Ezell-Harding QB knows how to put on show

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   At Ezell-Harding Academy, students are encouraged to hit the textbooks.
   Quarterback J.P. Shelly also knows how to hit the record books.
   Shelly has broken two state records this season en route to leading the Eagles to a 14-0 record, and a spot in Friday afternoon's 1A state championship game against the Cloudland Highlanders.
   Shelly, a Mr. Football finalist, holds the state record for most touchdown passes in a season with 44, and for the most touchdown passes in a single-game with 10.
   For the year, Shelly has thrown for over 3,400 yards.
   The top-notch quarterback gives all the credit to his teammates.
   "It's been a great year for us," Shelly said. "Our athletes and my line give me the ability to put those numbers up."
   Shelly definitely started the season out on the right foot. In a 76-21 thrashing of Loretto in week zero, Shelly threw for 10 touchdown passes.
   It was a night Shelly will never forget.
   "It was amazing," Shelly said. "We came out and scored a few times on our passing game, and we just kept at it. It was a fun night."
   While Shelly is undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks in the state at any level, he's quick to point out that he has a very talented group of receivers that are catching his touchdown passes.
   "They do a great job," Shelly said. "They have great hands and great speed. All have the ability to score every time they touch the ball."
   Shelly and the Eagles came into this season with something to prove.
   Last year's 5-5 season was one they wanted to forget, so the squad dedicated themselves to having a much better campaign in 2001.
   "It's been a very big turnaround," Shelly said. "We have a great coaching staff that never gave up, and adapted to our strengths. It took hard work, dedication, and a lot of confidence. We believed we could win every game we played."
   Shelly may have something else to prove in Friday's Blue Cross Bowl. He may have to prove to college scouts they're wrong about him.
   Despite the numbers he has put up, big schools are not flocking to Antioch to come see him. Northwestern has shown some interest, as well as Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, Yale, Dartmouth, and Harding University in Arkansas.
   "A lot of people have given up on me because I'm not as tall as some schools would like," commented Shelly.
   Shelly also believes the lack of interest in him is also due to the fact he plays in Tennessee's lowest classification.
   He doesn't think that shouldn't be an issue.
   "They feel the competition isn't as strong," Shelly said. "I disagree. I think 1A is just as good as 2A or 3A."
   Shelly may try to prove his critics wrong and walk-on at a big school, but he will have his family in mind when he makes his decision.
   "I think I could play at a bigger school," Shelly said. "But I'll do what's best for me and my family. We'll just see how it goes."
   Shelly is honored to get looked at by academic powerhouses like Northwestern, Yale and Dartmouth. Shelly has a 3.75 G.P.A. and tallied a 34 on his ACT, which is close to perfect.
   Shelly believes Ezell-Harding has definitely prepared him for college.
   "It's one of the toughest schools around in the mid-state," Shelly said.
   As for the game with Cloudland, Shelly has a lot of respect for the boys from Roan Mountain. He expects the 'Landers to put up a lot of points Friday afternoon.
   "I know they're a good team," Shelly said. "They have two great backs in Dakota Benfield and Mark Byrd. We don't know if we're going to stop their offense. We know we have to outscore them, because they're going to score on us."
   Shelly thinks there may be one crucial stat that decides the game.
   "I think the game is going to come down to who makes the most turnovers," Shelly said.
   Shelly is determined to win Friday, especially after what happened last March. The Ezell-Harding boys basketball team lost in the state championship game.
   Shelly was on that team, and he says that experience has made him hungry to win that state title.
   "I know what is like to come up short," Shelly said. "But I can't imagine the feeling it's going to be like if we pull this out."