Like his older brother, Gage Upshaw is a two-sport standout at Baylor.
Reggie Upshaw played football and basketball, but rode a sterling cage career with the Red Raiders to a college hoops scholarship at Middle Tennessee State University, where he is a rising sophomore.
The younger Upshaw plays basketball for Red Raiders coach Austin Clark, but also provides football coach Phil Massey with a talented offensive weapon.
Gage Upshaw, a junior, has tentative college plans that could include MTSU, but he would likely join the Blue Raiders’ football program. So far, he is interested in MTSU, where his father also played, Southern Miss and Vanderbilt.
“I love football. It’s my calling,” he said Friday night after catching a 41-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Tiano in the Red Raiders’ 7-3 win over Cleveland in the preseason jamboree at Finley Stadium. “MTSU is a family tradition with us.”
On the only touchdown of the quarter, Upshaw broke free over the middle and Tiano, who has verbally committed to play at Mississippi State, threw a textbrook strike to his tight end for the score.
“It was a mesh route between me and the slot,” Upshaw said as the final seconds on the 20-minute “quarter” ticked off the clock. “I noticed the safety was helping the other way and I jumped the corner. Nick threw a perfect ball.”
That’s not at all surprising.
Tiano and Upshaw have spent countless hours throwing and catching footballs over the last three seasons, including a weekend last month at the Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship in Dalton, Ga.
“That tournament helps tremendously with our timing,” Upshaw said. “We faced good competition and even in games we lost it helped our passing game. Nick looks for me to make plays and I look for Nick to make plays.
“Timing is the key benefit from 7-on-7s. We don’t hang our hats on them because it’s not real football.”
Friday was as near to real as you can get in the preseason. Cleveland reached the Class 5A state semifinals in 2013, losing to Knoxville West, 49-14, and is picked to challenge for the District 5-AAA championship again this season.
It was a night of big plays that can only whet the appetite of fans that turned out for the first of two nights of jamboree action.
Tyner put up two such plays in a 14-0 win over Silverdale Baptist Academy.
Jaylen Grimes bolted 49 yards off left tackle for a quick touchdown to get the Rams on the scoreboard first.
Then quarterback Emmanuel Moss hooked up with Keiontae Halfacre on a 43-yard touchdown for Tyner’s second score.
“It’s go big or go home for me this year,” said Grimes, a 5-foot-10-inch, 170-pound senior fullback. “I need to lead my team and be an example for everyone. “I had to get by that first guy and then do my tricks of the trade and score for my team.”
Grimes used a stiff-arm to shed a potential tackler, darted to the left sideline and outran the Seahawks defense to the end zone.
Grimes scored only two touchdowns last season, but helped the Rams to their 20th consecutive playoff appearance, losing to Upperman, 70-49, in the second round.
“I was more of a blocker last year,” Grimes said. “I’m still the fullback and I wouldn’t say I’m a feature back, but I think I’ll get more carries this season. We’ve got a lot of depth in the backfield.”
Grimes said the Rams started off slow in preseason practice, but came into Friday’s jamboree with a different mindset, determined to play well and lay the foundation for another successful season.
“I think, no I know, we’re ready to get the season started,” he said.
The Rams open the season on Aug. 29 at home against Signal Mountain.
Boyd-Buchanan’s Bucs, who went 4-7 last season playing a challenging schedule and still wound up in the playoffs, got a 45-yard scoring run from new quarterback junior Cooper Hodge in a 13-0 victory over Sale Creek’s second-year Panthers.
“I played behind Jim (Cardwell) for a couple of years and learned a lot,” Hodge said. “I knew I’d get a chance to play as a junior and I’m very excited to lead the team. It was good to get the pads to poppin’.
“I got some good blocks on the touchdown run and got in the end zone.”
E.J. Matthews got the Bucs’ other touchdown on a 4-yard run.
The Bucs open their season next week at home against Red Bank.
“We’ve been thinking about that game since February,” Hodge said. “We can’t wait to play.”
In Bradley Central’s 13-0 win over Howard, wide receiver Tyler Carpenter grabbed a short pass from quarterback Cole Copeland on a crossing route and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown play. The touchdown was set up a play earlier when Copeland connected with Trevon Hill on a 29-yard gainer.
“It’s a quick-hitting shallow route,” Carpenter said. “The linebackers blitzed, the ball came out fast and Tanner Cox blocked his guy right into the end zone and allowed me to score.
“We’re ready for the season. We’re ready to fight. We’re young and lost a lot of leaders off last year’s team, but we’re getting some new ones.”
Signal Mountain took an early lead against McCallie when a 42-yard Jack Teter-to- John Ryan Wilson pass set up a field goal.
The Blue Tornado answered when JaVaughn Craig hit Tyler Payne on a 28-yard score.
However, Teter connected with a wide open Hunter VanDyken down the right seam on a 40-yard touchdown play for the 10-7 win just seconds before the quarter ended
“On that route I basically read the safety,” VanDyken said. “I looked at the safety first, cut between the cornerback and outside linebacker and that left me open. That was a confidence booster for us because we lost to McCallie in last year’s jamboree.”
Signal Mountain travels to East Hamilton next Friday for the team’s season opener. The Hurricanes have won the last two meetings by a combined score of 69-26.
“East Hamilton is probably the most exciting game of the season for us,” VanDyken said. “Them and Notre Dame, I guess. That game usually sets the tone for the rest of the season.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)