For Polk County and McMinn Central to repeat runs to the state high school football playoffs, much will be expected of each team’s running games. But those running games are in good hands — and feet.
Polk County returns fullback Zach Miller and McMinn Central returns tailback Denzell Boyd, much to the dismay of opposing coaches in District 5-AA.
So how much will the Wildcats rely on Miller for production?
Last year he ran for 1,930 yards and 22 touchdowns. The next closest teammate in rushing yards was Justin Green with 440.
“Not only is he great to have as part of our football team, offensively and defensively; he’s great to have as a person on our football team,” Polk coach Derrick Davis said of the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Miller, who also was the Wildcats’ leading tackler in 2012. “He’s one of the best fullbacks and linebackers I’ve ever coached. He gained close to 2,000 yards last year, and we were very limited throwing the ball with our quarterback getting hurt. People knew he was going to get it and he still was able to get that many yards.”
McMinn Central coach Josh Goodin is among those who can testify that there is only so much game-planning you can do for Miller.
“There’s not one or two kids that’s going to bring him down,” Goodin said. “Gang-tackling is what you have to have every time he carries the ball. He’s big, mean and bruising, like an old-timey running back. You better bring a unit to bring him down.”
And how dependent is McMinn Central on Boyd?
Last season he topped the Chargers with close to 1,354 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns, and he also caught two TD passes. And at cornerback he locked down on opposing wide receivers.
“If you create any kind of crease up front, he finds it,” Goodin said. “He’s not a power runner, but he’s not afraid to hit somebody in his way.”
Because senior Josh Scudder suffered a non-football-related injury this summer and may not be able to return to the field, Boyd is moving to his safety spot this year. But it’s on offense where he scares opposing coaches the most.
“He’s got my respect,” Davis said of the 5-9, 165-pound Boyd. “He’s the type of kid that would fit right in here. He’s a hard-nosed runner. He’s not a bigger back like Zach, but he will not shy away from contact. He’s pretty fast, too. He’ll run over you or outrun you.”
Although these runners get the job done in different ways, they know they’re accomplishments aren’t done on their own. Polk County’s linemen can share in Miller’s success.
“They’re the biggest part of it,” Miller said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the player I am.”
Boyd has taken advantage of the Chargers’ play up front since he was a starter as a freshman. Now it’s his turn to help make the guys up front a better group.
“We have one starter returning on the offensive line,” Boyd said. “We have a lot of young guys, but I think they’ll really step up. They ask me about assignments, what’s best for me and the cuts I make. The best advice I can give them is to give me a couple of seconds and I’ll do what I can.”
Team on the rise: McMinn Central played perennial power Alcoa within 10 points in last year’s state playoffs and returns most of the defense off that team. The skill-position players are in place offensively, so good things appear on the horizon provided a relatively young offensive line comes around.
Team on the decline: Sweetwater had not had a winning season since 2006 before last year’s 8-4 mark that included a first-round playoff victory over Tyner. With all the players the Wildcats graduated, particularly some veterans on the offensive line, the second round of the playoffs for a second consecutive season could be difficult to reach.
Toughest schedule: Polk County’s nondistrict schedule includes 2012 playoff qualifiers Bradley Central (6A), Walker Valley (5A), Notre Dame (4A) and South Pittsburg (1A). McMinn Central’s includes playoff teams McMinn County (6A), Boyd-Buchanan (2A), Grace Christian (2A) and Carter (4A). Both 5-AA teams play Chattanooga Central. Polk’s other opponent is East Ridge; McMinn Central’s is Meigs County.
Dream schedule: Loudon, a newcomer to the district, has two playoff teams from a year ago in Lenoir City (5A) and Kingston (3A) on its schedule. However, the Redskins’ four other nondistrict opponents had a combined 11-29 record last season.
Players to watch: Polk County’s Zach Miller and McMinn Central’s Denzell Boyd are obvious selections given the numbers they’ve piled up already in their careers. But not to be forgotten is 6-1, 195-pound McMinn Central senior fullback and linebacker Gage Johnson. He had 99 tackles last season, 14 of them in the backfield, caused five fumbles and intercepted two passes. Also, Sequoyah quarterback Brett King threw for more than 2,000 yards last year as a junior.
Coaches’ predicted order of finish: Loudon, Polk County, McMinn Central, Sweetwater, Sequoyah.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.