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Spring Practice Report: Maryville

T.D. and the 2 QBs highlight big April for defending champs
Sophomore linebacker T.D. Blackmon sheds a would-be blocker on the final day of Maryville spring practice last week. Photos by Beth Murphy

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

It’s the thing you don’t see you notice most about T.D. Blackmon.

Blackmon accepts the BlueCross Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player Award after a blocked field goal at the end of regulation and an interception in overtime clinched Maryville's record 15th state title. Photo by Brandon Shinn

Blackmon accepts the BlueCross Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player Award after a blocked field goal at the end of regulation and an interception in overtime clinched Maryville’s record 15th state title. Photo by Brandon Shinn

The Maryville High School sophomore middle linebacker doesn’t go in much for the blow up hit.

Don’t get the wrong idea. At 6-foot, 205 pounds, he’ll strike you. He’ll strike you real good.

More often than not, Blackmon just gets there, every time, and makes the tackle.

“Great student, great kid, great football player,” Maryville coach George Quarles said.

The defending Class 6A champion Rebels keep the decision making on defense to a minimum during spring practice, what with defensive coordinator Jim Gaylor doubling as the Maryville baseball coach and secondary coach Nick White directing the school’s track and field teams.

This spring was no different, much of the two weeks recently concluded concerned with picking next year’s starting quarterback.

Sophomore Austin Ensley rolls to throw.

Sophomore Austin Ensley rolls to throw.

Sophomore Austin Ensley and freshman Dylan Hopkins left spring in a dead heat. Both looked good, great, actually. Both add something different — Ensley experience and a genius for playmaking, Hopkins foot speed and a throwing arm not seen at Maryville since the days of Mr. Football winners Brent Burnette and Cade Thompson.

“Coming out of spring, you’d have to play both of them,” Quarles said. “Austin’s got a leg up just because of experience.”

More on Ensley and Hopkins shortly as neither will be the reason Maryville does or doesn’t mount a title defense in 2015. Losses on the other side of the ball were more significant, none more so than Stanford signee Dylan Jackson and Tennessee Tech signee Ritchie Koons.

Ends like the two-time Mr. Football finalist Jackson and the run-stopping tackle Koons aren’t easy to come by. Neither are linebackers like Blackmon.

The starter from his first game as a freshman, the budding Division I prospect returns after having led the Rebels in tackles in each of his first two seasons. The close of his sophomore season was one for the books, Blackmon first blocking a Ravenwood field goal attempt at the end of regulation to send the state championship game to overtime.

When the Raptors went for two and the win on the second possession of overtime, Blackmon intercepted Ravenwood quarterback Cole Brown at the goal line as the Rebels claimed the school’s record 15th state championship in the playoff era. The title earned Quarles a state record 11th ring as the Maryville coach.

Freshman Dylan Hopkins fakes the give to Michael Hall.

Freshman Dylan Hopkins fakes the give to Michael Hall.

Blackmon was named the BlueCross Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player.

It’s Blackmon’s smarts for the game that set him apart, Quarles said. Take another look at the state championship-clinching pick — The interception comes near the end of the clip.

Ravenwood receiver and Mr. Football finalist Van Jefferson ran a quick slant on the decisive play after going in motion, a difficult thing to defend from that distance. Blackmon jumped the route and made interception — in front of Jefferson.

You can build a lot around a linebacker with that intellect for the game, especially so considering who’ll also return in 2015.

Foremost among returnees is sophomore end Matt Young, cut from much the same mold as Jackson. Also back is junior linebacker Tyler Zwolinski and 6-foot-3, 235-pound tackle Blake Oliveira.

Blake Oliveira works his way to the ball.

Sophomore Blake Oliveira works his way to the ball.

The height and weight on Oliveira is from last season. Judging from spring, the numbers come fall are going to be a lot different.

Sophomore linebacker Evan Porter, who gave up football a year ago to focus on baseball, is also returning to the gridiron.

The secondary returns juniors Drake Martin and Josh Yoakum and sophomore Cameron Russell. Sophomore Jack Bristol had a strong spring as well. Bristol’s older brother, Paul, started at corner for the Rebels last season.

Now, about those quarterbacks …

Quarles isn’t making nice when he says Ensley and Hopkins would both play if the season began next Friday. Two weeks of spring practice revealed ironies concerning the pair that won’t make the decision any easier come fall.

The eye test – Ensley smaller, shiftier, Hopkins, a 6-footer hitting a noticeable growth spurt – would lead you to believe Ensley is the oft-quoted running quarterback, Hopkins the passer. That’s not exactly the case.

“Both of them bring things to the table that can help us win games,” Quarles said.

Ensley locks in on his target.

Ensley locks in on his target.

Ensley was rock ready at midseason last year when starter Tyler Vaught (Air Force Academy) was lost for three games with a shoulder injury. The 5-10 Ensley won all three, his passing, not his legs, the difference.

In a matchup with Sevier County junior and Northwestern commitment Deuce Wallace at Shields Stadium, Ensley ripped the Bears for a perfect 7-for-7 first half for 193 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-3 Rebel romp. He also ran for a score.

Ensley looked nothing but sharp during spring, but Hopkins can throw too. Boy, can he.

Son of a quarterback, Hopkins has the pedigree: He can make every throw, beautifully. It’s when he takes off you really get it, though.

Fourth in the 100 meters at the Blount County Track and Field Championships in a hand-timed 11.54 seconds, Hopkins, quite simply, can fly.

Hopkins gets the play from quarterbacks coach Derek Hunt.

Hopkins gets the play from quarterbacks coach Derek Hunt.

“If one of them starts playing better than the other,” Quarles said, that’s who’ll get the snaps come fall.

“We’re really excited about the potential of both those guys,” he added.

Maryville lost a lot with the departure of Jaylen Burgess to join Vaught at the Air Force Academy. In his place, spring revealed the Rebels return no shortage of speed and pop to compensate.

Junior Joel Hopkins, Dylan’s older brother, rushed for 129 yards on 14 carries — averaging 9.2 yards per carry — in the championship game and has the same wheels as his quarterback sibling. Sophomore Isaiah Cobb, cousin of Green Bay Packers wide out Randall Cobb, is competing for the other running back spot with fellow sophomores Jordan Ervin, Michael Hall and Russell.

Hall, 6-1, 220, is one to watch. A lot.

“It was a good spring for him because he got a lot of reps,” Quarles said. “Joel is a one, and we feel good about the rest. All of them showed flashes of the ability to do some good things.”

Showing best of the guys up front, as Maryville looks to replace four starters along the offensive line, was junior Wes Ferguson.

“He probably had the best spring of the guys we were looking at,” Quarles said. “This year he looked like the player we thought he’d be as a sophomore.”

Defensive back Josh Yoakum is fired up about the fall.

Defensive back Josh Yoakum is fired up about the fall.

We’ll close where the Rebels appear strongest out of spring – the receiving corps.

Junior Kelby Brock became the county’s premier receiver last season. Whoever’s at quarterback, if the 6-1 Brock gets his hands of the ball, the Rebels are going to score some points. Discouraging double teams will be junior Brian Tillery and freshman Christian Markham, who both saw time as the starter last season.

Special teams?

That’s handled.

Luke Orren is back for the punting and placekicking duties. The junior prospect was an invitee by the Tennessee coaching staff for the Vols end of spring Orange and White game.

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