Positive outlook for Elizabethton freshman

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Los Angeles Lakers superstar Shaquille O' Neal needs to loan Elizabethton High freshman football coach Ryan Witten a pair of his sneakers.
   "I guess I've got some big shoes to fill," Witten said about his team, most of whom played on T.A. Dugger's 7-1 eighth grade squad last season.
   The Cyclones have what it takes to enjoy a special season, and Witten is excited about his team's prospects in 2002.
   "They've been working hard," Witten said. "We expect a pretty good team. We've got some pretty good backs. Our offensive linemen are coming along.It's always tough for freshmen coming up. They're used to being the biggest, but sometimes they get outgrown a little bit.
   "But we've got a lot of speed that we're not used to. We've got a pretty good quarterback in Weston Jeffers, so we ought to be able to throw it a little bit. We should be all right."
   The offense starts with Jeffers, who at 6-2, 185 has very good size for a freshman.
   Witten's very excited about his quarterback.
   "He's a dandy," Witten said. "His older brother Travis played with Shawn and them. He was on those two state semifinal teams. He's real smart. His feet aren't as quick as Jake Berkley, my quarterback last year, but he will fit in that Ryan Curtis type mold with that drop back pass. He's a good kid, yes sir, no sir. There's a lot pressure on the quarterback playing at Elizabethton, and I think he'll be all right to step up. He should be OK."
   James Peterson and Curtis McKeehan provide plenty of speed at tailback. Justin Conway and Jesse Hampton will be the fullbacks.
   Aaron Bray figured to shine on the freshman squad at tailback, but he's impressed the EHS coaching staff so much early on that they're probably going to play him some on the varsity.
   "He's on the varsity, and they're trying to make a decision whether he's going to get any playing time up there or not," Witten said.
   J.C. Atkinson and Ryan Kennedy will be the receivers for Witten. The tight end will be Justin Connor.
   Scheduled to start on the offensive line are guards Adam Grindstaff and Lucas Deloach, tackles Chris Wagner and Jeremy Wallin, and center David Lyons.
   On defense, Witten is counting on strength to be the key this season.
   "We've got some pretty strong defensive linemen," Witten said. "If they can withhold the linemen to getting to our linebackers, we should be all right.
   Witten is extremely excited about defensive ends Logan Hyatt and Connor. Hyatt is already 6-5, 185, while Connor is 6-3, 170.
   "We've been waiting on them for awhile," Witten said. "They're going to be big-time players."
   Lyons and Wallin will join Hyatt and Connor on the line as tackles.
   Hampton, Grindstaff, and the highly touted David Bray will be the linebackers.
   Atkinson and Kennedy are the corners, while McKeehan will be at strong safety.
   The last few years have seen the Elizabethton program produce some players who have gone on to shine at the collegiate level. Jason Witten, Shawn Witten, Adam Howell, Adam Walton and Steven Trivette are just a few of the players who made it to big programs.
   Witten thinks these players know what they're getting into playing at a tradition-rich program like Elizabethton's.
   "I hope I do a good job at that," Witten said when asked if the players knew what they were getting into coming to Elizabethton. "I got Vince Redd and Walter Brown ready. I think that Coach (Rick) Wagner and I have been around.
   "I'm just 25 years old, but I've experienced a lot of football. Every Saturday I get to go to a (college) football game, and I get to see 100,000 people. When I come back I tell the guys how it's going to be. Hopefully, they understand. I think they do."