'Geek' Tillery Key Figure In Pioneers' Bid For District 6-AA Grid Title

Hixson's Wilkey Eager To Operate From New Read-Option Offense

Thursday, July 10, 2014 - by Larry Fleming

East Ridge’s talented senior JoJo Tillery looked like a young professor Thursday afternoon at the District 6-AA football media day at Finley Stadium.

It must have been the horn-rimmed glasses.

Tillery’s persona – that of a true student-athlete – is something he’s happy to deal with.

“I’m the geek on the team according to my teammates,” Tillery said. “They’re always asking me to help with their homework. I’m a good student and I try to take advantage of that on the field.”

A dual-threat player for coach for coach Tracy Malone, Tillery is one reason the Pioneers were tabbed serious title contenders for the district championship in 2014 after finishing tied with Tyner for second place last season.

The Pioneers were picked to finish second by media representatives at the 2-hour press session and coaches had East Ridge and Hixson sharing the top spot in their balloting.

Six of the seven schools attended Thursday’s event. Tyner chose not to participate. The media picked the Rams to win this year’s title and coaches placed coach Wayne Turner’s Club third.

Tillery is a skilled quarterback and defensive back, but said he’s surrounded by several other players that possess the talent to push the Pioneers toward the top of the district standings.

“We have six receivers that have been playing since their freshman seasons,” he said. “They know the system well and we have a lot of running backs back this year. We have some speed and I hope we can utilize that to our advantage if we get them in the open field.”

The two receivers Tillery will be looking most frequently to grab passes he throws during the season are wide receiver Seth Vaughn and tight end Darius Moore – and with good reason.

Vaughn is one of the fastest players in the district and Moore has a pair of hands that seem to ooze glue.

“He’s never dropped a pass I’ve thrown to him,” Tillery said. “No matter where I put the ball he’s going to go get it. He’s tall, lanky and muscular and just never drops a ball.”

As for Vaughn’s deep-ball threat, Tillery said, “If he gets past a defender I’m automatically looking for him.”

Tillery was the Pioneers’ starting free safety his freshman season and earned a starting offensive job the next season and is hopeful that wealth of experience can lead the Pioneers to their lofty goals for the season.

“I hope my senior year will be my best year in school and on the football field,” he said. “I’d like for East Ridge to win the district, host our first playoff game and make it to at least the second round, something else that East Ridge has never done.”

Like Tillery, Hixson quarterback Preston Wilkey is carrying a sizable weight on his shoulders when it comes to an offense achieving a solid portion of success.

Wilkey, who played sparingly behind Gill Brown in 2013, also is dealing with a new offensive scheme – the mind-testing read option.

“Last year,” Wilkey said, “we basically just handed the ball off and pounded the defense. This year there are a lot of decisions I’ll have to make on every play. That’s a lot of pressure and I’m trying to understand the offense and learn the reads I will have to make. I’m not really worried about it.

“It has really been easier than I expected. As a quarterback, you need your brain and luckily I’ve got one. Thinking on the fly and making sure the timing is right is the most difficult part.”

The Wildcats, with Dan Duff taking over for departed coach Jason Fitzgerald and bringing his split-back veer offense with him, are the defending 6-AA champions and won five of six league games a year ago and reached the Class 4A quarterfinals before losing to Knoxville Catholic, 14-13.

Hixson averaged 27.2 points in nine 2014 wins, but its offensive production dipped to 11.2 points in the four losses.

Wilkey is hopeful the new offense provides the Wildcats with more scoring opportunities in tight ballgames. For that to happen, however, the offensive line will have to step up big-time.

“We have to have the offensive line make sure they know the blocking schemes and everything else about the new offense,” Wilkey said. “It’s a totally different offense. I think we can do it. We won the district last year and we want to win it again. We’re going to compete hard and we’re not going to fall off because we lost 20-something seniors and got a new coach.”

Wilkey is working with his third different head coach in four years, but understands the comings and goings of coaches.

“We were sad that coach Fitzgerald left because we got attached to him,” Wilkey said. “But he had to make a decision that was best for his family. Coach Duff is a great guy. He expects us to work hard and get better. That’s what we’re doing.”

Central linebacker/tight end Jamel Metcalf, a 6-foot, 220-pound senior, said a big difference in last year and this for the Purple Pounders can be summed up in one word – commitment.

The Pounders, under new coach Ryan Mallory, who replaces the oft-moving John Allen (he’s now at Powell), are flourishing under a new atmosphere around the program.

“For the first three years I was at Central, I don’t think we were much of a team,” Metcalf said. “Everybody was playing for the individual and that was very frustrating. I believe now that everyone is committed and dedicated to the team.”

And that commitment, Metcalf said, begins at the top with Mallory and his staff.

“This staff is remarkable,” Metcalf said. “They all care about you at school and away from football. They want to know about our home life. Coach Allen cared and was there, but these coaches are doing more. They pick you up at home if you need a ride. They take you home from practice. When you need something they’re a phone call away and that’s great for all the players.”

Metcalf, who points to several players returning for their second or third year with the Pounders, who went 5-6 last year and lost to Sequoyah in the first round of the playoffs, said the team chemistry has shown significant improvement since Mallory was given the job after KiJuan Ware accepted and then reneged on his decision in a matter of days.

In his time with the media, Mallory pointed to Metcalf as one of the team leaders and Metcalf isn’t about to shy away from that responsibility.

“They tell me I’ve been here four years and I’m a veteran,” Metcalf said. “I started as a freshman at the age of 14 and now I’m 17. I’ve seen it all and done it all. I know what it takes to win and I can help the younger guys.

“All we have to do is win some games. I think we can be district champions if we execute at a high level and stay with the team concept. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”

Howard’s offensive/defensive tackle Tadarius Covington is part of perhaps the biggest offensive line in the area.

New Tigers coach Mark Teague, who was an assistant last season at East Ridge, said he won’t have a starter across the front weighing less than 315 pounds.

The 6-foot-2-inch Covington, a sophomore, said a few minutes later he tips the scales at 320 pounds.

Expect the Tigers, who lost nine of 10 games in 2013, to line up and dare defenses to stop the team’s rushing attack.

“They can’t stop us,” said the confident Covington, who started both ways as a freshman. “We’re going to blow them right off the ball.”

To better handle the two-way grind, especially in the early season heat and humidity, Covington and his teammates are “running the stadium” every day to increase their stamina.

Brainerd inside linebacker/running back Marcus McMillan says the Tigers have come a long way under second-year coach Brian Gwyn, who could not attend Thursday’s media day – assistant Tyrus Ward filled in for him.

“We’ve got a lot of starters coming back (from last year’s 3-7 squad) and they know their keys, they’re flying around to the ball and know what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Although it would require a mammoth turnaround, McMillan is hopeful Brainerd can win the district title and make the playoffs this season.

“Coach Gwyn is teaching discipline every day and we’ve come a long way,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a really strong defense. I really enjoy playing in the middle because there’s a lot of action in there.”

(E-mail Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)


Chattanooga State's Golden Named TCCAA Coach Of The Year

Chattanooga State’s head softball coach, Blythe Golden, was named Coach of the Year by the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association (TCCAA). This past softball season marks the third consecutive appearance by the Lady Tigers in the championship tournament. “Being awarded TCCAA Coach of the Year was truly an honor and something of which I am very proud. Anytime I receive ... (click for more)

Gregory Leading SunTrust State Open

GALLATIN, Tenn. -- Bartlett's Clayton Gregory shot 65 Wednesday and took the lead in the 69th SunTrust State Open at the Foxland Harbor Golf and Country Club. Gregory stands at 135, followed by Hunter Green of Evensville and Nashville's Joshua Bevell at 137. Seven groups did not finish the second round Wednesday due to a 90-minute delay due to storms. The field will be ... (click for more)

Man Found With Home-Made Explosive Device Near Businesses In Hixson

A man was found with a home-made explosive device outside businesses in Hixson late Tuesday night.   A business was evacuated and portions of Highway 153 and Hamill Road were cordoned off while the device was taken away.   Joshua Redden, 34, was charged with possession of a prohibited weapon, public intoxication, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession ... (click for more)

Man Shot In Home Invasion Early Wednesday Morning

A man was shot in a home invasion early Wednesday morning.   Chattanooga Police responded to a person shot on the 6000 block of Arlena Circle at 4:40 a.m. Upon arrival, police located the victim, Edward Greatheart, 41,  who was suffering from a non-life threatening gunshot wound.   Mr. Greatheart was treated on the scene and transported to a local hospital ... (click for more)

Life For Our Ancestors In 1890

May 26-27 is the 1890’s Day Jamboree in Ringgold. I encourage any reader to attend and enjoy that wonderful community. I love having grown up in Northwest Georgia and celebrating our veterans, including both of my grandfathers who served in WWII.  But I also want to describe how the 1890’s were for my ancestors, living here in a singularly turbulent time. Based on, among ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Governor Haslam, Please!

AN OPEN LETTER TO GOV. BILL HASLAM … Greetings to you, my friend. You know with one more year on the course we have sailed during your two terms as the leader of our state you will go down as one of the greatest governors we have ever had. It stands to reason you eye Lamar Alexander’s Senate seat, but whatever you do it will be hard to replicate your service to Tennessee and ... (click for more)