Any great sports debate begins with a difference of opinion. Athletes from the current generation are compared with those who played before them, and fans take sides on who is the best they've ever seen play. With that in mind, leading up to the start of another football season, the Times Free Press sports staff is releasing lists of 13 for 2013.
Appearing in the Tuesday and Friday editions each week, they list alphabetically the top 13 area players at each position, and readers can cast their votes to rank those players.
So who are the area's best players at each position? You help us decide. Taking into account not only their prep careers but also college and any professional achievements, we give our beyond-position list of "athletes."
Dicky Clark (Rossville, Georgia) -- All-SEC in 1976 and defensive captain for the Bulldogs. Played quarterback at Rossville but switchd to defensive line at UGA.
Keith Cobb (Cleveland, University of Memphis) -- He rushed for 2,348 yards and 46 touchdowns in his Cleveland career and caught the winning touchdown pass in the 1993 state-championship win over Brentwood Academy. He was an all-state defensive back his senior year and still holds the record for longest punt return in Cleveland history at 95 yards.
Kevin Cobb (Cleveland, University of Memphis, Arena League) -- He rushed for 2,181 yards and 41 touchdowns in high school and was named an all-state running back as a senior. In college he was awarded an ESPY for his kickoff return for a touchdown against Tennessee.
Martez Eastland (Ringgold, Ole Miss) -- He rushed for 3,100 yards and 49 touchdowns his final two prep seasons and started for coach Robert Akins at linebacker, kick and punt returner and punter while also getting time at quarterback.
Dante Hickey (Cleveland, Coffeyville JC, NW Mississippi JC) -- Considered by those who saw him as arguably the best athlete ever from the area, he ushed for almost 2,400 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior in leading Cleveland to its second consecutive Class 4A state title. He was all-state as a defensive back as a junior and as a running back his senior season and became a junior college All-American as a freshman.
Reggie Hubbard (Lakeview-FO, Carson-Newman) -- He was the Warriors' leading receiver, top defensive back and returner before heading to Carson-Newman, where he had 2,376 yards receiving and 2,079 return yards.
Willie Idlette (Baylor, Wake Forest) -- He rushed for 2,846 yards, passed for 667 and was responsible for 39 touchdowns in his two seasons at Baylor. He was a two-time all-state selection and was a finalist for Mr. Football in Tennessee. At Wake Forest, he had almost 1,500 yards of total offense while scoring 15 times in his college career.
Edwin Lovelady (Brainerd, Memphis State, NFL) -- He was voted Chattanooga Free Press Player of the Year in 1980, when he was all-city and all-state and led the city in passing. He had a standout career as a playmaker at Memphis State before playing a year with the New York Giants.
Bob McCoy (Central, Georgia Tech, NFL) -- He was all-city, all-state and all-Southern at Central, helping the Purple Pounders to a state championship. He played both football and baseball at Georgia Tech before being drafted by both the Los Angeles Rams and St. Louis Cardinals.
Senorise Perry (Chattooga, Louisville) -- He had more than 2,000 total yards as an Indians senior, started at linebacker and was named all-state as a return specialist after recording six return touchdowns. The current Louisville running back was leading the team in rushing last year with 705 yards when he suffered a knee injury.
Quincy Prigmore (Cleveland, Tennessee) -- He was an all-state defensive back as well the Chattanooga Times Tri-State Player of the Year in 1990 and a Blue-Chip All-American in 1991. He accounted for 24 touchdowns as a senior and had five interceptions and 88 tackles and handled punting and place-kicking duties for the Blue Raiders. He was a four-year letterman at Tennessee, where he played quarterback and defensive back.
Ali Sharrief (North Jackson, Alabama) -- He was named one of the top running back prospects in the state of Alabama before his senior season. He went to Alabama, where he had 73 tackles and six passes defensed playing defensive back for the Crimson Tide, earning a national championship in 2009.
Tyrus Ward (Brainerd, East Tennessee State, UTC) -- He accounted for 2,377 yards as a senior at Brainerd, with 59 total touchdowns in his career playing all around the field for the Panthers. He had 43 catches for 660 yards and five scores as a sophomore at UTC in 2004.
When Keith and Kevin Cobb were sophomores on the Cleveland High School football team in 1991, highly successful coach Benny Monroe questioned whether they'd have the size to play competitively at the high school level. He listened to coaches at the middle school level tell him, "Don't underestimate those two. They can play."
A couple of years later, he tried to keep University of Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer from making the same mistake he almost made, but the Volunteers leader wouldn't budge, saying the Cobbs were too small to play major college football.
In 1996, it came back to bite him. The twins went to Memphis and were a part of the Tigers' first-ever victory over the Vols -- who were quarterbacked by legendary Peyton Manning. During that game, Kevin Cobb had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, on a play in which he was tripped and spun down yet never lost his balance. The play was awarded an ESPY for College Football Play of the Year.
Kevin, who also played cornerback, said he dreamed of scoring a touchdown against the team that spurned him and his brother, who missed the game with an injury.
"I knew the only way I could score would be on special teams, and it was such a big game because we knew there were a lot of hometown people watching," Kevin said. "The thing is, according to the rules nowadays, I would have been down because my elbow touched [the ground]."
The 5-foot-9 twins used their blazing speed to combine for 4,529 yards and 87 touchdowns in their Cleveland careers. Kevin's 4.33 time in the 40-yard dash was only slightly better than his brother's 4.36, and each had a landmark moment during his playing career.
Kevin's kickoff return against Tennessee has been well documented nationally, but Keith's moment -- a game-winning touchdown reception against Brentwood Academy in the 1993 high school state final -- was just as big at the time. But they never looked at anything they did on the field as being impactful.
The duo also helped Cleveland win a state track championship in 1992.
"The way we looked at it, we were just doing our job," Keith said. "If we gave 100 percent, we'd get the job done, but it wasn't just us. It was Chris [Whaley, fullback on the 1993 team]; it was Dante [Hickey]; it was Carlos [Thompson]. Together, we all got the job done.
"Making plays is what we were supposed to do."
Keith Cobb is a teacher and defensive coordinator for Class AAAAAA Newton County High School in Covington, Ga., while Kevin Cobb teaches at Henry County High School in McDonough, Ga. He's in the process of earning his doctorate in administration.
They find time to bring their families back to Cleveland on occasion. One of their mandatory trips each time is a stop by the Monroe household.
"As a coach, you try to find players who can make plays, and you get the ball in their hands as many times as possible," Monroe said. "At the end of the day, you measure what they've done against what you've asked them to do, and I'd rate what I got out of them 100 percent from what I thought I could get. They contributed the maximum as much as anybody, and I never had to worry what they were doing or where they were."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.
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