(This is the 13th in a series of preseason stories on new high school football coaches, or veteran coaches at a different school, and top players in the Chattanooga area)
Apparently, Mississippi State University saw in Baylor quarterback Nick Tiano what the Red Raiders senior wants his teammates to see in him.
“I want my team to know that I’m going to come out and play hard, deliver the way I’m supposed to, be a leader and win ballgames.”
As a sophomore, Tiano, who shared the signal calling duties with Michael O’Connor, helped the Red Raiders to an 8-4 record. Following O’Connor’s transfer after the season, Tiano was the No. 1 quarterback his junior season and the Red Raiders finished 7-5.
Now, Tiano, who has made a verbal commitment to Mississippi State, along with junior linebacker Ryan Parker are important cogs in Baylor’s bid to go deeper in the DII-AA playoffs this season.
Tiano is the Red Raiders’ primary offensive weapon.
Parker, an old-school, smash-mouth middle linebacker, headlines the defense.
Tiano, a 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pounder, has thrown for 1,495 yards and four touchdowns, with nine interceptions, over the past two seasons. Throw in an occasional run and Tiano has 1,810 yards of total offense and 10 touchdowns heading into his final year at Baylor.
“That experience is definitely going to help me,” Tiano said. “(Friday) I felt more comfortable on a football field than ever before and that enables me to have fun and just play the game.”
Baylor beat Cleveland, 7-3, in the preseason jamboree on Friday at Finley Stadium and Tiano connected with receiver Gage Upshaw on a 41-yard touchdown pass for the Red Raiders’ score on their first possession.
Tiano’s confidence and the personnel surrounding him could be the keys to a successful senior season.
“It really helps a lot having two years of experience,” he said. “The guys around me believe in me and have confidence in me. And that boosts my confidence even more. The quarterback is supposed to be the leader and hopefully I’ll take us in the right direction.”
After losing to Ensworth in the DII-AA championship game In 2010 (28-21) and 2011 (48-10), the Red Raiders were eliminated the past two years in the quarterfinals by Memphis University School and Montgomery Bell Academy by scores of 20-14 and 31-10, respectively.
Baylor’s only state championship came in 1973 with a 6-0 win over Hillcrest. The Red Raiders reached the title game four years later, but lost to Memphis Christian Brothers, 22-19.
Tiano is certainly hopeful of leading Baylor to another postseason appearance and it would be nice to break a 40-year string of title hopes that have fallen short since the 1973 championship season.
“You get into the playoffs and anything can happen,” Tiano said.
The Red Raiders will launch their latest postseason drive on Aug. 22 at home against Howard. Baylor trounced the Hustlin’ Tigers, 46-8, in the 2013 opener.
Red Raiders coach Phil Massey is looking for even better results from his two standouts this season.
“Right now Nick is playing with a lot of confidence,” Massey said, “and that’s what you want your quarterback to do. He’s got to be the leader on the field and in the huddle, and he’s certainly done that this preseason.
“He knows the weight on his shoulders from the standpoint of knowing he’s the leader and needs the team to follow him.”
While Tiano handles the offense, Parker has enjoyed a meteoric rise to become the defensive field general.
Parker (6-1, 200) recorded 18 tackles as a freshman while playing behind a group of experienced linebackers. As a sophomore, Parker exploded onto the scene and had 137 tackles, which was among the highest totals in the area. He had 103 solo stops, 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss while getting one interception and one caused fumble.
“I want to keep our defense pulled together and us be the best football team in the state of Tennessee,” Parker said. “I want our defense to crush every team out there.”
Parker isn’t trying to blow preseason smoke and believes the Red Raiders can be a serious TSSAA title contender this season.
“I think we’re very close to being that type of team,” he said. “We have a lot of experience at linebacker and each of us has at least a full year of starting there. Our defensive line has some big ol’ boys and we’re teaching them where to go. In the secondary, Ulysses Strawter is one of the hardest hitters around and probably the most consistent player we have on defense.”
Parker fits the mold of players who have played the glamor position at any level of football.
He’s the guy. Others follow his lead.
“It’s like the quarterback on defense,” Parker said. “I fit that mold. I’ll hit anybody in the mouth, whether you’re 300 pounds or 200 pounds, I don’t care. I’ll hit you and run you over. I’m the meanest son of a gun on defense, I promise you that.”
Some of that toughest Parker exhibits on the football field grew from his success in wrestling.
As a freshman, Parker won the individual 170-pound state championship and last season followed that up with a 182-pound title, plus capturing the same weight-class crown in dual team competition.
His wrestling agility comes in handy when fighting off blockers on the football field.
“Having him back in the middle is good for us,” Massey said of his star defender. “He gives us stability and he’s got good guys around him. He’s definitely our defensive leader and the bar is set high for him because he wants to duplicate what he did last year.
“He walks the walk and is going to bring everybody else’s effort up.”
Opposing offenses will know where Parker lines up on every play. The problem is they may not know where he’s going.
“He can stunt from two or three different places,” Massey said. “Because of his experience the game has slowed down for him and he sees his keys and reads a lot quicker.
“He’s confident in his abilities and goes out every day to get better. He knows if he doesn’t work hard every day, somebody else is going to out-work him and pass him by. That’s the key to Ryan. He won’t let anybody out-work him.”
Wednesday: McCallie’s JaVaughn Craig
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)