High School Football

Tates Creek declares trench warfare again

Tates Creek's switch to a power-I running attack will employ tailback Jaren Shelby (7), fullback Max Sweet (2) and tailback Martavius Carter (26) to help get the Commodores moving on the ground this season.
Tates Creek's switch to a power-I running attack will employ tailback Jaren Shelby (7), fullback Max Sweet (2) and tailback Martavius Carter (26) to help get the Commodores moving on the ground this season.

Tates Creek won't be wearing throwback uniforms this season, but maybe it should.

After employing a spread offense the past few years under Mike Harmon, the Commodores are returning to their Roy Walton roots as a power-I running team under new coach Antoine Sims.

"Football success comes with blocking and tackling," Sims said, "so we're getting back to teaching sound, fundamental football."

Sims was an all-city lineman at Tates Creek in the late 1990s when Joe Ruddell, a strict Walton disciple, preferred to grind it out rather than air it out.

Sims is not as averse to passing as Walton, Ruddell and Mark Willoughby were, but his Commodores will have a run-first philosophy.

Sims said he and his top assistants — Rodney Byrd, Jason Howell and Larry Poynter — "are all cut from the same cloth" when it comes to football. Byrd and Poynter played at Tates Creek in the 3-yards-and-a-cloud of dust era. Howell had the same kind of experience at Pikeville.

It's fitting that Peyton Burke, grandson of the late Roy Walton, is expected to start at quarterback. Sims said Burke has taken to the new system better than Graham Gordon, who threw for 4,600 yards and 43 touchdowns the last two years.

Tates Creek has a pair of talented tailbacks in Martavius Carter and Jaren Shelby, who combined for 369 yards rushing last year.

Carter is quick and elusive. Shelby is fast, too, but he's more of a power runner.

Langston Love will also get some touches.

Max Sweet and Jerrod Martin will be the fullbacks, providing blocking and getting short-yardage carries.

The line has some experience but not much size in Clint Boyte, Jonathan Grossi and Jacob Czarnecki.

Shelby said he and Carter don't need much of an opening. "All the line needs to do is give us two seconds and that's a play right there."

When Tates Creek does throw the ball, Burke will have plenty of targets, led by Austin Rogers (32 catches, 404 yards, five TDs last year), Connor Gibson, Turner Gentry, Jackson Beerman, Drew Ransdell and Jason McIntire.

The strength of the Commodores' defense will be at linebacker and in the secondary.

Sims said Sweet, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior linebacker, "epitomizes what a teammate should be. He's focused, intense and a leader. I like to say he's a lion trapped in a chihuahua's body."

Shelby, Grossi and Martin are also veterans at linebacker. Carter, Rogers, Gibson, Sakimi Opsal and J.T. Zambrano have what Sims referred to as "Friday night experience."

Sweet likes it that Sims is stressing physical football.

"Pretty much everybody in my class has a hard head and likes contact and likes hitting people," he said. "Playing this style takes a different mindset. We're working a lot harder, running more sprints, staying after practice to lift weights and run extra hills.

Shelby prefers physical over finesse, too.

"If you're not out there looking for that hit, I don't think you should be on the field," he said. "It's about being tough and aggressive."

Sims said 99 percent of the players embraced the change to a more physical style.

"It's different for them and it was challenging at first, but they're progressing," he said. "It's about executing, playing hard and finishing.

"We've told them it doesn't have to be fast and pretty and fireworks to get the job done. It's about basic, fundamental football."

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