Blount Press Row

Shinlever’s List

Former Rebel rates friendships forged above season-saving tackle

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

But for one third-and-6, a Maryville football dynasty the last 17 years maybe never happens.

Bearden football Morgan Shinlever addresses the Bulldogs prior to a game.

Bearden football coach Morgan Shinlever addresses the Bulldogs prior to a game.

You’ll never get Morgan Shinlever to admit to such a thing. So many things would fall into place the next couple of seasons.

One thing, however, is indisputable. Had Shinlever, now head coach at Bearden and the school’s 34-year-old athletics director, not made the biggest tackle of his life in a 1998 playoff semifinal, Maryville loses. The Jason and Shawn Witten-led Elizabethton Cyclones move on to crush Whites Creek in the state championship game a week later.

One of the most powerful Maryville football teams in school history leaves without a championship, the program forced to start over.

Everybody remembers the Wittens, especially Jason, who went on to Tennessee and an All-Pro career with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, but listen to some of the Maryville names: Toki McCray (North Carolina State), Nick Black (Clemson), Chuck Prugh (Tennessee), Isaac Simerly (Naval Academy), Brad Hilsher (Tennessee).

Black, Prugh and Simerly were three parts of the biggest offensive line in Blount County history.

With difference makers like receivers Ryan Maples and Cole Hammontree, record-setting running back Michael Potter and linebackers Stephen Pacifico and Josh Theriot also on the roster, the Rebels were stacked like never before.

With less than a minute to play, it was all about to go for naught.

Elizabethton had the ball at its 29-yard line, needing only 6 yards for a first down that would ice the game. Maryville was out of timeouts.

Shinlever during his senior season with the Rebels in 1998.

On a dump pass over the right side, Shinlever, a little-heralded linebacker, got to the Cyclone receiver and hung on, bringing him to the Shields Stadium turf to force a punt. McCray hit Hammontree with a dart at the left sideline on the first play on the ensuing series, the coach’s son racing 66 yards to the end zone over a rain-soaked muddy field for a 20-16 win.

Then Maryville coach Tim Hammontree, now at the helm at Heritage, remembers the game-saving tackle, but the thing he remembers most about Shinlever is the way he worked to win himself a spot on that defense.

“He was willing to outwork all comers and do it in a tunnel-vision style on a couple of things,” Tim Hammontree said. “He chose to outwork those around him. Every week, we looked at things he was weakest at, and he chose to work on those things.”

Current Maryville coach George Quarles, promoted from offensive coordinator when Tim Hammontree left for Georgia after the season, remembers Shinlever’s disciplined approach to things.

Shinlever, wife, Julie, and son, Davis.

“I was impressed with how he handled himself and how organized he was,” Quarles said. “Morgan was one of those people you didn’t have to stay on his back to get all his (weight training) sets in. He’s going to get it done.”

Along with his duties as athletics director and football coach, Shinlever also serves as the school’s assistant principal.

“You have to find that balance between academics and athletics,” he said, “and establish a routine of how things are done.”

Shinlever said he was surprised when Bearden principal John Bartlett asked if he’d be interested in interviewing for the athletics director’s job.

“I told him, ‘It’s something I’d never given a lot of thought to, but I’d like to see what I can do,’” Shinlever said. “It gives you a new perspective on high school sports and education.”

Barlett said Shinlever’s interview and track record with the Bulldogs made him a perfect choice.

“He’s a good person,” he said. “He’s got great knowledge and he gets along well with people. He stood out as the best for the job. He’s a problem solver.

“He relates well to kids and teachers. We expect our AD to be an educator.”

Shinlever and wife, Julie, have a 2-year-old son, Davis. Shinlever said he remembers that fateful tackle. He remembers the Rebels winning Maryville’s first title in 20 years the following week. Something else, he said, stands taller against the test of time.

“Those were some special friendships,” he said.


  1. George DeBaby

    July 12, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    Always good to see Morgan.I have always referred to him on the field at Maryville High and Maryville College as quiet and deadly. Hope his 2015 season at Bearden reaps the rewards of his hard work.

  2. Tony Ierulli

    July 9, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Morgan is an outstanding man, family man & coach. He will lead Bearden to much success as he is rebuilding their football program. I am very proud to be his coach during his senior season at Maryville College.

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