By Thomas Sellers Jr.
For a decade, one of the questions around the Tipton-Rosemark Academy campus in July was, ‘Can the Rebels make it to the football playoffs?’
Now TRA Head Coach Dodd Gengenbach and his crew have field queries about the Rebels returning to the playoffs. The 2013 season came to an end for the Rebels Nov. 8 in the first round of the playoffs in a tough 34-21 loss to Franklin Road Academy.
After graduating starters like safety Sean O’Brien and quarterback Austin Chambers, the Rebels are in pursuit of a return to the postseason with a new defensive leader and signal caller.
Enter Sean’s younger brother Shane to lead the Blue Shirt Defense from his linebacker position. And junior AJ Hightower has studied the playbook since his freshman year and he’s ready for the challenge.
“It some big shoes to fill right there,” Hightower acknowledged. “But I’m confident I can fill Austin’s shoes and hopefully take the team further than we went last year.
“I picked up what they’re best at and some things they’re not so good at,” he added. “I see where I need to make plays for our key players to make plays for us.”
Hightower had the physical size and arm to make plays in Gengenbach’s offensive scheme. The junior said while he adjusts to the speed of the varsity game this season, he’ll depend on his offensive line featuring talent like Isaac Esgro, Christian Moore, Ethan Watson, Mathew Canon and Christian Diggs.
“I’ve just got to be smart with the ball, read the defense and make plays,” Hightower said.
The playmakers around Hightower include all-purpose athlete Logan Stewart. The senior is a combination of speed and strength.
Stewart saw time last season at running back, wide receiver and even quarterback. He will share the ball with teammates like Colton Vaughn, Ethan Carpenter,Chance Benson, Ethan Kaiser and O’Brien.
Shane will see time at running back. But his key role on the team will be defensive leader and play caller.
Under the guidance of his father and defensive coordinator Shannon, Shane is ready to lead his unit from practice to the field.
“Being committed and showing up to practice when we’re supposed and doing our drills right,” he said is the key to success. “Actually battling ourselves and pushing ourselves to the next level. We have to make sure we do what we’re supposed to when we’re supposed to like stunting when we’re supposed to stunt. Basically do our jobs and make plays.”
O’Brien made several plays along side his brother last season. Sean made his share of plays earning a college scholarship to Hendrix College.
The elder O’Brien leaves a defensive unit featuring stoppers like Dillon Barrom, Colton Vaughn and more. Shane said his brother’s presence will be missed, but established players and a few newcomers are ready to stop the opposition trying to return back to the playoffs in 2014.
“You can’t really replace a guy like my brother,” he concluded. “He was a great leader and he showed a tough mental attitude about things. We’ve got a couple of young kids showing some potential. They’ll probably get to start this year. And we still have Logan back there. So we’ll have enough leadership back there.”