Lose that initial battle, and the skill players most times won’t have a chance to do their thing.
Thanks to the physical nature of the 6-foot-3, 306-pound Cade Salyers, Dobyns-Bennett won its share of those collisions. Salyers proved his mettle by hanging tough from game one to game 10. Salyers was selected Wednesday as the Times News All-Tough Guy captain.
Joining Salyers on the annual team was the ATG coach of the year: Sullivan South’s Justin Hilton. In a league with two of the best teams in the state, Hilton’s squad won every game it was favored to win by using a physical offensive approach that produced consistent results on the ground. Perhaps this was most evident in two losses to likely Class 4A state champion Greeneville, where the Rebels physically owned the ball for drives of 18 and 20 plays against the stingy Greene Devils’ defense.
Here’s a look at this year’s ATG squad:
Sometimes the linemen go unnoticed, but the senior tackle was front and center for the thing the Indians did best. His brute-force blocking and physical toughness were two of the biggest reasons the Indians consistently moved the football throughout the season.
It was a tough season physically for Nickles, but the gutsy senior was on a winning team. So he battled through hamstring and shoulder issues, finding gritty ways to make big plays from his linebacker position.
Kollie was the team’s second-leading tackler, but that only tells part of the story. When the big games came, the senior linebacker and receiver was at his best. His battling spirit and determination were key parts of Crockett’s 12-1 season.
Moving from wide receiver to quarterback right before the season began, Courtney was subjected to learning the ropes while constantly having the ball in his hands. The senior didn’t let the pounding slow him down, and he battled to put up impressive numbers.
For the fourth straight year, the Cougars found winning a difficult thing to chase. But the senior quarterback kept the ball in his hands, absorbed the punishment, and it eventually paid off with an end to a long losing streak.
The Raiders started strong before getting hit by injuries, putting Dolan into extra duty in the backfield. The junior fullback responded by driving through the heart of defenses and earning the tough yards while also holding down the fort with attention-getting hits from his linebacker position.
Sophomores sometimes aren’t mature enough to understand how to display real toughness on the field. Whitley broke that mold, taking on extra burdens when the other inside linebacker went down with an injury and ending the year as the Indians’ leading tackler.
Standing 6-0 and weighing 176 pounds, the senior wasn’t the prototypical defensive end. However, the all-heart performer was second on the Cyclones in tackles, second in tackles for loss, and led the team with sacks — which are ATG-worthy results.
Overcoming a major injury is always a challenge. Doing it and returning as a dominant force takes ATG-level courage. The senior linebacker displayed his toughness as one of the area’s top tacklers this year after last year’s knee injury.
The Falcons had their share of rough games this season, but Derrick stood out as a tough kid who consistently stepped into the scrum. The junior was a battler at wide receiver, but his signatures came as a hitter from his defensive back position.
Not only was White the Blue Devils’ leading tackler, his triumph over adversity was impressive. The senior linebacker played the final three games of the season despite having a torn ACL. Perseverance personified.