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Star Track: The Next Generation

MJH speedster Ward highlights Barley’s/BPR all-county middle school team
Rebel eighth-grader Sean Ward (3) discusses a three-touchdown performance in the East Tennessee Football Conference championship game with a Maryville Junior High teammate. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

At some point, Heidi Ward must’ve been one of the fastest kids you’ve ever seen.

Her son, Sean, sure is, and that’s where he says he gets it.

Ward sets sail for the end zone for one of his three touchdowns in the East Tennessee Football Conference championship game.

Ward sets sail for the end zone for one of his three touchdowns in the East Tennessee Football Conference championship game.

Lights out whether receiving or returning kicks, the Maryville Junior High eighth-grader is our pick as the 2015 Barley’s/Blount Press Row Middle School Player of the Year.

Untitled-2A sprint standout on the school’s track team, the 5-foot-7, 160-pound Ward has been timed at 4.56 seconds at 40 yards.

It was recorded as a split time during a track meet. That’s just smokin’ for a kid that age.

Asked for where he gets it, Ward responded: “My mom tells me she used to be fast.”

For the season, the Rebel playmaker had 12 catches for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns, adding a couple of interceptions on defense. It’s when you kick to him you see the full measure of what a guy this fast — and only a guy this fast — can really do.

Ward’s performance in the East Tennessee Football Conference championship game was nothing short of stunning. Please see: The Flash.

In nine games, the star of the future returned five kickoffs for 260 yards and three touchdowns of 62, 81 and 83 yards. The 81-yarder came on the opening kickoff of the second half in the above mentioned championship game.

The 2015 season was a comeback year for Ward.

“I got hurt last year,” he said. “There were some doubts, so I looked at (2015) as a chance to prove the doubters wrong.”

The season opened well, but it was the Rhea County game, a game the Rebels lost, Ward said he first felt he was really back.

“I kind of got angry,” he said.

Barley’s/BPR All-Blount County Middle School Team

Sean WardMaryville Junior High, Barley's/BPR Player of the Year
IMG_0595The Barley's/Blount Press Row Middle School Player of the Year is a lights-out flyer. One of the fastest we've come across at his age in a long time, the Rebel 8th-grader was a lethal receiving threat with 12 catches for 200 yards and two TDs, averaging 15.5 yards per catch. He returned five kickoffs for another 300 yards, returning three of them for scores of 62, 81 and 83 yards. East Tennessee Football Conference champion Maryville got two picks on defense from a player who'll grab your attention right away next season.
Travonis HodgeMaryville Junior High
IMG_0592 (1)It's takes a lot for a freshman to even get minutes at Maryville High School. This kid will. The younger brother of Rebel sophomore Isaiah Cobb, Hodge ran for 475 yards on 12.6 yards per carry. He scored 5 TDs rushing, adding a touchdown receiving. Three kickoff returns netted an additional 93 yards, with a pick-six covering 34 yards on defense.
Cole RobertsMaryville Junior High
IMG_0597Maryville High School is producing some really good linebackers lately, and Roberts is probably going to be the next one. The big-hitting eighth-grader led the Rebels in tackles for the second consecutive season. Averaging 5.6 yards per carry out of the backfield, he's likely to get some looks at fullback as well.
Jake ClearmanMaryville Junior High
IMG_0599No doubt about it. Maryville Junior High kickers coach T.J. Emory is one of the best in the business. Clearman, a lefty, continues a long line of talented place-kickers destined for big things at the high school. He was 28-of-34 on PATs and hit his only field goal of 27 yards. It's the touchback that knocked us out. Middle school kickoffs are from the 40.
Seth OrrenMaryville Junior High
IMG_0594Ever seen a kid who could just play ball? Orren finished the Rebels' second-leading tackler as Maryville claimed the East Tennessee Football Conference championship. Orren was a hit in the title game, an interception and a sack on back-to-back Sevierville possessions opening the flood gates on a 45-8 Rebel rout.
Luke Walker
IMG_0596Walker is a special athlete. The Maryville Junior High eighth-grader rushed for 400 yards and five TDs averaging a robust 9.4 yards per carry. The Maryville quarterback tacked on another 424 yards and nine touchdowns passing. It's when he tucks it and goes. That's what you'll notice.
Dakota WhitteakerEagleton Middle
IMG_0602When Eagleton really needed a first down, there was only one place, really, where it was going to run the ball: right behind Whitteaker. An All-East Tennessee selection, he anchored the line on both sides of the ball for the Royals (9-0), who ran the table in winning the Smoky Mountain Middle School Football Association championship. This guy will strike you.
Eric PalmEagleton Middle
IMG_0603Right from Eagleton coach Mike McMahan: The 3-year starter at guard "excelled at blocking down linemen and second level personnel to wreak havoc on opposing defenses." Palm had a lot to do with the unbeaten Royals claiming the Smoky Mountain Middle School Football Association champion. Named All-East Tennessee.
Adam MatthewsEagleton Middle
IMG_0608The eighth-grader quarterbacked an offense that averaged 35 points per game as the Royals (9-0) rolled unbeaten to the school's first championship in 30 years, Eagleton the winners of the Smoky Mountain Middle School Football Association. A two-year starter, Matthews was an All-East Tennessee selection.
Allen TaylorEagleton Middle
IMG_0607Taylor joined the Royals two years ago with designs on playing receiver. He had the size and speed, but Eagleton needed a center more. He made the move. The Royals (9-0) roared to the Smoky Mountain Middle School Football Association championship, the school's first title in 30. Taylor was named All-East Tennessee.
Jeffery BassEagleton Middle
IMG_0606Bass is going to give some high school a breakaway threat at running back right away this fall. The Royals top scorer, he found the end zone on running plays, kick returns, interceptions and fumble recoveries in 2015. Named to the All-East Tennessee Team as Eagleton (9-0) won the Smoky Mountain Middle School Football Association championship.
Tristan HurstEagleton Middle
IMG_0605A seventh-grader, Hurst has been a starter for Eagleton for two seasons now. He can do a lot of things -- tight end, running back, quarterback, defensive end -- for a football team. He led the special teams in tackles in a big year for the Smoky Mountain Middle School Football Association champion Royals.
Nick CanslerWilliam Blount Middle
IMG_0627An offensive lineman who can really get it done at the middle school level isn't all that common. Cansler will be heard from a lot in coming years. The Union Grove eighth-grader had 19 solo tackles on defense, including eight for loss. On offense he graded out at a 91 percent rate in finishing his block.
Zach GardnerWilliam Blount Middle
IMG_0626The Union Grove eighth-grader might play right away at the next level. The 6-foot receiver/defensive back was a go-to player on both sides of the ball. On offense, he finished with four catches for 116 yards and four TDs. With the stop unit, he had eight tackles and broke up six passes.
Seth CooperWilliam Blount Middle
IMG_0624The Carpenters 8th grader demolished the school's records for rushing in 2015. The Govs burner first ran for a single-game record 217 yards, following with a smashing of the season mark by year's end, hitting the tape at a new record 682 on 66 carries. Ran for 8 TDs.
Luke SummerallAlcoa Middle
IMG_0622Middle school football has evolved significantly the last decade. It takes a lot to be an impact player on the offensive line now. For a seventh-grader to be such a player says much about Summerall's potential, both next season and beyond. Three pancake blocks stand out.
A.J. DavisAlcoa Middle
IMG_0621The grandson and son, respectively, of former Alcoa greats Albert "Sonny" Davis and Albert Davis III, A.J. did anything but recoil from the shadows cast by his famous relatives. The eighth-grader ran for a Blount County-best 1,043 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Tornadoes in nine games, adding 131 yards and 3 scores receiving.
Tyler BoydAlcoa Middle
IMG_0620Whether at wide out or tight end, Boyd has the makings of a real matchup problem at the high school. An All-East Sectional basketball forward, the eighth-grader had 135 yards receiving and three touchdowns for the football Tornadoes. Speed, size and he can get up.
Cade ChambersAlcoa Middle
IMG_0618The Tornadoes are also taking an all-county quarterback with them to the high school. Chambers, an eighth-grader, lit it up for 724 yards passing and 10 touchdowns. The knockout punch is his completion percentage: 41-of-59 for a red-hot 77 percent.
Nick Roberts Alcoa Middle
IMG_0617 (1)Whether as a baseball pitcher, a sectional most valuable player basketball center or a football receiver, Roberts probably plays right away at the high school. The eighth-grader had 225 yards receiving and four TDs, adding four 2-point conversion catches and one memorable pancake block.
Grant LivesayAlcoa Middle
IMG_0615Livesay was that player for the Tornadoes who could get you whatever you needed. The Alcoa eighth-grader had 150 yards rushing and three scores. He tacked on a pair of touchdowns receiving. When the Tornadoes went for two, he's who they called on, answering with three conversion runs and one off the pass.
Ryan EllisHeritage Middle
image1The yardage totals the Mustangs put up this season speaks to getting it done up front. Ellis was the guy leading charge at the center position. It's when you add what he did at nose guard on defense - 20 solo tackles, 23 assists, 3 sacks - you really begin to see a high school all-star in the making.
Braden CarnesHeritage Middle
image2New coach Julian Allen has the Mustangs running the high school's spread offense now. It's starting to show. Carnes threw for an impressive 825 yards and nine touchdowns to compliment speed back Jackson Jett, who rushed for a Mustang-best 925 yards. A dual threat, Carnes also ran for three scores.
Jackson JettHeritage Middle
image3It just doesn't get any better if you're a running back and your last name just happens to be Jett. How cool is that? The Heritage eighth-grader certainly has the wheels for the name. He ran for 925 yards and scored 11 touchdowns for the Mustangs, a program on the rise. He had 50 tackles at linebacker on defense. Jett? This guy's the combat-armed F-22.
Noah PerkinsHeritage Middle
image4It'll be interesting to see what position fits best for the versatile Perkins at the high school level. At linebacker, he had 42 solo tackles and 80 assists. That's with seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss and two picks returned for touchdowns, mind you. He averaged 34 yards a kick as the Mustang punter and played the line on offense.

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