Red Bank is going to have to figure out how to win football games without Eli Massengale next year.
It won't be a problem easily solved, and the solution is likely to require more than one person.
"I have never coached a more underrated football player," said Chris Brown, whose Lions (8-1) are ranked sixth in Class 3A and host Sequatchie County (6-4) in the first round of the playoffs Friday night.
"Eli is absolutely essential in all three phases of the game. He is an excellent long snapper, he is our short snapper, he is a great coverage guy on special teams, he is our starting fullback and has started for us at linebacker for three years."
The versatile senior and team captain has helped the Lions continue to succeed after they reached the state semifinals two years ago and the quarterfinals last season. As a 5-foot-8, 170-pound weakside linebacker, he has made the most of proper defensive alignment to be in place to make plays.
His quickness and a knack for hard hits also have helped a defense that has allowed an average of a little more than 70 rushing yards per game and just two touchdown runs all season.
"Our defense has really gotten after it this year," Massengale said. "Our defensive line sets the tone up front, and our linebacker corps is really physical and loves to hit. Our safeties have our backs when we mess up and our corners step up, too."
For the first time since 2006, the Lions have allowed fewer than 100 points in the regular season. They have allowed averages of 9.3 points and 169 total yards per game, and they have 27 takeaways.
Now they'll try to add to their accolades in the playoffs.
"I love being a part of a team that is so great and fond of each other," said Massengale, who is a part of a senior class that has a 38-9 record (including 19-1 in region play), three region titles plus a region runner-up finish this year. "There is a great team chemistry here, and we all listen to each other and our coaches. It is special to be a Red Bank Lion, and we really want to have a memorable finish this season."
When called upon to make the lead block at fullback or crash downfield to deliver a big hit on special teams, Massengale is willing.
Fittingly, he is also a standout catcher for the Red Bank baseball team. As a junior he led the Lions in batting average (.439), doubles (12), runs (25), walks (17) and on-base plus slugging percentage (1.200), and he threw out more than 70% of runners trying to steal bases and had a .972 fielding percentage.
"Eli is the epitome and definition of what a Red Bank Lion is," said football assistant Charles Weems. "He is a good student and as fine a young man as you will find. He's a major reason why our defense has been so successful the past two years, too."
For at least one more Friday, the Lions won't have to think about what to do without him.
"He has gained the ultimate respect of his teammates," Brown said. "He is the type of player we count on due to his experience. We look for him and others to keep us calm, cool and collected in the big moments from here on out."