Proceeding with caution: Rebels move forward with preseason under COVID cloud with new leader O’Brien

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

Before the calendar turned to August, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed Executive Order No. 55, allowing the resumption of contact sports and extending local authority to require masks, among other provisions.
That was good news to the ears of the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Rebel Football program and other student-athletes across the state.
“Athletics is an important part of our way of life and provides many benefits for our student-athletes, but common-sense precautions must be taken to combat COVID-19,” Lee said. “We have worked directly with the TSSAA to coordinate a framework so that football season and soccer seasons can begin while keeping student-athletes, staff, and fans safe.
 “This order will also continue to give local governments the authority to determine mask requirements for their respective constituencies,” he added. “Adopting mask requirements at the local level has helped achieve greater community buy-in as Tennesseans adopt a new habit to protect lives and livelihoods.”
Rebel seniors Jalen Hurt, Hale Parshman, Heath Harrald, Alex Thomas, Evan Coats, Bryce McLane, Ryan Hill, Zakris “Tiger’ Vinson, Tucker James, Aidan Sprenkle and Porter Hughes were glad to know they are allowed to proceed with their preseason progress for now.
“I feel good being here today because I actually didn’t think it was going to happen about a month ago,” Rebel senior Tucker James said. “We didn’t know with the Governor extending the ‘safer at home’ order. I didn’t know we would be right here today.”
Executive Order 55 strongly encourages schools to adopt a policy requiring face coverings for staff and students of appropriate age and makes clear that students, teachers, school employees or contractors, and school visitors may voluntarily wear face coverings, except as necessary to ensure school safety and security. In addition, it aligns the treatment of contact and non-contact sports so that no sports are prohibited by the state, provided that participants follow safety guidelines from their governing bodies or Tennessee Pledge guidelines, as applicable.
“Last year about this time I would say for the most part I was taking things for granted,” TRA senior Jalen Hurt said. “It was like just another year. ‘Here’s another one, another season. I hope we do well.’
I was thinking all summer ‘I hope we do have a season. If we do, we have to kill it.’”
The Rebels compete in Division II-A and reached the playoffs as the sixth seed last season. The Rebels continued their post season streak behind players like Samford signee JT May and school all-time leading rusher Mac Fullen.
“I think we have some kids who set behind the others who were doing great like Mac and JT,” James noted. “They’re coming up and we’ll have some new talent out there.”
Some of the new and underclassmen talent that will be on the field for TRA in 2020 is Payne Fullen. The younger brother of Mac emerged as the starting quarterback for the Rebels in 2019.
“I didn’t think we were going to have a season at all,” the junior said. “Then after last night July 28 (TSSAA ruling) I’m ready for the season to start. That decision gave us a lot of hope.
“It’s definitely different around here because we’ll be running a new offense and defense with a different head coach,” Fullen added.
Fullen was referring to defensive coordinator Shannon O’Brien being promoted up to Head Coach after the departure of Collin Pinner.
Fullen and his fellow juniors are combining forces with the current group of seniors to help lead the underclassmen into battle on the gridiron.
“They have to learn how to be physical and can’t be scared to hit anybody,” he said. “Just play as hard as I can because you never know when it will be your last game or last second out there.”
Hurt said the roller coaster preseason has all the players on the roster feel grateful just to have a chance to step on the field during the global pandemic.
“We’re in the process of learning ourselves,” he said. “We have to get our there and get after it to get things done. We’ll see what will happen. When you play a physical sport like this, you really can’t too much take it for granted. One game you can be hurt and your whole season is over with. But this made me realize at the same time you’ve got to work either hard and keep going because you never know.
“You have to stay focus, know what time to play and what time to be serious,” Hurt continued. “If you’re not focused you won’t know what to do. It will hurt your playing time and could even hurt the people playing in front of you. This is a team game.”
James, who plays two team sports for TRA, said he hopes to avoid another disappointing end to a season. But he’ll keep his eyes on the news throughout August.
“Losing the baseball season at the same time, baseball is really important to me like football,” he concluded. “It definitely made me realize I do take stuff for granted and to make every minute last.”