Relentless Pride …….Honored Tradition
Bears Find Golden Nugget
By JOE CANNON
When it comes to the kicking game in high school, sometimes coaches have to go mining outside the gridiron to find what they are looking for.
That often leads them to the soccer pitch, which is where the Bradley Central coaches found a true golden nugget for this season.
"With (Clay) Shoemaker graduating after being our kicker for the last three years, we needed somebody to step in, so I went to a few soccer matches," explained veteran Bear special teams coach Keith Freeman.
"I noticed this kid taking all the penalty, corner and indirect kicks and doing a good job. He seemed to want the ball in the pressure situations. As a (football) kicker that's what you want.
Although he excelled on the pitch, Isaac Vaughan wasn't so sure about getting back on the gridiron.
"I played football in (Ocoee) middle school, but I suffered a dislocated hip and that ended that," the senior related. "I tried soccer my freshman year in high school and have been playing it ever since."
The left winger said he's "usually the one making the crossing passes for an assist, with others making the goals. "I had several assists last year, but I'm not sure how many."
Vaughan did put eight shots into the nets himself for the soccer Bears this past spring.
Although the football coaches were excited about him, Vaughan wasn't so sure about returning to the gridiron, so it took some convincing.
"I had him in my first period class, and we had a little relationship through his brother Ethan, who played football for us," explained Freeman, of his older brother who was a wide receiver for the Bears that had 24 catches for 411 yards and a trio of TDs last fall, before graduating in May.
"I talked to him (Isaac) about trying to kick for us and he wasn't interested at first, but I stuck with it and got him to agree to try kicking. He was a natural. I immediately texted Coach (Damon) Floyd to come see him."
"One day last spring, Freeman got him to kick into a net in the gym. I got a text to come immediately to see him kick," head coach Damon Floyd related. "Miguel (Armenta, the Bradley boys soccer coach) has always kept an eye for us for kickers and let us know about Isaac as well. He told us he'd be a good one.
"We stayed on him and begged him to come out. Eventually he did. Once he got out there the players rallied around him pretty quick and started to talk to him. It didn't take long before he began to like it."
Vaughan was also encourage to join the team by his girlfriend, Reagan Harrold, a top-notch soccer player for the Bearettes herself.
"She was really the one that convince me to do it," he related. "My friends are proud of me and my grandparents are impressed."
While the Bradley coaches and players were excited, there was someone that wasn't.
"My mom was worried about me playing football again. She told me to stay out of the way on kickoffs and not get hit by anyone," Isaac remarked. "I hang back on kickoffs, but if someone break through, I'm going to go over and try to tackle them."
Vaughan admits having 11 guys charging at him on extra points and field goals was a little scary at first.
"It messed with me a little at first, plus I was nervous kicking in front of that many people (a couple of thousand Bear Nation fans in the stands)," he related. "In soccer I took the penalty kicks and corner kicks, so having had that kind of pressure helped me.
"After the first few kicks though, the nervousness went away and I felt confident."
"He was a little hesitant at first, but now he's chomping to get out there and wants to be in that situation," assessed Coach Floyd.
The results speak for themselves as Vaughan has set a school record with 27 straight extra points in his 29-of-32 mark for the season. He has also split the uprights on a pair of field goals from 27 and 32 yards.
"I didn't know I had set a record until I saw it in the paper that I had 23 in a row," stated Vaughan, who had the streak snapped at 27 in last week's victory at Ooltewah. "I want to break that with more than 27 straight the rest of the season.
"I also want to break the record for most extra points in a game. I've had seven three times this season, but the record is eight.
"I couldn't do it if it wasn't for our offense scoring so many touchdowns," he added as the Bears were the third highest scoring team (254 points) in the state going into Friday night's action.
Vaughan is also quick to give credit to his holder, Tucker Carpenter, and long snapper, Cody Cox. "Tucker has gotten the holds down perfectly and Cody has given us good snaps, so they make it easier for me."
While Coach Floyd is very confident in Vaughan's extra-point abilities, he also feels secure in his field goal abilities. "Right now we'd feel comfortable with him from about 42 yards in."
"I feel comfortable around 40 yards, but I think I could go 45 in a game. I've hit from 50-yards in practice," Vaughan assessed.
Although putting 35 points on the board (which he teases his older brother Ethan about outscoring him), splitting the uprights isn't his only contribution to the team's success.
"He's getting stronger and getting more distance on his kickoffs as well," remarked Coach Floyd. "Although he's not getting his kickoffs into the end zone, he kicks it so high, it allows us to get downfield for good coverage. That's huge for our cover team and gives us a very positive field position situation."
"On kickoffs, he can place the ball where we want it," added Coach Freeman. "He can manipulate the ball, kick it high so we can cover. We've been able to keep people inside the 30 for the most part. It puts our defense in a good position."
Both coaches praised Vaughan's work ethic and family.
"He comes from a good family and has very dedicated in practice, plus comes and works on his own quite a bit," the Bear coaches echoed.
A dual-enrollment senior, Vaughan will often work out between his college classes and returning to the Bradley campus for his high school classes.
"He'll work out for 20 or 30 minutes on his own between his classes," related Coach Freeman. "During the summer he came and worked out on his own a lot."
"He's more athletic than some people think because of his soccer background. His family is such great people, so we knew he'd be dependable," commented Coach Floyd.
"He's gotten some other soccer players out for us. We now have about five kickers that are working hard for us," Coach Freeman explained.
"He's a winner. He has a lot of confidence now and he wants the ball," added Freeman. "He's not afraid to fail, but he thinks he's going to make every kick, which is what you want. He's a big benefit to our team."
Looks like the Bear coaches didn't find pyrite, but a genuine gold nugget that has help the squad climb the AP ranking each week to its current No. 4 spot in Class 6A as the second half of the season is getting ready to start.
The J.V. concluded their season with a 28-12 victory over the Soddy Daisy Trojans to finish the season 6-1. Congrats to Coach Dills and the J.V. team on a great season.
The Bradley Bears defeated Soddy Daisy 49-35. The Bears will visit McMinn County for a chance to host a first round play-off game this Friday, Nov. 1st at 7:30.
Vols Come After Curry
By PATRICK MacCOON
Looking to aid its hopes of one day becoming a power in the Southeastern Conference again, Tennessee made the trip to Bradley Central High School Friday to visit with one of the state's most sought-after second-year standouts.
Head coach Jeremy Pruitt and company know as well as any that winning recruits such as Tray Curry in the home state is as important as ever.
The Volunteers became the fifth Division-I offer for Curry, who also has Virginia, Virginia Tech, Arkansas and UTC after his talents.
"I am very humbled to be offered by Tennessee," the sophomore 6-foot-5, 210-pound two-sport standout said. "I've dreamed about these type of moments, but didn't think they would happen this early. Growing up, my family and I have always liked the Vols."
UT offensive line coach Will Friend came in to the Bears' stomping grounds to recruit a versatile player who could go one of two ways at the next level.
"I could see myself in college being both a deep threat wide receiver or a tight end, who can really stretch the field," he said. "I really like to watch Amari Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins play at the professional level."
Watching those professional standouts, Curry also looks to break off defenders with pristine routes and have a vacuum for hands. His size and jumping ability makes him a major red-zone threat, as well.
Curry reeled in 51 catches for 562 yards and four touchdowns this past season despite being limited at times and sitting out one game due to a high-ankle sprain. He averaged nearly 70 total yards per game and also rushed for 101 yards and a score.
Maryville had a tough time containing the towering and powerful receiver, as he caught 10 passes for 120 yards and a score in a home loss to the state power in October.
At UTC's 7-on-7 scrimmage this past July, recently-named Akron football head coach Tom Arth and Mocs players raved about Curry.
Athleticism runs in the family as his older brother, KK (6-foot-7), was a former star basketball player at Cleveland High School and recently signed to play collegiate hoops for South Alabama
With a unique blend of size, athleticism and speed, Bradley Central will be a hub for many major collegiate programs to check in on the Class of 2021 playmaker.
The Big Orange have taken their shot, with many more expected to follow suit along the way.
Versatility Strength For Tray Curry
By JOE CANNON
One of the main things collegiate coaches are looking for in recruits is versatility.
That makes Bradley Central's Tray Curry one of the top junior recruits in the country.
While the 6-foot-4, 200-pound, two-sport star has already established himself as a top wide receiver, with great hands and leaping ability, what he did Friday night also solidified him as a running back threat.
With the Bears trailing 28-7 and senior starting tailback Ricky McCleary leaving the field with an ankle injury, Curry took over the main ball carrying duties.
Having been stopped for a two-yard loss in his only rush to that point, the smooth-running speedster toted the rock 21 more times for 170 yards and a trio of scores to help turn a three-touchdown deficit into a 14-point victory (49-35) over Region 4-5A leading Soddy-Daisy.
"That's why so many colleges are after him," proclaimed Bradley head coach Damon Floyd. "He's more than just a pass catcher. When we can get the ball in his hands, he can make so many things happen. A lot of his receiving numbers are yards after the catch."
Curry is nearing the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 986, finding the end zone an area-leading 14 times on 55 carries and 22 receptions. He is averaging an astronomical 12.8 yards a touch.
During his first two high school campaigns, he gained 717 yards on 85 touches, with seven finding paydirt.
With more than a dozen college offers already on the table, Curry spent Saturday at the Tennessee-South Carolina game in Knoxville. Both teams are after his gridiron talents.
Along with the Vols and Gamecocks, he also has SEC offers from 10th-ranked Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Arkansas. Top-ranked Alabama has come to town to take a look more than once. He also has an offer from Coach Bruce Pearl to come play SEC basketball at Auburn.
Curry is also considering Power 5 Conference offers from ACC teams Louisville, Virginia Tech and Virginia, plus Nebraska of the Big Ten.
A four-star recruit by 247Sports, he is ranked as the fourth top "athlete" in the state and 16th nationally, with an overall (against players at all positions) ranking of 186 among 2021 recruits.
ESPN also has him as a four-star recruit, ranked fourth in the state and the 31st best junior wide receiver in the nation.
Rivals.com has him listed with a 5.6 rating, making him 15th overall in the state, plus 65th nationally among wide receivers.
With plenty of prep gridiron, and hoop action, still ahead of him, Curry hasn't been in any hurry to announce a decision on his future plans, letting his play speak for itself as other collegiate teams are taking a closer look at him.
Right now, he is concentrating on helping the ninth-ranked Bears as they prepare to battle No. 8 McMinn County for the Region 2-6A runner-up trophy before heading into their 10th straight TSSAA Playoffs.
Coaching Staff Provides Bears Stability
By JOE CANNON
While the other two local high school football programs spent the spring getting to know new head coaches, adjusting to new routines and schemes, the Bradley Central players knew exactly what to expect.
Starting his 14th season at the Bear helm, Damon Floyd will be facing his eighth and ninth opposing head coaches in the inter-country rivalry games this fall.
Over the years he, with the help of a crew of longtime assistant coaches, have honed Bear practices and offseason workouts to the point where returning players know exactly what is expected of them and how things are going to be run.
“Our guys know if they want to play on Friday nights in the fall, that means they show up for offseason conditioning. When we are allowed to practice, they are to be there and participate fully, unless they have an injury,” he related recently about his over 100 Bear hopefuls again this season.
“The success in the fall comes only from what we do in the offseason. You don’t just show up on game night and expect to win. You have to put in the time year round to prepare.
“The standard has been set. They (the Bear players) know if you don’t show up, you’re not going to play. That’s not just summers, that starts in January,” the veteran mentor emphasized.
The Bears are coming off a 7-4 season and a disappointing early exit in the opening round of their ninth straight TSSAA playoffs.
This year’s sleuth returns much of its explosive offensive power, although two-time all-state QB Dylan Standifer has graduated, but must rebuild the “Black Hole Defense,” that suffered a devastating blow during the spring game.
“We’ve always said ‘next man up’ when is comes to injuries, so someone will have to step up,” Floyd said of All-Region linebacker Kins Hooper tearing his ACL in the spring game at Austin-East.
“The crazy thing was he did it on offense. We use him in short yardage situations as an added blocker. We were working on goal line situations near the end of the game. He was in and got hurt,” the Bradley mentor related.
“There’s no hiding the fact he was one of our top defensive players last year. We were expecting big things from him again this year, but he’ll miss the whole season. The good news is he’s just a junior, so we’ll have him for his senior year.”
Other than the key injury, Floyd said, “The spring (drills) went well. We are trying to find some depth.
“Offensively, we’ve got a lot of guys back, so we are just trying to pick up where we left off. Defensively, we’re trying to find some guys to replace what we lost and get the best 11 guys on the field.
“We came a long way defensively during the spring, but we still have a long way to go. Obviously losing Kins (Hooper) is a big blow.
“With him out, we only have three starters back on defense — Kam Arrowood (OLB), Tucker Still (S) and Davion Dunn (CB). We’re replacing our three up front, three linebackers and a couple of defensive backs,” related the “Papa Bear,” who is also the team’s defensive coordinator.
“We feel like we have some guys that can really step up, so there shouldn’t be any drop off. We’re going to move some guys around. In the past we’ve been able to have guys play just offense or defense and we will have the majority of that again.
“However, we will have some guys like Tray (Curry), Saylor (Clark) and Javon Burke that may play both ways. The good thing is they all play the same positions on offense and defense, so they’ll spell each other.
“Javon will start at corner, plus he’ll play some receiver and running back both. We’ll find different ways to get it (the ball) to him. He played only JV last year (after transferring in from Cleveland). He’s the fastest guy we’ve had since Deonte Lindsey and that includes Lameric Tucker.
Another couple of newcomers will help on the defensive side as well.
“Gage Anderson is a freshman coming in from Lake Forest,” Floyd explained. “He’s a 6-foot-1, 185-pound running back that can fly. He’ll play some running linebacker as well.
“We also have C.J. Hardy, a defensive end that has transferred in from Kentucky, who has a cousin that’s been offered by Alabama, Ohio State and the likes. We expect him to start up front.” The 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior’s skills have been mentioned in the same breath as former Bear standout Jay Person, who recently transferred from Appalachian State to play for UT-Chattanooga.
On the other side of the ball, the bad news is Standifer is gone to pursue his baseball career at Lee University. Also leaving the team was his backup, Tucker Pope, who transferred to Walker Valley.
The good news there's a vast variety of dangerous weapons left behind for the “new gunslinger” in town, who appears to know what to do with them.
After getting forced into some playing time his freshman season due to Cleveland’s numerous QB injuries, Javin Burke spent last fall playing for McCallie’s JV team before transferring to Bradley in January, where his twin brother Davon had been the whole school year.
“Javin’s got all the tools. He’s very, very smart. A straight-A student, so he picks up things very well,” Floyd assessed.
“He’s very athletic, strong and fast. Like any other quarterback, as long as he doesn’t try to win the game by himself and uses the weapons around him, he’s going to be successful. It’s up to us (coaches) to put him in that kind of situation and make sure he’s in the right frame. If this kid can’t play, it’s our fault.”
The Bear coaches feel confident he will continue the recent run of strong quarterback play the Black-and-Gold has enjoyed.
“He’s got the tools to continue the type of quarterback play we’ve had the last 10 years (four straight years of all-state performances),” Floyd and offensive coordinator Matt Moody agreed. “There’s no reason he shouldn’t be right in line with the quality of the (Bryce and Cole) Copelands and (Brent and Dylan) Standifers we’ve had for the last decade.
“With our offense, it does highlight the quarterback. He’ll be able to make a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage. We’re going to count numbers in the box and throw it if we need to or if we need to run, we have a 1,000-yard back in Ricky (McCleary, 1,124, 11 TDs) in the backfield. Javin is also very capable of carrying the ball and getting yardage.”
Burke has a plethora of options when it comes to airing the ball out with Curry, a Power 5 prospect, and Clark who combined for nearly 1,500 yards and 17 TDs last season, plus others that will make defenses play honest against all of them.
The Bear offense will be led by a veteran front line.
“We’ve got four of our five offensive linemen back. We expect them to be as good as any offensive line we’ve ever had,” proclaimed Moody, who is entering his second season at the team’s OC.
“(Senior left tackle) Jared Fox separated his shoulder the first day (of spring drills), so we sat him out the rest of spring. We know what he can do, so that’s no big deal. We needed to get some other guys reps there anyway.”
“We had a lot of guys step up throughout the lineup,” declared Floyd. “When you’re around them every day, you’re not really surprised at what they can do.
“We had a lot of very positive things, but we also saw some negatives we need to work on. Everybody on our team needs to keep getting better.”
With plenty of explosive playmakers, the veteran mentor assessed, “Our biggest thing offensively is our kids are going to have to be selfless. They need to be happy about their teammates making plays. We’ve got a lot of talented kids that can do big things, but there’s only one ball.”
The potent offense was evident in the annual scrimmage game at the end of spring practice.
“Our offense did well at Austin-East, but the type of defense they played against us, we won’t see much of this fall,” Floyd related. “They played man-to-man (on the Bear receivers) and we were able to beat them one-on-one. We’ve got multiple guys that can make big plays. We have really good team speed. There are a lot of guys that we know if we can get the ball in their hands, they have the ability to go to the house.”
Bradley was able to race ahead with four quick touchdowns before finishing off a 35-7 win over the Knoxville squad that advanced to the Class 3A quarterfinals last fall before falling to state champion Alcoa.
“It was 28-0 pretty quick and then we started subbing. They (A-E) only had 26 players, but the 26 they had are very good players.”
Before the TSSAA dead period (June 23-July 6) started yesterday, Bradley was able to get in a big 7-on-7 tournament.
“We went to UT (Knoxville) for a 7-on-7 and was supposed to go to Blackman (Tuesday), but it got rained out. We’ll do some more in July,” related Floyd.
“For us, as much as we throw it, the 7-on-7s are good, especially with a new quarterback taking over. It gives him a chance to work with our receivers and learn them, plus it lets us work on our pass protections.”
At Tennessee, which is one of several top teams recruiting Curry, the Bears went 3-2, falling to defending 6A state champion Oakland in the semifinals. The other loss came to Class 5A state champ Knox Catholic, which has several D-I prospects, in pool play.
Bradley defeated South Carolina teams from East Laurnes and Dorman, as well as Mt. Juliet, which was 12-0 before falling to Oakland in the state quarterfinals last fall.
Bears Chosen to All County Team
By JOE CANNON
With bellies still full after stuffing in our Thanksgiving feast, a quick look back at the local high school gridiron campaign is in order as we recognize the 2019 Banner All-County Team.
For the third straight year, the area coaches made their nominations, with the Banner Sports staff narrowing down the final choices for this year's honor squad.
All three county teams are well represented, including each walking away with at least one of the top awards.
Bradley Central dual-threat quarterback Javin Burke captured the Offensive Player of the Year, while Cleveland linebacker Leo Palelei was chosen at the Defensive Player of the Year. Bear standout prospect Tray Curry earned the new Athlete of the Year Award.
In honor of leading the turnaround of the Walker Valley program, new wrangler Drew Akins is the 2019 Coach of the Year.
With its 10th straight trip to the TSSAA postseason, Bradley ended up with a dozen of the 29 total honorees, while Walker Valley's improvement is reflected with 11 and Cleveland rounded the team out with a half-dozen players.
After transferring in from McCallie last January, Burke stepped into some huge Bear QB shoes, which included four straight All-State performances by Dylan Standifer and Cole Copeland.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior responded to the challenge by leading one the most potent offenses in Bradley history, which put up 451 points, for a program record average of 41 points per game, plus gained 4,741 yards while posting a 7-4 record.
Burke led the Bears with 738 yards on 99 rushes, for a 7.5 average, plus he found the end zone 10 times, many of which came from long breakaway runs.
With a powerful arm, he completed 120-of-222 passes for 2,152 yards and posted a 22-to-8 TD to interception ratio.
Menacing offenses all season, Palelei was in on 76 total tackles, including 31 solos. He made five tackles for loss, including a pair QB sacks.
With a nose for the ball, the "Mad Marauder" followed up his half-dozen takeaways to make last year's All-County team, with another five takeaways this season.
A Power 5 Conference 2021 prospect, Curry is the top rated junior "athlete" in the state according to some national scouting websites, and only bolstered that standing with another tremendous campaign.
The 6-foot-5, 190-pounder averaged over 13.5 yards a touch this season, with 1,327 all-purpose yards, plus led the area in scoring with 108 points on 18 trips to paydirt.
Curry, who played both wide receiver and running back for the Bears, had a devilish rushing total of 666 yards on 63 carries (10.6 ypc), scampering into the end zone on several long runs.
He also pulled in 31 aerials for another 566 yards and seven scores. Just to round out his versatility, Curry also threw a 37-yard halfback pass for a touchdown. The junior speedster returned a trio of kickoffs for 58 yards.
Taking over a program that only had one win the previous two seasons, Akins snapped a 13-game losing streak with a 42-40 road victory at Knox Karns to open the season.
After falling to state-ranked Bradley and Rhea County, plus a surprising three-point loss at White County, the Mustangs galloped to three straight midseason wins, outscoring Cumberland County, Lenoir City (their first region win in almost three years) and Marion County 159-44.
An offensive guru, Akins' Stallions put up 3,580 yards and scored 307 points this season.
The Mustang fans and classmate have rallied around the team, which has a renewed outlook for a positive Herd future.
The All-County offense includes linemen seniors Michael Holyfield (6-foot-4, 280) and CJ Dills (6-foot-1, 265) from Bradley, along with Blue Raider Austin Allen (6-foot-2, 275), plus WV juniors Trevor Vines (6-foot-5, 265) and Skylar Mullins (6-foot, 220).
The three-headed rushing attack features Raider sophomore sensation Tetoe Boyd (area leading 1,437 yards, 230 carries, 6.2 ypc, 10 TDS), Mustang senior Kole Hall (948 yards, 154 carries, 6.2 ypc, 10 TDs) and Bear senior Ricky McCleary (733 yards, 63 carries, 7.0 ypc, 9 TDs, while missing significant time the last few games due to an ankle injury).
With Burke getting the OPOY nod, WV junior signal caller Tucker Pope (323 yards, 75 carries, 2 rushing TDs, 157-of-275 passing completions for 1,976 yards with a 19-to-13 TD to INT ratio) slides into the AC QB slot.
The talented receiving corps include Raider senior and Samford commit Robert Flowers (area-leading 839 yards on 40 catches, 21.0 ypc, 10 TDs), Bear junior Kanon Hall (825 yards, 38 receptions, 21.7 ypc, 8 TDs) and Mustang senior Noah Duprey (481 yards, 28 catches, 17.2 ypc, 9 scores).
On the defensive side of the ball, the front line includes Mustang teammates Shimier Davis (6-foot-5, 247 pounds, 24 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 takeaway) and Bryce Hixson (33 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 3 takeaways), plus Bradley junior CJ Hardy (6-foot-1, 220 pounds, 43 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks).
The linebacking corps features some of the top tacklers in the area, including Mustang lead Kellar Carson (96 total hits, 51 solos, 6 TFL, a takeaway), Bear teammates Camden Creighton (79 tackles, 47 solos, 8 TFL, a sack, 4 takeaways) and Kam Arrowood (66 tackles, 32 solos, 5 TFL, a sack, an interception), plus Cleveland senior Zach Turner (66 hits, 32 solos, 3 TFL, a takeaway).
The all-star secondary is led by Bradley senior strong safety Tucker Still (area-leading 102 tackles, 74 solos, 6 TFL, 1 fumble recovery).
Also having standout seasons in the defensive backfield were Cleveland senior safety Parker Chastain (87 tackles, 37 solos, 1 TFL, 2 takeaways), Mustang junior safety Skyy Craig (74 tackles, 54 solos, 1 TFL) and Bear senior cornerback Davion Horton (19 tackles, 3 INT, 12 pass deflections).
This year's All-County squad honors two senior kickers — Bradley's Isaac Vaughan and Walker Valley's Charlie Swafford.
Vaughan, a Bear soccer standout, was talked into coming out to fill a need for the football team and responded by connecting on 45-of-49 extra point attempts, including a school record 27 in a row, plus a trio of field goals, including the game-winner at the end of the Cleveland game.
Adding 35 extra point kicks to his resume this season, Swafford became the all-time leading scorer in Mustang history this season. A four-year starter, he has 88 PATs and a half-dozen field goals for 106 points in Navy-and-Gold.
5 Years Running! Bear QB's Make All-State
By JOE CANNON
Big news concerning a pair of record-setting Bradley Central signal callers came to light Tuesday, with one continuing a Bear trend and another returning to the gridiron.
Current Black-and-Gold standout Javin Burke earned All-State honors from the Tennessee Football Coaches Association, while former Bradley gunslinger Cole Copeland is returning to the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga program after a two-year absence.
Burke, who transferred from McCallie last January, had some big shoes to fill with the graduation of standout Dylan Standifer and didn't shy away from the challenge, using his throwing and running skills to lead the Bears to their highest scoring average in 103 years.
In the four years previous, Standifer and Copeland were both two-time all-state performers, averaging 2,561 passing yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions per season, while rushing an average of 104 times for 420 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Burke picked up the mantle to lead one the most potent offenses in Bradley history. Under his field direction, the 2019 Bears put up 451 points, for a program record average of 41 points per game, plus gained 4,741 yards, while posting a 7-4 record and earning their 10th straight trip to the TSSAA Playoffs.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior led the team with 738 yards on 99 rushes, for a 7.5 average, plus he found the end zone 10 times, many of which came from long breakaway runs. With a tremendous ability to scramble and a powerful arm, he completed 120-of-222 passes for 2,152 yards and posted a 22-to-8 TD to interception ratio.
Burke earned several Top 10 spots in the Bradley record books, including the seventh-best passing mark for a season, twice throwing for four TDs in a contest, and his 22 scoring tosses for the campaign. He also had a pair of Top 15 single-game passing performances.
Burke joins versatile teammate Tray Curry as an all-stater after the highly recruited wide receiver/running back was name to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association's Class 6A squad Monday.
Copeland owns numerous Bear passing marks himself with more than 6,000 passing yards, 2,000 rushing yards and 70 TDs in his prep career.
During his first year at UTC in 2017, an injury to the starting QB forced Copeland into the starting lineup. He responded by making the SoCon All-Freshman Team.
In a half-dozen starts, he completed 130-of-201 passing for a 62.8% completion rate, 1,177 yards and seven TDs.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder led the Mocs on game-winning or game-tying drives in the fourth quarter in two of the last three games that season. He had the third-most completions and second-most attempts ever by UTC a freshman. He also tied for the third-most passing TDs and passing yards by a freshman.
He became the first true freshman to play at QB for the Mocs since Antonio Miller in 2004, and the first to start since 1995.
After some academic issues sideline him for the 2018 season, Copeland has worked hard to improve his student status. The UTC Sports Information Department confirmed to a pair of Chattanooga TV stations that he is expected to return to the Mocs this spring and battle for the QB job left open by the graduation of Nick Tiano.
Bears Maul Mustangs
By JOE CANNON
Sibling rivalry provided a harsh lesson Friday evening as Bradley Central brought sky-high riding Walker Valley back down to earth.
Fresh off a huge season-opening victory, the Mustangs got tormented in their own Corral as their "Big brother" Bears exploded for a 59-14 "noogie," to once again dominate the "County Conflict."
Tying their largest margin of victory (52-7 in 2017), Bradley wrapped up its fifth straight "county championship," since Walker Valley and Cleveland aren't playing each other this season.
All three local teams are now 1-1 on the campaign and will play at home this week as region play begins. The Bears will welcome Heritage (0-2), while the Mustangs will tangle with unbeaten Rhea County (2-0).
The Blue Raiders get the fun task of tangling with 16-time state champion Maryville on Friday. Cleveland is fresh off a 31-19 win over Hardin Valley for new coach Marty Wheeler's 100th victory and first directing the Raiders (see full story this page).
Looking to bounce back from a tough loss to No. 7 Farragut the previous week, 10th-ranked Bradley wasted no time in setting the pace Friday evening in front of jam-pack crowd at the Corral.
After forcing the hosts three-and-out on the opening series, the Bear offense needed just two snaps to find the end zone as the "Burke Brothers" hooked up on a 12-yard pass from Javin to twin Javon just 71 seconds into the contest.
Walker Valley's second possession lasted just two plays as Bear sophomore safety Aiden McClary picked off Tucker Pope's fourth pass attempt.
Six plays later, Javin Burke hooked up with fellow junior Kanon Hall for a 41-yard scoring strike with less than three minutes ticked off the clock.
The visitors added another score before the midpoint of the opening quarter when junior Tray Curry found paydirt for the first time this season on a 12-yard run to cap the next Bear offensive series.
After turning the ball over on downs near the Red Zone on its next possession, Bradley added four scores in the final 8:08 of the first half.
Curry capped a six-play, 61-yard march when Javin Burke found him wide open in the end zone from 19 yards out.
The Bears got another quick chances when junior Braydon Clark stripped the ball loose and classmate Cody McDaniel pounced on it four plays after the ensuing kickoff, giving the Black-and-Gold possession just 38 yards from pay dirt.
Javin Burke went to senior receiver Saylor Clark twice in a row to cover the needed ground, the score coming on an eight-yard toss.
Walker Valley was able to avoid the shutout when junior Brody Swafford returned the kickoff to near midfield. Three plays later Griffin Broome assumed the QB position and was able to break through for a 45-yard scoot for his fourth TD of the season.
The visitors made another trip to the Red Zone on the following drive, this time settling for a 33-yard field goal by senior Isaac Vaughn, who was also true on seven extra-point attempt.
"Isaac Vaughn is getting better and better. He's getting confident," remarked Bear head coach Damon Floyd. "When he first came out he was really nervous and we begged him to come out and help us.
"Now he's chomping at the bit to get out there. He's having fun doing it, not only with extra points, but he has hit two good field goals for us now."
On the second play after the ensuing kickoff, Braydon Clark picked off the second Bear interception of the night and returned it 60 yards to the Mustang 5. Senior Ricky McCleary did the honors on the following play, dancing into the end zone with 41 ticks left on the opening half clock.
"I got to give our offense a lot of credit," praised Coach Floyd. "Javin played really, really well. We didn't want to have to run him much tonight (after 15 carries for 165 yards last week). We've got to keep him healthy for down the road.
"With the defense they (WV) were giving us, we felt like there were some holes in it that we were able to get some guys in and make some plays.
"They were giving us some different looks, coverage wise and Javin did a good job of recognizing it and was able to get the ball to our receivers," he assessed.
"Our offensvie line did a good job of protecting Javin and opening holes for our runners."
With the Bears up 45-7 at the intermission, the second half was played with a "running clock," but the teams combined for three more scores.
Bradley opened the half with an eight-play scoring march with junior Riley Harmon doing the honors on a three-yard run.
"Riley Harmon ran really hard for us tonight," commented Floyd as the Baylor transfer broke off a 15-yard dash later in the game. "He'd be a starter for other teams, but we are so deep at that position with Ricky (McCleary), Javon (Burke) and Tray (Curry)."
The Bear B-teamers scored again on the other second half possession.
Backup QB McClary led the six-play, 72-yard march, taking the ball in on a three-yard plunge for the score with 8:14 left to go. Freshman kicker Ere Rojas split the uprights for the PAT.
"We got to play a lot of guys tonight. That's a good thing in a game like this," Floyd commented. "We went deep. Those guys work hard in practice and deserve some playing time, plus that will help us down the road.
"We'll play a JV game up here Monday, but it was good to get those guys some Friday night action."
Walker Valley finished off the contest with a 10-play drive with Groome finding the end zone again, this time from less than a yard out. Charlie Swafford booted the PAT to become the 10th-leading scorer in Mustang history.
After getting virtually shutout by Farragut last week, Curry had a big night for the Bears with 110 yards on eight touches with a pair of scores. The highly-recruited SEC and Power 5 2021 prospect pulled in a trio of passes for 62 yards, plus carried the ball five times for another 48.
"We wanted to be able to get the ball in Tray's hands more tonight," explained Floyd. "When he gets the ball in his hands he can do some big things with it. He made a couple of great catches tonight, going up high for balls."
Three-year starter Saylor Clark helped out with 85 yards and a score on seven catches, while Kanon Hall had a pair for 48 and a TD.
Javin Burke completed 15-of-20 passes for 240 yards and four TDs, plus gained nine yards on his only carry.
The "Black Hole Defense" held the Herd to 116 yards on 30 rushes, only three of which went for double-digit yardage.
Kole Hall was the WV workhorse with 56 yards on 16 tries, while Groome had 50 yards and his two scores on just four carries.
Pope, who had been the Bradley backup QB the past two seasons before transferring, was stifled by his former teammates, completing just 4-of-15 passes for 38 yards, plus he was picked off twice. Although he was able break free on a 27-yard run once, his rushing total was just seven yards on nine carries, as the Bears sacked him four times.
"We had a good game plan defensively and our guys executed it well tonight," proclaimed Floyd. "We read our keys and tackled a lot better this week. Our guys did a good job of disguising what we were doing and then getting to where the ball was at.
"Our secondary did a good job manning them up and shutting down the passing game."
New Walker Valley head coach Drew Akins knew facing Floyd's Bears would be a tough task for his young Colts.
"We knew this game was just a measuring stick for us of how far we have come and how far we have to go," he said Saturday.
"We still have a long way to go to compete at a high level. I was proud of our players for never losing composure and never quitting. Felt like our players showed a lot of class during and after the game.
"We will learn from last night and it will make us a better football team," he declared. "Now we know what the atmosphere feels like, what the emotion of the game feels like. Next time we will be more prepared and learn from it.
"We know as a team all of our goals are still ahead of us. Everything we want to accomplish is still in front of us. I believe we will learn from this and improve."
Bears Boot Raiders
By JOE CANNON
While the Black Hawk military helicopter blasting off just before kickoff created a loud rumble, that was nothing compared to the earth-shaking roar from Bear Stadium a couple of hours later.
The Richter Scale registering noise was deafening as Bradley Central senior Isaac Vaughan booted his 25-yard field goal just inside the left upright with just 6.5 ticks on the clock to complete an epic Bear comeback victory over archrival Cleveland High Friday evening.
"It is amazing. My heart is still pounding," proclaimed the converted soccer player about 10 minutes after sealing the 37-35 tooth-and-nail victory.
"I was kind of freaking out a little bit," he said as the Bears drove 45 yards on nine plays in final 90 seconds with no timeouts, to set up the dramatic game-winning attempt.
"When I went out there, I just concentrated on my technique. I didn't want to overdo it, because that's what messes me up. I just tried to stay true to my form."
The snap from Cody Cox and the hold by Tucker Carpenter were true, and even though the kick "wankled" a little left, it stayed inside the goal post for Vaughan's third field goal of the season.
After having to be convinced to give football a try for the first time since middle school last spring, Vaughan, a standout for the Bradley soccer team, has also been true on 34-of-37 PAT kicks for the fourth-ranked Bears (5-1, 3-0 Region 2-6A) so far this season.
The last-second heroics were set up by Bradley rallying from a 28-7 halftime deficit to even the score before Cleveland (3-3, 1-2) pulled back ahead with sophomore Tetoe Boyd's second touchdown of the night with four minutes to go in the contest.
The Bears answered when junior QB Javin Burke found the end zone for the second time himself, with 1:55 on the clock.
Trailing by a point, the Bradley coaches decided to try to win the game at that point, and went for a two-point conversion. The ball carrier slipped before making it to the line of scrimmage and the hosts were forced into a tough predicament.
"We had played great in the second half, but to be honest, I didn't know if we'd be able to stop them from scoring, if we went to overtime," explained "Papa Bear" Damon Floyd. "We didn't want to get in that 10-yard situation against them. It was time to win the game."
However, after the strategy backfired, Floyd's "Black Hole Defense" had his back.
Rising to the occasion after the ensuing kickoff and a penalty gave the Blue Raiders a first-and-5 at their own 25, the Bear defense stuffed Boyd three straight times, allowing him just the final three yards of his 163 on 29 carries for the night, with the hosts using a timeout after each play to preserve the clock.
After Cleveland kicker Lawson Dale bombed a 46-yard punt, which Bear senior Saylor Clark picked up on a bounce and returned it just six yards to his own 32, Bradley caught a break when the visitors were flagged for a "crack-back block," adding another 15 yards to get the ball near midfield.
Instead of working the sidelines with less than 90 ticks remaining, the Bears made a trio of rushes and a pair of passes to Clark, all which stayed inbounds, plus used three "spikes" and an incomplete pass to kill the clock and set up the game-winning kick.
"It's a great win for us. I'm happy for our kids," Coach Floyd proclaimed. "You've got to give credit to Coach (Marty) Wheeler and his staff, they took it to us in the first half.
"I'm disappointed in myself because we had two weeks to prepare and they (CHS) did a better job of preparing than we did.
"It boils down to our kids didn't want to lose this game. I'd like to take some credit for this, but I can't. Our kids came back out (in the second half) with effort and resiliency and overcame adversity to pull out this win.
"Honestly, I thought we came a little cocky and that cost us," the veteran Bear mentor stated. "We've got to quit waiting and take the field with intensity for the opening kick off."
The 45th "Crosstown Clash" saw the archrivals combine for 879 yards of offense, with the visitors holding just a three-yard edge (441-438). The 72 points scored was the most since 2001 when Cleveland claimed a 61-34 victory.
Although Bradley has won the last five meetings, the Raiders still hold a 27-18 overall edge in the matchup that was recognized nationally as part 2019 Great American Rivalry Series.
Burke, who finished with 17 carries for 130 yards and two scores, plus completed 15-of-27 passes for 212 yards and three more TDs, was named the game's Most Valuable Player, earning a special trophy from the U.S. Marine Corps.
Also recognized with college scholarship awards were seniors Michael Holyfield of Bradley and Zach Turner from Cleveland, for their academic and athletic performance.
Cleveland came out of the gate strong, scoring on all four of its first-half possessions.
Junior Kley McGowan broke free for a 66-yard dash to pay dirt on the third Raider offensive play of the night, senior Greyson Merkel scored from 33 yards out to cap a four-play second drive in the opening quarter.
The Raiders pushed their lead to 21-0 when McGowan fired a halfback pass to senior Robert Flowers, who outbattled a defender for a 61-yard score at the 4:09 mark of the second frame.
Bradley finally found pay dirt on the ensuing possession, using a half-dozen plays to cover 66 yards, with Burke hitting Power 5 junior prospect Tray Curry with a 36-yard strike.
With a little over two minutes on the clock, Cleveland had time enough to drive down for another score. Boyd almost took it in from 65-yards out, but a TD-saving tackle by Bear senior safety Tucker Still pulled him down at the Bradley 38. Four plays later, Boyd bulled in from the 8-yard line.
Junior Lawson Dale, who now has 20 PATs to go with a pair of field goals, split the uprights to push the advantage to 28-7 at the intermission.
After Bradley honored its TSSAA State Champion Bearette basketball team at the intermission, the "Black Hole Defense" came back out strong, allowing the visitors just one first down in their first two possessions.
After the first stop, Bradley needed just six plays to cover 80 yards, with Burke breaking free for the final 50 for the score.
On the second Raider punt of the night, the line-drive style kick, hit a Cleveland blocker in the back and popped straight up into the air and was caught by Bear defensive end TJ Hardy and returned to the CHS 23.
Five plays later Burke hooked up with Bear senior running back Ricky McCleary for an 11-yard TD toss.
Cleveland was able to mount a drive on its third try of the second half, marching 52 yards on 11 plays. A 41-yard field try by Dale had the distance, but was just wide left.
Taking over possession on their own 23, the Bears put together a nine-play drive, culminated by an 18-yard toss from Burke to Clark to tie the game at 28-all with 5:47 remaining.
Undaunted, Cleveland mounted its final scoring march with Boyd carrying the mail the entire way for runs of 10, 10, 41 and the final 1 yard to go back up 35-28 with 3:59 on the clock, setting the stage for Bradley's historic rally.
Junior Kanon Hall set up the final Bear TD, returning the ensuing kickoff 27 yards to the Bradley 43.
After a 22-yard dash and a 15-yard catch by McCleary, Burke was able to squeeze inside the right pylon from five yards out before the ill-fated conversion try.
McCleary finished with 102 yards on 18 touches, while Hall led the receiving corps with five catches for 74 yards.
Curry collected 61 yards on three catches and a trio of rush attempts, while Clark had a trio of receptions for 41 yards.
Senior Ashton Boyd pulled in a key 18-yard reception on a fourth-and-11 play to set up the next-to-last Bear TD.
Still paced the "Black Hole Defense" with seven solo tackles, while linebackers Camden Creighton and Kam Arrowood were in on a half-dozen tackles apiece.
Defensive end Tucker Carpenter had four solos and an assist, with Hardy having four takedowns and the 10-yard deflected punt return.
On the other side of the ledger, Flowers joined Boyd as the top Raider performers with 150 yards on eight touches, including a half-dozen catches for 139.
McGowan had the 6-yard scoring dash and the 61-yard TD pass to Flowers, while Merkel gained 51 yards on a half-dozen carries.
Raider QB Gage Kinsey completed 6-of-9 passed for 89 yards.
The Cleveland defense was lead by senior Parker Chastain with eight solos and an assist, with sophomore Leo Palelei adding four solo takedowns, two for a loss and the game's lone sack. Turner finished with a trio of solo tackles and a help.
"(I'm) Proud of our kids for the way they represented their team, school and city," was Raider head coach Marty Wheeler's lone comment after experiencing his first "Crosstown Clash."