October 17, 2018
By Tim Chambers
So far the Longhorns have stayed afloat over the first eight games of the 2018 football season. Some have predicted their life raft will capsize before the season ends. I instead choose to tip my hat to them because this group of seniors has given a remarkable ride. And I not ready to grab a life jacket just yet. The Longhorns had 20 holes to plug created by 20 graduating senior players from the record-setting 2017 squad. But somehow they managed to do it.
Going down this year’s lineup is like going through the buffet line at your favorite restaurant. You get a little bit of everything in several different varieties. Every class is represented in the starting lineup including the freshman and sophomore ones. And just like last year, they have some talented senior playmakers on the team.
Tyler Norris is the leading tackler in Northeast Tennessee and definitely one of the top linebackers. He might be one heck of a fullback too if called on to play that position. T-Dog can do it all. Nathan Lane is one of the leading scorers in Northeast Tennessee and maybe the fastest. Lane is a dual threat at running and catching the football and ranks as one of the best special team players too. Zach Eller has electrified the crowd with some long touchdown receptions and kickoff returns. He also has four interceptions as a defensive back.
And then there is quarterback Troy Arnold.Arnold’s frame looks more like a punishing fullback where he played at in 2017, but he’s had a good year as the team’s signal-caller. He’s a threat to get you the tough yards needed up the middle and has thrown the ball well when given time. Christian Krupsky has undoubtedly emerged as one of the league’s top lineman and has been a starter for three seasons. Credit the Longhorn’s quintet for keeping the Horns in the hunt and having them ranked in the AP 3A poll for every week in 2018.
Let’s also credit six more seniors who go out and practice every day without a lot of fanfare. They too deserve to be recognized. Weston Throop has been the ace in the hole for Kerley’s Longhorns. He continues to make big plays for the defense. He had a fumble recovery for a touchdown and a 55-yard interception return for a TD on Senior Night. He also had a 75-yard blocked punt return for a touchdown against Claiborne County.
“It’s been a blast for me,” said Throop about this season. “Our defense and offense are always going at one another. I didn’t play last year so getting into the playoff and hosting a first-round game is very special.”
Special would be the best way to describe Throop’s play. Tyler Phillips, like Throop, did not play last year. He too has been a starter on the defense.
“It’s meant a lot for me to get out here with all the seniors and get to play,” said Phillips. “We’ve all grown up together so getting a chance to be on the field with them is very special. I’m glad to be a part of this playoff team and bring something exciting for our town. I believe that we are a team that cannot be underestimated. We play hard and believe in ourselves.”
Aric Neely is just like Throop and Phillips. He didn’t play last season but earned a starting role at wide receiver.
“This is my first year of playing, so it definitely means a lot to me,’ said Neely. “I wish that I had started playing a little earlier. Football has made me a better person, and I’ve enjoyed being around all the players and coaches. We still have some things to work on and a lot to play for. I want to be playing well going into the playoffs.”
The Longhorns have also been blessed with some key role players who have contributed to their success.
Noah Cox and A.J. Blevins are two of those type players. Cox just missed making the state tournament in tennis this past spring.
“I’ve enjoyed getting out here and playing in front of all our fans,” said Cox. “I appreciate all of them for coming out here every Friday. Tonight is bittersweet because this is my last regular season home game. I’ve loved every minute of being a Longhorn.”
Blevins echoed those same sentiments.
“Getting to play on this team has meant everything to me,” said Blevins. “I’ve enjoyed getting to compete and working with all of my coaches and teammates. It’s something that I’ll always remember.”
And then you have the fan favorite Lance King. The senior reserve can always be found on the sideline trying to pump up the crowd. King got to start his first high school game ever on Friday. He smiled when telling me what it felt like.
“I was excited but nervous about being called out as a starter,” said King. “That was my first start ever. I got a tackle tonight, and there wasn’t anything that dude could do about it. He didn’t have a chance.” King added. “I want to thank “Daddy Dunn” and “Uncle Randy” for making me a football player. I would be where I am at if it wasn’t for those two.
Neither would the Longhorns without their elite 11 seniors.