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Saturday Morning Quarterback
Nov 06, 2006 12:00 am
Bob Corker and Harold Ford Jr. want your vote on Election Day. Mae Beavers wants you to push the button next to her name instead of Bob Rochelle's. Bredesen and Bryson have been yelling "me, me" for months.
John McNeal is pushing for his favorite candidate as well. This one is strong on defense.
A lot of candidates like to tout their war record. McNeal's candidate of choice has his own scar from battle in the form of a metal rod which has been inside his right leg for three years. He also continues to chug along despite a neck injury.
He won't be on Tuesday's ballot. Unless his Commanders were unexpectedly knocked out of the TSSAA playoffs last night, he and defensive coordinator Duane Lowe will be getting the candidate and his teammates ready for next Friday's second round.
And when they're not practicing or watching film, McNeal will lobby the registered voters with the TSSAA Mr. Football committee (unlike Tuesday's election, the rest of us can't register to vote in this one) to select senior Wade Mitchell for one of Tennessee high school's highest honors – Class 1A Mr. Football Lineman.
I first heard of Wade when he was slugging home runs virtually every game as a Dixie Youth League all-star a few years back.
He still plays baseball in the spring. But lately, he's saved his biggest hits for opposing ball carriers – 111 times to be exact during the regular season as the middle linebacker for Friendship's top-ranked (until the final AP poll anyway) and undefeated Commanders. Twice, he penetrated enemy offensive lines to sack the quarterback. More importantly, he led the defense as it saved the day in two crucial late-season victories over Gordonsville and Trousdale County.
Mitchell also helps determine the starting battle lines with his punting, a 38.7-yard average through 10 games. He was an offensive guard until a Week 0 stinger relegated him to defense and punting.
He's had prior endorsements, earning All-State honors as a junior and preseason accolades this year. He was a two-time All-Region performer prior to this season.
"He's put up the numbers," McNeal said of his middle linebacker, the focal point of the Friendship defense. "Stepping into the middle linebacker, we expect that guy to lead the team in tackles and he has. In our defense, that guy has to do it."
Of course, a candidate is only as successful as his supporters and volunteers, not unlike the quarterback.
"You've got to have a good supporting cast to help you out," McNeal said. "Sometimes people don't see what the other guys do to help him, and Wade better be at the point to make the tackle.
"In our defense, we ask the guys to be able to make things happen for our middle linebacker to run and get to players, to keep people off him, keep guards off him and help your middle linebacker flow and get to the football."
Mitchell's high school career hasn't been all smooth sailing. Punting against Gordonsville as a freshman, his kicking leg was broken in two places, prompting the insertion of the rod which remains in place today.
"I wasn't sure he would be able to play again," McNeal recalled. "I wasn't sure we would want to."
But Mitchell has stayed the course as Friendship went to back-to-back state quarterfinal games his sophomore and junior years and an undefeated regular season as a senior.
No doubt there are other players worthy of consideration for this honor. Unlike the races that will mercifully end Tuesday, this one isn't about slinging mud (maybe kicking up a little on torn-up fields on Friday nights). This is about giving just due to a player who has overcome a major injury to become one of the best linebackers in the state.
I'm Andy Reed and I approved this message.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.