Baylor, McCallie rivalry defined by gritty players [photos]

McCallie linebacker Jaylan Nowell (22), wearing (30) in practice on Friday, has returned to action after a knee injury in the Baylor game last year.

More than any other game played between area high school football teams, tonight's Baylor at McCallie matchup will be a one-stop shopping spree for college recruiters. No other programs feature the quality or quantity of big-time talent, with likely more than a dozen future college players setting foot on Pete Potter Field looking to electrify both the scouts and the fans.

But this rivalry is not typically won by the guys with the most stars by their name. In fact, if history is any indication, the game's outcome will be decided by players with more grit than glitz - guys like Baylor's Charlie Glascock or McCallie's Jaylan Nowell, senior linebackers who, besides leading their defensive units in tackles, lead their teams in categories that can't be measured by stats or recruiting rankings.

"That's what football is all about," McCallie coach Ralph Potter said. "It's not always about the four-star guys. It's the ones who are willing to sacrifice for their team. Those are the kind of guys I really enjoy."

Glascock and Nowell have persevered through personal obstacles just to be on the field for the renewal of one of the state's top prep rivalries at 7:30 tonight. There have been countless hours of unseen work put in to either return from injury or earn a place on the field.

After three years of moving up the depth chart and making a name for himself on special teams, Glascock earned a starting spot at inside linebacker just before this year's opener against Rhea County, and he has been one of the most consistent defenders on the field ever since.

At 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, he's undersized for his position but relies on a tough-as-nails approach.

"I've always wanted to prove how tough I am," said Glascock, who wrestles at 170 for Baylor. "It was intimidating when I first got here, but after you keep getting hit by (former all-state linebacker) Ryan Parker, you learn to toughen up.

"I'm not the most athletic player on the field, and I know I'm undersized, but I've always been aggressive. All I thought about all offseason was what it would be like to get to start against McCallie. I can't wait."

Nowell limped to the sideline late in the second quarter of last year's Baylor game with torn knee ligaments. Although he didn't require surgery, the 6-1, 215-pounder was not able to return the rest of the season.

"I was devastated. I wanted to fight everybody to get back out on the field," said Nowell, who has 26 more tackles than the next-closest McCallie defender this season, plus three sacks. "Coming back was more mental at first because you're watching how you plant your leg. But now I don't even think about it.

"I dreamed of this game all through my rehab. I've prepared hard for it. It will be a great atmosphere, but I just want to be back on the field with my team making plays. I want to hit somebody and make them feel what I felt last year."

On the first snap of last week's game against Georgia's Blessed Trinity, Nowell raced 30 yards across the field to track down a runner and stripped him of the ball. McCallie recovered, scored a few plays later and was on its way to a lopsided win.

"To be a great leader you have to do your job well first, and things work outside from there," Potter said. "Jaylan is the leader, the heart and soul on defense. He brings an intensity and physicality that we need on that side."

While it's easy to get caught star-gazing with so many gifted players on both teams, and the college recruiters will likely lock in on the biggest prospects, coaches from both sides share an appreciation for those who have fought their way into meaningful snaps tonight.

"It's great any time a kid that's been involved in your program, worked hard every day at practice to get better, earns the right to be a starter or play a lot," Baylor coach Phil Massey said. "You know those are the kids who are going to give you everything they've got.

"The beauty of high school football is seeing those kids work to become a key part of the team, because those are the ones who will take what they learn on the field and use it in life. It doesn't matter if you've got stars by your name or not. You've earned a place on that field, and now you can make a difference in who wins it."

Contact Stephen Hargis at or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.