Trio of local gridiron stars sign for next level
As millions of college football fans across the country followed their favorite team’s efforts on National Signing Day, three local athletes made their college choices official on Wednesday.
Sevier County’s Logan McCarter, who was Sevier County’s Most Valuable Player for 2012 as named by The Mountain Press, chose to continued his career with the Furman University Paladins in the NCAA’s Football Championship Series (FCS) division.
It marks the second year in a row (2012 Brett Pippin, Austin-Peay) the Smoky Bears have had a player earn a full athletic scholarship with a school in college football’s second-highest level.
Also signing letters of intent Wednesday were The King’s Academy’s Harrison Atchley — with Carson-Newman (NCAA Division II) — and Gatlinburg-Pittman’s Jamel Foster — with Maryville College (NAIA).
During McCarter’s sophomore season at SCHS, Bears head coach Steve Brewer knew he had something special.
“Back when he was a sophomore he was making some really nice plays. He showed elusiveness, showed some speed and very good hands.”
Brewer didn’t know, however, that McCarter would leave SCHS as the program’s all-time leader in receiving yards (2,096) and receiving touchdowns (29) and a two-time all-state selection.
“He’s got a really good skill set,” Brewer said. (And) he knows what to do.
“Last year as a junior we got to looking at some of the stuff he was doing (on film), and he had a really nice highlight film coming out of his junior year, and that got a lot of people’s attention.”
After attending several summer camps at Kentucky, MTSU, Wofford, Furman, UTC, and Tennessee (where he was selected as Most Oustanding receiver), McCarter got an offer from Furman, and a week or so later, he accepted.
“It’s a great atmosphere, the coaches are excellent, the town — Greenville, S.C. — is great, and Furman’s a good college,” McCarter said. ‘The graduation rate’s really high, and when I went camp, I loved it there.”
McCarter thinks he’ll fit in well with the Paladins’ offense, which runs multiple formations, including pro sets and some spread.
“I feel like some of the colleges underestimated me,” McCarter said. “I think I’ll be a good fit at Furman. They just told me to come in next year and be ready to play. I don’t know if they’re going to redshirt me or not, but I’ll be (ready).”
SCHS assistant football coach Jonathan Shultz, who also coaches McCarter on the track team, was happy for his protégé.
“I’m excited,” Brewer said. “I’ve seen how hard he’s worked for it, and it shows everything he’s done has absolutely paid off.”
He believes it will pay off for Furman too.
“(Logan) can just run right by you. He always seems to be able to get behind the defense quickly. You can’t teach a guy to do that.
“(And) he’s got very, very good hands. Short passes, deep passes, across-the-middle passes, he has no problem with any of those, and anytime he catches the ball, there’s a possibility of a touchdown. I think those are things that college coaches look at and see on film that set you apart from other players.”
The Sevier County Smoky Bears won district titles in every season that McCarter and this year’s crop of seniors was at the school, leaving quite a legacy.
Like McCarter, hard work has paid off for Gatlinburg-Pittman’s Jamel Foster.
Unlike McCarter, it wasn’t obvious from the beginning how good Foster could be.
“I came in at 5-foot-5, 110 pounds and running a 5.2 40 (yard dash),” Foster said with a smile. “I grew a lot, I got stronger and faster, and I’m all the way down to a 4.6 40 (now).
“My body had to mature, and that’s what I did in the program, I matured, until I was able to play at the varsity level.”
Foster, who’s now 5-8 and 150 pounds, played two varsity seasons with the Highlanders, primarily in the defensive backfield. He’ll now take his talents to Maryville College.
“The week after the Carter game they contacted me to ask me to come on an unofficial visit,” Foster said. “I went over there and I enjoyed my time, and it stood out to me. I liked the coaching staff, they were really friendly, and they seemed like they’d really be there for you when your’re there. They also seemed like teacher, not the kind (of coaches) that yell at you a lot.”
Foster will have the option to play any of several different positions with Maryville.
“Right now they said I can go anywhere I find that I fit in. They said they like my speed. I love running back, but I also had a great time playing defensive back, or I could even play slot receiver.”
At G-P, Foster primarily played cornerback.
“His junior year in football he had a good year, especially back there in the secondary,” G-P coach Benny Hammonds said. “He made a lot of game-saving tackles, and he was a big-play man for us back there.”
Though he was plagued by nagging ankle injuries this season, Hammonds said Foster’s senior campaign was still a positive.
“He still had a great year as far as participating, working and being a great leader for us,” the coach said.
“As far as work ethic and work habits, he’s really worked hard to get where he’s at. He’s always had a desire to go on and play college football, and I’m glad he’s getting that opportunities.
“He’s a good student and he’s always done things like he’s supposed to around here. He’s been a great addition to our program. He’s been a model student and a model athlete with his work ethic. He’s got good instincts, breaks on the ball really well, and for a boy his size, he’s an excellent tackler,” Hammonds said.
For TKA jack-of-all-trades Harrison Atchley, there was hardly ever a doubt where he’d go on to play college football.
With his father, D.J. Atchley, having played on Carson-Newman’s first-ever NAIA National Championship team in 1983, Harrison was raised on Eagles football from birth.
After first attending a game at around 4 months old, Harrison’s “probably only missed a handful of games,” according to his father.
“I remember just going since I was little, playing in the back of the end zone (as a kid),” Harrison himself said. “And I’ve gone to a bunch since then, about every Saturday.”
Now those Saturday games will be up close and personal.
Atchley said he started talking to the Carson-Newman coaches last season, and their interest grew over the past season with more letters and game film inquiries.
“I’ve been talking to (safeties) coach Denares Waites over there, and he’s said he’s wanting me to focus on wide receiver and hopefully get to that by my junior year. Maybe I’ll come in and punt or something, but I’ll probably just start out on special teams and work myself up. It’ll be different, I’ll probably get my head knocked off a few times in the beginning, but it’ll be fun. I’m looking forward to the challenge.
That can-do attitude has been invaluable for the Lions in Atchley’s seasons with the team.
“A typical Friday night for Harrison was he’d start out the game at tailback, then go to fullback, play a little halfback, and we’d let him go in at quarterback for a few plays, and the next thing you’d know, he’d be in at receiver,” former TKA coach Matt Evans said. “He did about everything for us on offense. Every time we had to kick or punt the football he did it, and he’s a great defensive back as well. Unfortunately because of our numbers, we had to play him at linebacker, too, and he did a great job there.
“There were several games this year, almost every one actually, where he never left the game at all, he was in the whole time,” Evans continued. “He’s got everything a football coach could want. He’s tough, he’s smart, he loves the game, he’s a great teammate, an encourager, a leader. I don’t know what Carson-Newman’s got planned for him, but they got the good end of the stick, because he’s a coach’s dream to have out there.”
Atchley said he’s had a great time playing for TKA.
“It’s been fun and different,” he said. “The coaches are really good, because we get one-on-one coaching pretty much every practice. (Because of the small-school aspects) we have to travel so far for away games, but I’ve loved it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Atchley finishes his TKA career with 1,591 rushing yards, 591 receiving yards and 29 combined touchdowns. He also passed for a pair of scores. On defense he tallied 174 career stops, five interceptions and 10 tackles for loss.