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BPR Spring Practice Report: Spread The News

Alcoa works extensively from shotgun over spring to fit new offense to personnel

Sophomore Mitchell McClurg rolls to throw during Alcoa spring practice earlier this month. Photos by G.W. Meredith

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

The I-formation offense at Alcoa has survived wars, terrorism, Watergate, the breakup of The Beatles, Elvis going home, derivatives trading, the 2008 financial crisis, Monica Lewinski, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, the Kennedy assassination and the 1958 Lituya Bay Megatsunami, which generated “the highest wave ever recorded on Earth,” 1,720 feet.

Jaquez Tyson turns it up during a scrimmage.

The abdication of Queen Beatrix was just a bridge too far.

As the Netherlands welcomed new king Willem-Alexander to the throne in late April, the Tornadoes were hard at work on a new shotgun-snap, spread offense during two weeks of spring practice.

The tailback/fullback-I, run by almost every Alcoa football team since the Jack Raby/Albert Davis days of the early 1960s, isn’t completely gone. The Tornadoes will still use it, Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said.

A spread offense is a better fit for the current Tornadoes, he said, for a number of reasons, most notably quarterbacks Peyton Wall and Mitchell McClurg.

The senior Wall missed most of spring practice with a hernia suffered during offseason conditioning. The strong-armed left-hander, expected back by the summer passing leagues, gives the Tornadoes a strong, run/pass option at quarterback.

The same applies to the fast-rising sophomore McClurg, who quarterbacked the first-team offense in scrimmages with Lenoir City and Sequoyah.

Alcoa coach Gary Rankin talks with a prized sophomore class after a practice. Several players in the group, including defensive end Jonathan Decker (91), are already 6-foot-3 or taller. Photo by Jenifer Clark

Problems with the shotgun snap hampered the showing against the Panthers. Junior Jaquez Tyson got most of the carries, the Alcoa power back looking to build on a head-turning finish to the 2012 campaign. Fellow junior Jake Warwick spelled Tyson liberally and enjoyed a spring worthy of note.

McClurg completed a pair of long throws, including a first-play, deep-strike touchdown toss to senior wide out John McLaughlin.

Panther senior and Tennessee commitment Jaylon Woods singed the Tornado defense for a 55-yard scoring run as Lenoir City held its own for much of the afternoon.

Bad snaps weren’t an issue a week later against the Chiefs. McClurg looked much smoother. Tyson and Warwick found better running room. Receivers Caleb Woody, Brenden Teeter and McLaughlin each came away with big grabs.

Speedster Malik Love spent the spring with the Tornado baseball team.

“We got better,” Rankin said. “We found some players, but we’re so young.”

It’s up front where things will likely turn for the Tornadoes in 2013, on both sides of the ball.

From tight end Jordan Williams, out for football after missing a season, to outsized defensive ends Jonathan Decker, Ryan Clark and Matthew McClurg, sophomores all, this could easily prove the biggest Alcoa football team on record. Clark, Decker and McClurg each stand 6-foot-4 or bigger.

Junior Keller Maples works on his technique.

Decker and the 6-6, 195-pound Clark turn heads walking from the locker room.

“Just the height of them is a little different,” Rankin said. “There are some tall kids out there. All of them have college potential down the road.”

Between them, tackle Braylon Young perhaps showed best among all Tornadoes, in both scrimmages. The All-State senior is by far the Tornadoes top returning defender, even working at center on offense.

“He’s probably the best defensive tackle in the state,” Rankin said.

Senior Miles Holmes and juniors Malik Mitchell and Blake Holder are genuine headliners in an offensive line that will define the season for the Tornados in 2013. With a new scheme to implement, their contributions will be critical. Rankin said he was pleased with how they completed the spring, but there’s still much work to do.

“It’ll be a good offensive line,” Rankin said. “We’ve been fortunate there the last few years. This summer we’ll be able to tell much more as to who’s getting a little stronger, a little bigger.”

Rankin, right, talks with an assistant during practice. The Tornado skipper needs two wins this fall to move into third place on the state's all-time wins list.

It’s no small thing it’s Rankin initiating an offensive shift with the Tornadoes. He’s been at this a while, adhering to a brand of power football at Alcoa and Riverdale that’s produced nine state championships.

Rankin enters the 2013 season needing two victories to pass former Baylor coach E.B. “Red” Etter for third on the state’s all-time wins list with his with his 333rd victory. That would leave only former St. George’s coach Ken Netherland (362) and former Brentwood Academy skipper Carlton Flatt (354) ahead of Rankin at the top of the table.

Netherland left retirement last year to coach Memphis start up Lausanne, which will play its first season of varsity football this fall. Flatt is now the middle school coach at the same Brentwood Academy he led to 10 high school state championships.

The single wing, the wishbone, football offenses come and go. Maybe, like Beatrix, it was just time.












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