into camp I wasn’t very good off the ground at all, just terrible.”
“You were not terrible,” interjected an incredulous Tallent who was standing within earshot of his bud from Blount.
The timing of Sharp’s arrival couldn’t have been better for Tech, and it also turned out pretty convenient for the kicker in question when Maryville put down AstroTurf of its own one season after Sharp’s graduation.
“Believe it or not I like the real grass. When I kick on grass I tear it up a lot because of how hard my foot comes into the ball, but on this stuff,” Sharp said while nudging the synthetic turf of Tucker Stadium as an indicator, “I tear up my ankle because on this, it doesn’t give at all. So I actually like grass fields better.”