By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebels enter the 2015 season fresh off back-to-back playoff appearances.
Both trips ended in defeats to the Franklin Road Academy Panthers in Nashville. Absorbing those tough lessons and embracing success, the TRA senior class feels it is primed to officially start a playoff streak.
“It’s been amazing,” TRA senior quarterback AJ Hightower said. “To go to the playoffs two years in a row is real big for us. Hopefully this year we’ll get pass the first round and go even further.
“We would love to go to the State championship and hopefully win one,” he added. “Kids signing — the O’Brien brothers going to Hendrix is a big deal for us. Having people go to the next level and play football is a great deal for TRA.”
Part of the recent success for the Rebel Football program includes the 2014 and 2015 signings of Sean and Shane O’Brien to Hendrix.
Now players like Hightower and his backfield mate Colton Vaughn are hearing from the next level. Schools like UT-Martin, Delta State, Memphis and Liberty have expressed interest in the duo.
“We have school like D-I and D-II interested in us,” Vaughn said. “If the team can show out this year and go back to the playoffs can help us all this year.”
Vaughn said team success equals individuals moving onto the college level. Under the guidance of Head Coach Dodd Gengenbach and staff, the Class of 2016 has matured into the go-to guys for the Rebels.
“We learned leadership,”Vaughn said. “A small school like TRA, a lot of people thought we couldn’t make the playoffs. We showed we can do it and go beyond. We came together as a team, as a family. That’s what others don’t realize, when we come together we are pretty bad and nothing to play with.”
Vaughn has two roles to fulfill onto the gridiron. He will be one of he featured running backs for the Rebels in 2015. But he has made the most noise as a linebacker racking up nearly 80 tackles in 2014.
Hightower is the signal caller on offense and uses his athleticism on defense as a safety.
Hightower said 2014 helped him mature greatly. The loss to FRA taught him humility, how to handle playoff pressure and to be a positive motivation to younger teammates.
Hightower added getting the underclassmen on the same page will be easy if they follow the seniors’ formula.
“Leadership and being together all for years, we have that team chemistry,” Hightower said. “We know each other up and down, sideways, diagonally. We can finish each others sentences. We know what the other can do.”
Vaughn said the 2015 Rebels can keep the good times rolling on and off the field if things fall in their favor.
“If this team stays healthy, I believe we can do far,” he said. “I believe we can go to the playoffs and go far. If this team stays healthy and comes together as a group, people will be shocked how a small school like TRA can beat schools bigger, faster and stronger.
“It doesn’t matter about the size,” Vaughn concluded. “It matters how we come together as a team and show out.”