Derrick Davis occasionally asks Alex Akins' opinion, even during a football game.
It's an unusual compliment for a high school football quarterback.
"He's one of the few I'll ask what he thinks, because we do things the way the coaches want," said Davis, the highly successful coach at Polk County. "If he comes trotting over with a suggestion, I'm going to listen. I could probably turn him loose and let him call his own plays."
It is an especially unusual scenario for a first-year quarterback who succeeded one of the school's most accomplished football players.
"Don't ask me to compare them," Davis said of Akins and Jared Allen, the Wildcats quarterback from late in 2007 through 2010. "It's hard to compare the two because of other team members that played with Jared. There were certain things we did with Jared and certain things we do with Al.
"If I was picking somebody to succeed Jared, it would have to be Al. Our level of play hasn't diminished with him coming in."
The quarterback change didn't keep Polk County from winning another District 5-AA title or getting into the postseason. The Wildcats' title chase resumes Friday when they visit Christian Academy of Knoxville.
Akins will be in the thick of things at quarterback, at safety and returning punts.
"You can get tired," he said, "but that's why we condition so hard."
A split end and cornerback last year, Akins has five interceptions as a defender. As a quarterback he has amassed 1,441 total yards (840 rushing) and accounted for 23 touchdowns, that in spite of having 1,000-yard rusher Derrick Saxe alongside him in the backfield.
Unlike Allen, who at 215 pounds had the bulk to bull through tackles, Akins uses his speed.
"He glides. You think you've got him tackled and he's by you before you know it," said Larry Davis, a former Polk head coach and now his son's offensive coordinator.
When asked where Akins excels, both coaches said everywhere.
"I wish we had 30 of him," the senior Davis said. "We'd compete with anybody."
Added the head coach: "He has excelled wherever we put him. He's athletic -- he plays basketball and baseball, too -- and he has the highest grade point average of any athlete in school and is third or fourth overall."
The Davises also believe in his team leadership.
"I know all the guys respect what he's done for us," Derrick said. "He's not vocal although he probably is more so in the huddle. He is definitely a lead-by-example type. He just goes out and produces."
Akins deflected some of the heady praise proffered by his coaches.
"I like playing quarterback. I like the pressure," he said. "I'm a point guard in basketball. I like to have some control over what goes on, but me being quarterback this year -- the coaches may have thought it was the best option for the team to succeed. There isn't that much pressure because of Saxe. He and the offensive line are as big a part of any success we've had as anybody. The line is really where it starts."
He hasn't let the pressure of following area player of the year Allen bother him.
"It's tough in a way, but I didn't really look into it that much," Akins said. "I just try to go out there and do my own thing in whatever way best helps the team. It's easy to do that because of our team chemistry. Everybody gets along. We're all friends -- nobody's selfish -- and that helps a lot."
Yet it always seems to come back to the quarterback, who often dictates team tempo and demeanor through his actions.
"We have been fortunate to have some good quarterbacks come through the program, and he is one of them," Derrick Davis said. "We've had some tough kids come through here, and he's among that hard-nosed type we like. He's the type that allows you to enjoy what you're doing as a coach."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...