MARION COUNTY WARRIORS
Coach: Troy Boeck (23-14 here and overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 8/8/0
Remember these names: There aren’t many quarterbacks who double as inside linebackers, but Matt Zeman (Jr., 6-2, 225) enjoys contact on either side of the ball. He is a load running the veer and is a solid tackler on defense. His younger brother Blake (Fr., 5-10, 205) will see lots of two-way time as well at fullback and linebacker and is the backup quarterback. Jeb McCullough (Jr., 5-9, 220) is another physical fullback who also plays linebacker, and Eric Qualls (Jr., 6-3, 180) is a big target at receiver. Hunter Murray (Sr., 6-2, 240) anchors the offensive line.
Will be a memorable year if: All the players buy into the physical brand of football Coach Boeck is preaching. The split-back veer isn’t fancy or high-octane, but it is a bruising offense that can take a toll on opponents. The Warriors have plenty of size up front and in the backfield. Now they just need the confidence to make it work.
Aug. 19 at Grundy County
Aug. 26 Bledsoe County
Sept. 2 at Whitwell*
Sept. 9 Hixson
Sept. 16 South Pittsburg*
Sept. 23 Sequatchie County
Sept. 30 at Lookout Valley*
Oct. 7 Grace Academy
Oct. 14 at Copper Basin
Oct. 21 at Chattanooga Christian
* District 6-A game
There have been glimpses of the old Marion County. The Warriors reached the state semifinals three years ago, then advanced to the second round a year later before taking a step backward last year.
What Marion has been missing is a hero to step up before his senior season, someone who can lead the program to success for consecutive years in a way that hasn't happened in Jasper in 15 years. But with the emergence of junior quarterback Matt Zeman, and his younger brother Blake, the Warriors may finally have the type of leadership needed to experience more than a good season.
The Zeman brothers could be the building blocks that help return Marion to perennial playoff contender.
The elder Zeman is a solid 6-foot-2, 225-pound bulldozer in charge of the veer offense who plays inside linebacker on defense.
Blake, a 5-10, 205-pound freshman who was somewhat of a middle school legend in the Sequatchie Valley the last two years, will get immediate action at fullback and linebacker.
"I'm not sure they actually realize just how good they can be just yet," Warriors coach Troy Boeck said. "You don't like the thought of wearing out your quarterback by having him play linebacker, but we need Matt on both sides of the ball. The good thing is we have a couple of guys behind him who can give us quality snaps at quarterback.
"Blake has been everything we had heard about and then some. He's not shy about contact, and the two of them give us a pair of really strong threats carrying the ball. I'm expecting big things from both of them and from us as a team this year and for years to come now."
Three of the Warriors' losses last year were to district champions, but with 17 juniors who played in games and eight starters back on both sides, they now are a veteran team.
Of Marion's five road games, only two are against teams that had winning records last season, and three opponents won three games or less last year. Four of the first six games are at home, including the matchup with neighboring rival South Pittsburg that likely will decide the District 6-A title.
"I feel a lot better about myself and about the team going into this year," Matt Zeman said. "I'm not nearly as nervous, because all the experience we got last year gives me confidence that we can be pretty good.
"Even the new guys have experience from last year, and that helps a whole lot."
Moments before Marion County was to step on the field to take on nationally ranked Brentwood Academy for the 1992 Class AA state championship, Warriors coach Ken Colquette inspired his team with a rousing pregame speech.
“They’ve got several guys who are going on to play college football,” Colquette told his team. “Look around in here. Most of you boys won’t play football again after high school. But you’ve got tonight. And if we play together and win this game, that’s something that nobody can take away from us.”
The Warriors, who had won all but two games by 20 or more points, rallied and scored late to take a 28-26 lead, then celebrated after the Eagles’ long field-goal attempt fell short as time expired. It was Marion’s second state title in what became a run of four championships in six years.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...