When Notre Dame sophomore Tyler Enos was in middle school at OLPH, he was looking for something to do in the football offseason. So, he decided to try playing tennis.
Things went fairly well in the beginning, and he eventually he found himself playing at No. 2 singles. But soon he found out the hard way there were players on another level -- ones that had courts in their own backyards.
"I think my tennis career is over," Enos said.
But tennis's loss is football's gain, although he never actually had thoughts of straying from his favorite sport -- one he's loved since he first played for the East Brainerd Packers when he was in third grade.
"I've just always liked football," Enos said. "Like the contact."
He and fellow inside linebacker Kealey Green should have plenty of opportunities for contact Friday when Notre Dame (7-3) hosts Cascade (7-3) in a TSSAA Class 3A first-round state-playoff game. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. between the teams tied for the No. 10-ranking in the final Associated Press state poll.
Cascade's offense is centered around the tough running of 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior Creed Rose. He ran for more than 2,000 yards last season when Cascade advanced to the second round of the playoffs in Class 2A.
"They're a really good running team," said Enos, who's shorter than 6-foot and barely 200 pounds. "We need to shut him down. I think we'll be prepared. We're going to have to be disciplined."
Some local teams took notice of Enos last year, too, after a teammate's injury presented him an opportunity for some playing time. He's pretty much played regularly since.
"His first game starting was against Signal Mountain, the team that's been the champion of our district, and I believe he had 12 tackles, as a freshman," Notre Dame coach Charles Fant said. "Right then I could pretty much tell he had the chance of being a big-time player."
Enos said last year he was "just trying to get the feel of things" playing at the high school level. This season he leads the Irish in solo tackles (97) and assists (68) and is tied for the team lead with senior lineman Robert Kidwell with 16 tackles for loss.
"He just doesn't quit," Fant said of Enos. "His motor just keeps going. I always laugh because he plays to the edge of his ability. He'll look like he cannot go another play, then he'll smile, regroup, then go back out there and make three or four more tackles. He looks like a MASH unit when the game's over. He gives up his body for this game."
One thing that's been uplifting for Enos -- and the entire Irish team for that matter -- has been the return to action of his older brother, Joe. Joe Enos was a freshman wide receiver in 2011 and playing in a junior-varsity game against Ooltewah when he suffered a neck and spine injury.
Fant said the team was overjoyed last week when Joe caught a 6-yard scoring pass from Alex Darras in Notre Dame's 41-0 romp over Grundy County in the regular-season finale. It was his first varsity touchdown.
"The funny thing is that Tyler acts like Joe's big brother," Fant said. "But it's the other way around. Both of them are the comedians of the team. There's a continuing struggle between them to see who can keep them all laughing."
But Tyler knows Friday nights are serious business, especially in the playoffs where a loss puts an end to the season.
What then? Full-contact tennis anyone?
"I like it when teams run more than they throw the ball," he said. "It gets me more involved. I like stopping the run. I've just got to get my head up and go tackle."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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