Bryce Copeland is out to prove there is more than one big-time college prospect playing football in Cleveland.
Cleveland senior Chad Voytik has risen up the recruiting charts and currently is Rivals.com's sixth-rated pro-style quarterback in the United States. Copeland, a junior at Bradley Central, has started since his freshman season and helped lead the Bears to the second round of the Class 6A playoffs last year.
At the third annual 7-on-7 passing scrimmage at Signal Mountain on Saturday, Copeland did not throw an interception in eight games, leading Bradley to the championship of the 12-team tournament.
"He's just growing more and more into that role," said Bears coach Damon Floyd, whose team defeated North Jackson in the title game. "He makes good decisions and has the arm to get it in places for our playmakers to make plays."
While there were more than a dozen college prospects competing in Saturday's tournament, one relatively unknown player was the hottest topic of discussion among other coaches and spectators.
Signal Mountain's Tim McClendon, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound running back and linebacker who transferred from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, was at times the most impressive player on the field. A knee injury early in the second half of last year's season opener kept McClendon on the sideline the rest of the year.
"He's only played two quarters of varsity football, so we'll have to wait and see just how good he can be for us," Eagles coach Bill Price said. "But so far he's been an impressive kid."
Ridgeland has only five starters returning from last season's Region 7-AAA champions, so when coach Mark Mariakis says every position is up for grabs, he's only slightly hedging. During Saturday's camp, though, two new Panthers showed the cupboard isn't exactly bare in Rossville.
Junior transfers Daryll Bridges and Vonn Bell helped lead Ridgeland to a 5-2 mark Saturday, the only losses coming on the final plays against Signal Mountain and North Jackson. Bridges, who transferred from Red Bank in the middle of last school year, solidified his hold on the quarterback spot, displaying a strong, accurate arm to go along with great mobility. Bell, a receiver who played at Central last year, had several touchdown catches and strong plays from his safety position.
"Darryl threw the ball well, and our receivers stood out," Mariakis said. "They ran good routes and caught it real well. We have a lot of holes to fill there, so we're pleased. Defensively, we have no one back on the second level, so right now we're just trying to find places for people to play and who is going is going to play."
In the semifinal loss to North Jackson, Bridges threw three consecutive first-down touchdowns, two to tight end Elijah Cutts and one to Bell. Will the usually run-first Panthers throw it around more this year?
"We're throwing and catching it well, so that's encouraging, but our hat's always been hung on the run game," said Mariakis, whose team defeated Hixson twice, Bradley Central, McCallie and South Pittsburg on Saturday. "I don't expect that to change much. However, with Darryl throwing it the way he's throwing it and with Vonn catching it like he has, we know we can do it."
As a Class A program, Gordon Lee rarely plays against the elite athletes the Trojans faced Saturday, but that was just what coach Kevin McElhaney wanted to evaluate: how would his team react.
"It's good for us to see the kind of athletes these guys can put on the field," said McElhaney, whose team won once against Soddy-Daisy, tied Red Bank and lost a close one to North Jackson. "We see those when we play Bowdon and Darlington, so we need to learn how to play at that speed. I'm pleased with how we competed today. We started strong, then had a lull, but we finished well, so that was good to see."
Like most of the coaches on hand Saturday, Central's John Allen was there to evaluate his players and start figuring out a starting 11 on each side of the ball. To that end, the first-year Pounders coach did not get caught up in the intensity that showed up in several of the scrimmages.
"Heck, we're not even keeping score," Allen said. "I can't tell you if we won or lost, but I can tell you we had some kids step up, and that's all that matters. Some of these guys are really into this, but that's OK."