By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Did the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebels peak in 2017?
If you talk to the coaches and players coming back for 2018, the clear answer is a definite ‘No.’ Last season TRA won seven games in the regular season and earned a home playoff game. Multiple players were named to the All-State team and Head Coach Collin Pinner witnessed a couple of players signing college scholarships.
“I feel really excited although I know we lost some linemen and skill players,” TRA senior running back Jake Roane said. “But I feel that we have enough people here that we can bounce back and fill those positions we lost.”
Players like Roane, Mac Fullen, JT May and Howard Gray will take the reps on offense to try to keep up the productivity established last year. But in order for the Rebels to keep on posting 30- and 40-point games, the new-look offensive line has to gel.
“With the linemen we lost, I think we’ll be fine,” senior O-lineman Christian Stafford said. “We lost a few big guys up front but the guys returning have been trying real hard in practice. We’re getting better. I don’t think we’ll have many problems.”
Pinner and staff have emphasized the importance of the offensive line building cohesion.
“It’s been more intense, more difficult,” Stafford acknowledged. “Just knowing that we’re going to have to go both way most of the game, we’re not going to get many breaks. We’ll just have to push ourselves harder in practice.”
Also being pushed harder in practice has been the defense. Under the direction of new coordinator Jacob Cole, May said the philosophy has been simplified throughout the summer.
“We didn’t lose that many people from defense off last year’s team,” he said. “So we should have some experience. We need to stop the run because we don’t play that many people who pass.
“Coach has been making it simple — just run toward or around the football to bring him down,” May added.
If the defense does it job and limits the opposition, points scored by players like Fullen and Gray will be validated through victory. Gray said he ready to step into key roles left behind by players like 2018 Millington Star Athlete of the Year Carter Weakley.
“It feels great to actually be one of the big names for this team,” he said. “But I think we have a lot of athletes. If we can get the ball out to those athletes this year, we’ll have a good run. We’ll shock a lot of people.
“I love Carter,” he added. “He’s like a brother. I learned a lot from him. He meant a lot to me since last year was my first year of actually playing football in my whole life. I just learn from him. I did well last year. This year I want to do even better.”
Fullen, an All-State running back who rushed for 1,000 yards last season, is ready to do more as well. Fullen enters his junior campaign as the owner of a pair of 1,000-yard seasons. He sees that potential in a couple of newcomers on the Rebel roster.
“ We have a couple of young guys coming in who have been working hard,” he said. “I think they’ve been putting in good work, getting in the weight room. I feel really good about things. They’ve been coming out there and just working to get better.
“I got a chance as a freshman,” Fullen continued. “I want to see them get their chance. They gave me a shot and I feel like everybody should get a shot. See what kind of skills they have and see what they can do in a live game. It’s a lot different than middle school. It’s faster pace and guys with bigger size.”
TRA has a few big guys on its roster like Fullen and Roane. Roane also rushed for 1,000 yards last year. While prepared to top that output in 2018, Roane said his key job in the preseason is making sure all the players are on the same page ready to improve on 2017.
“Playing hard for each other,” Roane concluded. “We’ve got a sense of brotherhood. We have to go all out for each other.”