Blount Press Row

The Royal Family

Undefeated Eagleton Middle energizes school, community with title chase
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Eagleton Middle School works on the kicking game at a recent practice. The unbeaten Royals (7-0) host Huntsville in a conference semifinal tonight at 7. Photos by Jenifer Clark

By Stefan Cooper
Editor
Blount Press Row

Bryson Richardson is an easy kid to like.

The Eagleton Middle sixth-grader just walks right up.

“How ya doing today, sir?” he asks.

“Having a nice day?”

Wow!

Young man carries himself like that is going places in life.

It’s like that at Eagleton these days. The Royals are 7-0 and two wins from the school’s first football championship in 30 years.

Eagleton hosts Huntsville in a Smoky Mountain Middle School Football Association semifinal tonight at 7.

One of the best teams in school history has sent a charge through Eagleton. The players are fired up. The teachers are fired up.

As stated, it’s hard not to like a team with players like Richardson as an ambassador.

“He tries his best to beat me up,” said Richardson’s older brother, Austin, an eighth-grader.

Allen Taylor

Allen Taylor

To really get to know the Royals, though, it’s best to start with Allen Taylor.

A talented offensive line of Dalton Johnson, Dakota Whitteaker, Jordan Blair, Eric Palm, Isaac Jones, Eliza Smith and Taylor powers this Eagleton team.

It protects quarterback Adam Matthews and gives him time to throw. It opens holes for promising young running back Jefferey Bass.

“It’s their blocking and how good they are at picking up blitzes,” Bass said.

Considering how important a good center is to an offensive line, it also almost never was.

Taylor joined the Royals a year ago with hopes of playing receiver. He had the size and speed for the position. Thing is, Eagleton was in pretty good shape at receiver. Smith fills that role ably at tight end.

What Eagleton needed was a center, someone quick, someone with equally quick thinking.

“I said, ‘Allen, would you be willing to play center for us?’” Eagleton coach Mike McMahan said. “He said, ‘I’ll do whatever you need me to do, coach’”

When asked to make the move, Taylor admits to being disappointed. Primarily, he wasn’t sure he’d be any good at center.

“I didn’t know how I was going to do,” he said. “I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team.”

The sacrifice Taylor made speaks to the heart of this Eagleton team.

Eagleton coach Mike McMahan, center facing, with ball cap, addresses the Royals after practice.

Eagleton coach Mike McMahan, center facing, with ball cap, addresses the Royals after practice.

When McMahan took over as coach five years ago, there weren’t many cards in the deck to play. The Royals dressed 17 players that first season. Four were lost to injury by season’s end. McMahan was given the job only days before the start of the season.

He had an ace in the hole, though.

Chad Tipton played for McMahan when the latter was an assistant coach at nearby Heritage High School. Tipton became a Mountaineer assistant himself after a career at Maryville College.

When Tipton left Heritage to focus on teaching, he told McMahan the only way he’d return to football was if McMahan got a head coaching job somewhere.

Five years ago, somewhere became Eagleton.

“He (McMahan) said, ‘You remember that promise you made about five years ago?’” Tipton said. “I said, ’I sure do. When do we start?'”

“I’ve known him since he was 12,” McMahan said. “He’s still just as feisty.”

A staff of McMahan, Tipton, Greg Trent and Bryson Dockery has crafted a team that’s yielded two scores in a game only once this season. Matthews and the Eagleton offense, on the other hand, have proven a juggernaut.

Only once have the Royals been held to less than 20 points this season, a 14-0 blanking of Clinton Middle. In five of its wins, Eagleton has put 30 points or better in the scoreboard, twice going over 40. Twice, the Eagletyon defense has shut the other team out.

No win strands taller than a Week 4 trouncing at Fairview Middle, the defending conference champions. In a driving rain, Eagleton won going away, 43-16.

“You could see that look in (the Royals’) eyes,” McMahan said.

A championship, an unbeaten season, each was possible now. To get there, McMahan said he cautioned the Royals to focus on the journey, not the destination.

“We told them that’s the last we’re going to talk about it,” McMahan said. “I think they understood they had to work. I think they knew what it takes to do it.”

There’s little chance of Eagleton getting ahead of itself tonight. That’s not how they got here, Matthews said.

“The coaches have prepared us,” he said. “We just go out there and play as hard as we can until the game’s over.”

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