A year ago, Clay McHone was a master of hide-and-seek.
The diminutive Whitwell runner missed one game entirely because of a concussion and rarely played into the fourth quarter in at least five of the Tigers’ other games in 2014.
Yet he finished the year with 1,406 yards, a per-game average of 156.2.
Pretty good for a guy who’s barely on the high side of 5-foot-6 and has to stomp on the scales to get about 170 pounds.
“It doesn’t bother me,” the Tigers junior said. “It’s a talent of mine. I’m fairly elusive and they don’t see me until I’m right up on them, and then it’s too late.”
First-year coach R.C. Helton was sold almost from the start, not because of the numbers but after seeing McHone’s weight-room regimen and on-field intensity.
“His motor doesn’t quit,” Helton said. “We all talk about coaches’ dream and ideal players. If you could put all those types of attributes into a young man, what it would be is this young man. He is a real humble youngster — confident but not boastful — a kid with a great attitude and great work ethic.”
McHone was named Times Free Press player of the week after rushing for 257 yards in three quarters in the Tigers’ lopsided win at Clay County last October.
“He would’ve had over 300,” then-coach Billy Barnhart said. “He had a 72-yard run called back on a penalty, and I made the coaches pull him from the game after the third quarter.”
McHone was to be one of three 1,000-yard rushers for the Tigers last year, but his older brother Dusty and fellow 2014 returning runner Cody Ingrassia missed parts of the season. Ingrassia’s season ended with a broken leg, and Dusty was injured in the season opener and reinjured in Game 2 and didn’t get back till late in the year.
Clay McHone has continued what made him successful a year ago. He is quick to acknowledge the Tigers’ offensive line and admits to extra time in the weight room — 90 minutes to two hours Monday through Friday.
When asked what else set him apart, he quickly replied, “Hard work.”
So what has he added this year?
“I want to lead by example, rub off on people. I’m trying to make people around me better,” he said.
— Ward Gossett
Head coach: R.C. Helton (7-23 overall; first year here)
Last year: 5-5; last playoff appearance 2005
Returning starters (O/D/K): 8/8/0
(all games at 8 Eastern unless noted)
Aug. 22 — at Mt. Juliet Christian
Aug. 29 — Midway
Sept. 5 — at Marion County*
Sept. 12 — Harriman
Sept. 19 — South Pittsburg*
Sept. 26 — Middle Tenn. Christian
Oct. 3 — at Lookout Valley, 7:30*
Oct. 10 — at Clay County
Oct. 17 — Sale Creek*
Oct. 24 — at Richland
- District 6-A game
Control panel: QB/DB Tyler Tate (5-11, 165, Sr.) is called a pure and simple “field general” by Helton, while LB Greg Layne (5-10, 160, Jr.), termed “relentless” by the coach, will be the centerpiece of the defense. Drawing a lot of attention from opposing defenses will be RB Clay McHone (5-5 1/2, 163, Jr.), a Class A all-state pick last year and a steady fixture in the weight room.
New producers: Helton prefers to call them potential contributors but mentioned RB/DB Trace Condra (5-6, 135, Fr.), OL/DL Thomas Argo (5-7 1/2, 203, Fr.) and SE/LB Garrett Shrum (6-0, 150, Fr.). Condra will serve in a backup role at tailback and cornerback, and Argo is marked as a utility player for both sides of the line and possibly at linebacker. Shrum will get some time as a tight end and split end.
Helton, who comes to Whitwell from Arizona, is a graduate of East Ridge (1983) and played for local legend Raymond James alongside storied Pioneers running back Rodney Ballard. During his three years there, the Pioneers were 22-9.
Asked how the proposed public/private full split might affect his program, Helton responded, “It doesn’t. We will play whoever they put before us.”
The 5-5 showing last year was the program’s first non-losing season since the 2003 team went 7-4.
RB/LB Jake Sartin (5-10, 210, Jr.) is one of the players Helton is expecting to have a breakout season. “He hunts when he gets the football. He uses it as a lure. He will seek contact, and he will win,” the coach said.