Not even being lined up opposite a 300-pound defensive tackle strikes as much fear in Ryan Turner's heart as the idea of having to speak up in the team huddle.
Hixson's undersized junior center has no problem being heavily counted on as a key to his team's offensive success, but he certainly doesn't want to talk about it.
"If you see him walking the halls at school you would think he's on the chess team or the book club or something," Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald said. "He's not just a quiet kid, he never speaks out at all. He really has a fear of having to speak in public, even around the team. He won't even call the huddle together as the leader of our linemen.
"But nobody works harder than him and he's definitely one of the biggest reasons we are where we are now."It was after a disappointing 18-point loss to Soddy-Daisy to open the season that Hixson coaches knew they needed to make some changes.
That's when offensive line coach Gary Murray decided to put the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Turner, who had never started a varsity game in his career, in charge of the beginning each play with the ball in his hands and making sure the backfield tandem of Isaiah Robinson and Kedrick Bradley had plenty of room to run.
"I had confidence in Ryan because I saw his drive and determination in the weight room and on the practice field," Murray said. "Pound for pound, he's one of the strongest players on the team.
"We had tried him at a couple of other positions on the line, but once he took over at center, it was the final piece to the puzzle we needed to take off. When we made the announcement that Ryan would be the new center, the rest of the team loved the idea because they knew how hard he works."
Turner had a different reaction when he was told he was the team's new starting center.
"I thought the coaches were joking," Turner said. "I didn't expect to play much at all this year so I didn't really think they were serious. Snapping and moving at the same time is actually pretty hard. But I got comfortable with it pretty quick.
"But I won't ever be comfortable having to talk in front of people. I hate having to speak out in class, and I don't even like calling the huddle together on the field. I just want to do my job to help the team."
With Turner in place, Hixson claimed the district championship and for the first time in program history also have two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season, led by Robinson's school-record 1,540 yards. Going into Friday's second-round Class 4A playoff game against Sequoyah, the Wildcats are averaging 7 yards per carry.
"He's undersized so he may get whipped on a play every now and then, but as the game goes, you see him whipping the guy across from him a lot more," Robinson said. "I thought he was mute for a while because I never heard him say a word. He just never says anything.
"But we know why he's on the field -- because he's worked hard and deserves to be out there and he's a big reason we can run the ball like we do. You don't have to say a lot to be good and he's good."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...