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Off To See The Wizard

A season on the sideline with Paige Buckner, Emilee Robertson, the Heritage Mountaineers and other people

Heritage running back Jose Hernandez and quarterback Jake Olvey make the exchange on a night we’ll never forget. Photo by Brandon Shinn

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

She meant it as a compliment, even as she started to laugh.

Heritage student trainers Emilee Robertson, left, and Paige Buckner take a break before loading up after the Catholic game. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

“I see you everywhere (on that bicycle),” Heritage student trainer Paige Buckner said. “That’s impressive.

“Every time I see you, I think of that little old lady in the ‘Wizard of Oz.’”

You know the scene, the one where Miss Gulch comes to collect Toto on the bicycle with the little basket on the back?

Buckner even added the theme music.

“No,” she insisted. “That’s a good thing!”

The exchange on the sideline at a Heritage home game this fall is one of Blount Press Row’s top memories of the 2012 high school football season.

The playoffs are underway and football season is winding down. Since two of Blount County’s four high schools didn’t make it in, it seemed like a good time for a look back.

We’re not so much interested in games or final scores here. It’s the people that make sports go. Sometimes they do or say some of the most interesting things. Like Buckner, who uncorked another winner later in the same game, they also say things you never forget.

So let’s get to it. Here are some things we remember about the 2012 high school football season.

No. 10 – Blinded by the Light

Miguel McNelly knocks one through out of a Nick Myers hold. Photo by Brandon Shinn

Four points separated Alcoa and Maryville after a Nick Myers touchdown with four minutes remaining. As the Rebels readied to kickoff, we glanced at place-kicker Miguel McNelly. Blinded instantly by a midday sun above the Cyprus trees at the south end of Shields Stadium, we turned away.

Excepting William Blount senior Ryan Hodgson (see below), McNelly was the county’s top kicker this season. Touchbacks were all but automatic. Inexplicably, McNelly’s kick popped straight up, right into that sun.

Alcoa’s Malik Love never saw the ball before it struck him. The Rebels recovered the fumble and scored two plays later.

The 14-point swing proved telling in a 42-24 Maryville win.

Got some creekside property I’ve been trying to get rid of if you think McNelly just got under the ball too much.

Lane Bloom runs to daylight during the Farragut win. Photo by Chris Ritchie

No. 9 – The Next Avenger

The instant Lane Bloom cut behind a block at the corner on the first play from scrimmage, you knew it was a touchdown.

The William Blount senior zoomed 93 yards like a shot to give the Governors a 7-0 lead in its annual battle with Heritage. Bloom’s a pretty good size guy. He plays linebacker on defense.

Watching a guy that size zip the distance of Mike White Field so quickly, the headline was a layup after the Governors won the Battle of the Bell, 13-2. His first name was perfect. We’d found ourselves a superhero. Lane Zoom was born.

We’ve got a call in to Marvel Comics.

No. 8 – Ryan’s Hope

Yeah, we know it’s the name of a once popular soap opera, but Ryan Hodgson was pretty much all we had to cheer about on a bad, bad night at Bearden.

Ryan Hodgson drills another kickoff deep. Photo by Chris Ritchie

Weird penalties, a Bearden team coming in hot, and the Bulldogs had a decisive lead by halftime.

Kickers are a different breed. They follow the game but with the tunnel vision necessary to do the job typically remain close to the kicking net and stay loose.

Hodgson’s a laid back kid. He’ll joke around if he knows the need for his services aren’t imminent. Guys like him and Maryville punter Grant Robinson are great for some conversation when a game starts getting out of hand.

Early in the third quarter at Bearden, Governor coach David Gregory sent Hodgson to the field to try a school-record 50-yard field goal.

Shades of Lane Kiffin and the Sebastian Janakowski fiasco flashed.


Fifty yards.

Hodgson stuck it, though. Would have been good from 60.

Nice shot, Ryan.

Negotiations to get the entire Blount Press Row staff in some of these babies for home games next fall have stalled.

No. 7 Brandon’s Big Orange Pants

His wife, Liz, and I still haven’t spoken, at least not face to face.

Oh, well, Maryville College did win the game the day Blount Press Row photographer Brandon Shinn showed up in those bright, orange “Dickies,” a play on Tennessee coach Derek Dooley for sporting his custom, J.H. Daniel’s on game day.

Not only did we learn Liz liked Brandon’s new look for Maryville home games – (He’s not taking those things on the road when we get big enough to travel.) – she’d helped him order the cornea scorching britches online. Good thing the guy can really shoot.

We got used to them after a while. Even thought of having the whole staff sport a pair for a game, but some of those people own firearms.

No. 6 – “Shoeless Shawn” Prevo

Shawn Prevo, sans right shoe, scores against Bearden. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Maryville junior Shawn Prevo tore off some sick touchdown runs this season, but juking somebody’s defense to death with one shoe?

Bearden played the Rebels tough, but a back with Prevo’s agility and lateral movement can always make something out of very little. With Maryville looking to put it away in an eventual 21-3 win, the Rebel back shifted right through Bearden’s defense before cutting left and stepping out of tackle, leaving behind a shoe with a would-be Bulldog tackler to remember him by.

Really, though. One shoe!

No. 5 – The Power of Cheese

Cheese and I at the Heritage/Maryville game this season. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

He’s a hockey player by trade, and a young man with an amazingly imaginative mind.

Seems Blount Press Row photographer Jolanda Jansma was readying the kids for school one morning, when her son, Erik Jan Hill, decided to “test a hypothesis,” his words.

He was really feeling a grilled cheese, but there wasn’t time to heat the oven. He was just out of the shower and still warm. How the mind makes this next leap is perhaps only for the brilliant.

Ripping off the cellophane, my man stuck the cheese to his bare chest and let body heat do the work. Seconds later, a happy seventh-grader was on his way school, we’re told, secure in his ability to adapt and overcome.

Can’t help but earn the nickname “Cheese” behind something like that. By season’s end, Cheese had become an official Blount Press Row spotter for Maryville home games.

No. 4 – Way to Make an Entrance

Mustafa Anthony and Kenny Dean battle for the ball against CAK. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

The whole town of Alcoa was fired up for the Christian Academy of Knoxville game. There’s a lady on Harper Street nearby who already has the windows in her van painted “Beat CAK!” for a potential rematch in a week’s time.

It’s going to take a lot to top the original.

For starters, the Tornadoes returned to the locker room after pregame to find all-new silver game jerseys for the occasion. Then they dropped the real bomb.

Alcoa teams usually take the field from the end zone nearest the old high school gymnasium. For the game with the Warriors, the Tornadoes descended through the crowd from the top of Bill Bailey Stadium, an aroused full house roaring their approval.

The game was a close run thing, but the Tornadoes got it done, 31-28. Afterward, Christian Academy quarterback Charlie High made it a point to hang around and shake Alcoa coach Gary Rankin’s hand. Interesting exchange afterward.

No. 3 – Miss Gulch Rides Again (See introduction)

No. 2 – The Drive

Jesse Huff sparked a memorable drive in the Farragut game. Photo by Brandon Shinn

As Blount Press Row closes on its first birthday Dec. 15, nothing we’ve published has generated the interest as a blog titled “Will They Remember?” We belted it out in a fit of admiration after a Heritage loss to Farragut late in the season.

The Admirals were way ahead by halftime. There wasn’t

Je'Rell Bledsoe rumbles against Bearden. Photo by Hobe Brunson

much to be learned the last two quarters, or so we thought. With Heritage down 45-0, we noticed the way Mountaineer receiver Jesse Huff came out of his break at the sideline.

It was crisp, like the route’s supposed to be run. Jake Olvey had really stepped into the throw. When they made the connection again on the next play, you felt something. These guys had forgotten the score and were just playing ball. And they were playing well.

The way Heritage drove the length of the field for a Je’Rell Bledsoe 1-yard touchdown run was a powerful thing. People talk all the time about not giving up. These guys put a face to it.

To “the Dirty 30” Mountaineers: Our compliments. Live great lives.

No. 1 – Life By Bike

Buckner and fellow student trainer Emilee Robertson are seniors at Heritage, and, for college, they’re splitting up.

Robertson is going to Tennessee Tech in Cookeville. Buckner is staying closer to home and will attend Maryville College. The three of us spent some time on the sideline the night of the Miss Gulch bomb, needling Robertson about leaving.

“See! See!” Buckner said.

“Thanks, Stefan,” Robertson countered.

Scarlet taking a break on Foothills Parkway earlier this week.

They’re good kids and promised to keep up with each other. The conversation then turned to Scarlet, my bike, and questions like: What about when it rains?

What about when it’s cold?

“It’s like life,” I said. “Some days the sun’s out. Some days, a thunderstorm pounds you all the way home.”

Buckner’s comeback was poetry.

“Life is like a bicycle,” she said. “Sometimes it stinks. Sometimes it’s awesome.”

















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