Greater Chattanooga Area’s Top 13 prep linebackers
Shazzon Bradley (McMinn County, Tennessee, NFL) — He was a football and wrestling standout in high school and had 21 total hits for the Vols against Alabama in the 1989 game.
Josh Cain (Sequatchie County, UTC) — He is second on the Mocs’ career list in tackles and in 2003, UTC’s 100th year of football, he was chosen on the school’s All-Century team.
Kit Carpenter (Dalton, North Carolina State) — He was not only a Class AAA all-state selection by the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 1992 but also Defensive Player of the Year.
Victor Ellis (Red Bank, Alabama) — He totaled 164 tackles and 10 interceptions in two seasons at Red Bank and made 145 tackles with the Tide. He died of cancer at age 28 in 2008.
Chip Healy (Baylor, Vanderbilt, NFL) — He earned All-SEC honors twice and was All-America his senior year in 1968 before playing two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Kelvin Hughley (Tyner, Georgia Tech) — He was a Mr. Football winner and helped Tyner win the Class 2A state title his senior year in 1997.
Dale Jones (Bradley Central/TMI, Tennessee, NFL) — His fourth-quarter interception at Alabama in 1985 helped preserve a two-point win that led to the Vols winning the SEC title.
Reggie Mathis (Notre Dame, Oklahoma, NFL) — He was a three-year letterman and all-conference player at Oklahoma and afterward was a second-round selection in 1979 by the New Orleans Saints.
Tana Patrick (North Jackson, Alabama) — He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school but has mostly played on special teams for the talent-rich Tide. He has one year of eligibility remaining.
Steve Poole (Lakeview, Tennessee, NFL) — For a long time he ranked third on Tennessee’s list for single-season total hits with 182 in 1974.
Ed Smith (McCallie, Vanderbilt, NFL) — Nicknamed the “Sheriff”, he played at Vanderbilt in the late 1970s and is still considered among the best linebackers in school history.
Chuck Strickland (East Ridge, Alabama) — He played on the 1971, ‘72, ‘73 SEC championship teams and the ‘73 team won the UPI national title.
Tommy Taylor (City, UCLA, NFL) — After a decorated career with the Bruins, he was taken in the fourth round of the 1986 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers.
The second week of the TSSAA season in 1997, a collision took place on the football field in Dunlap that seemed to have created tremors large enough to be measured on the Richter scale.
Sequatchie County’s Josh Cain and Tyner’s Kelvin Hughley were the principles in a collision that would have flattened lesser guys. But these weren’t lesser guys.
Instead, as selected by the Times Free Press prep staff, Cain and Hughley are ranked among the top 13 linebackers to come from the Chattanooga area.
Cain and Hughley gained much of their acclaim on defense, where they played in college, but doubled as fullbacks at the high school level. On the specific play, Tyner had the ball in Sequatchie County territory.
“I remember that play,” Cain said. “The ball was on about the 20 or 30. I believe it was fourth-and-1. Everybody knew the ball was going to Kelvin. Very, very rarely did he ever lose yards.”
As Hughley took the handoff and headed toward the big hole the Rams’ line had opened, Cain, from his middle-linebacker position, filled it.
“I think it was a dive play, 22 dive or 24 dive,” Hughley said. “I got the ball, he stepped up into the hole and we met. I definitely knew he was there. I think he knew I was there, too.”
A crash took place that sent Hughley reeling backward. And although he struggled to keep his balance, he gathered himself and started foward again — this time a little more off tackle.
“If I remember correctly, I had a tendency to bounce outside and when he met me in the hole, I went to cut to try to get off contact,” Hughley said. “I stumbled forward, but I got the first down.”
Cain not only did his job on the play — and was praised by Hughley for doing so — his hit would’ve likely dropped almost anyone else.
“I probably lost a few brain cells after that hit,” Cain said jokingly. “It was pretty vicious. He was known for his hitting, and I was known for mine. He was definitely a powerhouse.”
Tyner won the game 19-0 and went on and won the Class 2A state championship that season. Hughley was a Mr. Football selection and ended up signing a scholarship with Georgia Tech.
Cain signed with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga where he became an All-American and was recently inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. He still holds the FCS record for tackles in a game with 30 and in 2002, his senior year, he led the nation with 192 tackles.
Cain lives in Ooltewah and he and his brother, Jordan, who was also an all-state player at Sequatchie County, are business partners in a real estate development company. Hughley lives in Atlanta, works for the railroad and is in the Air Force Reserve.
The two had already learned to respect each other but through the banquet circuit as high school seniors became friendly. As an end to their prep careers, they started side by side as linebackers in the Tennessee-Kentucky All-Star game.
Hughley, 34, and Cain, who will turn 34 next month, each said they don’t pick up a football too often these days, yet do on occasion. But their love of the game hasn’t declined.
“I miss playing,” Hughley said. “I can still remember some of the plays from high school, and some college stuff. I miss the excitement of leading up to games, the preparation and stuff. It’s nothing I’ve forgot about.”
The two also said they try to keep in good shape, albeit maybe not football shape. Therefore, plans to recreate that infamous smashup are not in the works.
“A hit like that now,” Cain said, “would probably lay me out.”
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or email@example.com.