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Bradley Central's Tray Curry outruns Cleveland's Parker Chastain for a touchdown. / Staff Photo by Robin Rudd

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Junior class football

For the past two weeks Damon Floyd has needed a revolving door leading to his office. With so many college football programs looking to get a jump-start on recruiting rising seniors in high school, the Bradley Central field house has been more than just a whistle stop for countless coaches.

"Ever since the dead period ended and those guys were allowed to make visits, it's been pretty crowded around here," said Floyd, the Bears' veteran coach. "There were several days where it was just one after the other coming and going, and I'd say we've had coaches from more than 30 teams stop by and a whole lot more than that who have called.

"I know recruiting is the lifeblood of every program, and we've had some good individual players from time to time here, but I've never dealt with anything like this."

The uptick in foot traffic inside the Bradley Central football office is the direct result of a talent-laden junior class that could rival any group of prospects in the state for next season's recruiting cycle.

Included among the Bears recruits are four-star receiver Tray Curry and three-star quarterback/athlete Javin Burke, both of whom already have multiple offers from Power Five programs. Also, Burke's twin brother Javon, offensive lineman C.J. Hardy and receiver Kannon Hall are drawing interest from college scouts.

The Chattanooga area produced eight Power Five signees in 2010 — including seven with Southeastern Conference programs — but has not had more than five in any signing class since.

However, the Bradley brigade is part of what could be the most talented group of prospects the area has produced in more than a decade. So far six area juniors have scholarship offers from Power Five programs, including Baylor running back Elijah Howard, who is committed to Tennessee. The list also includes McCallie running back B.J. Harris, who has offers from Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and South Carolina, and Blue Tornado offensive lineman Austin Gentle, who recently received an offer from Texas A&M.

Baylor quarterback Neyland Jean has an early offer from Florida Atlantic, and Red Raiders defensive back Riley Jenne's offer sheet includes one from Tulane. McMinn County speedster Jalen Hunt had more than 1,500 rushing yards in 2019, but arguably the player with the biggest upside is McCallie receiver Eric Rivers, who didn't play football for nearly two years but rejoined the team three weeks into the regular season and wound up turning in an all-state performance that included a highlight reel of spectacular plays in the Blue Tornado's state championship game victory.

Chattanooga area’s top 20 junior football prospects

1. Tray Curry (Bradley Central) WR

2. Elijah Howard (Baylor) RB

3. B.J. Harris (McCallie) RB

4. Javin Burke (Bradley Central) QB/DB

5. Austin Gentle (McCallie) OL

6. Riley Jenne (Baylor) DB

7. B.J. Ragland (Red Bank) OL

8. Neyland Jean (Baylor) QB

9. Eric Rivers (McCallie) WR

10. Malachi Hayden (Meigs County) OL

11. Cameron Bell (Red Bank) DL

12.Jalen Hunt (McMinn County) RB

13. Jerrian Hames (Calhoun) RB

14. Bryce Goodner (McMinn County) OL

15. Javon Burke (Bradley Central) DB

16. Jeremiah Sawyer (Tyner) LB

17. Jamario Clements (LaFayette) RB

18. Cade Hipps (McMinn County) DL

19. C.J. Hardy (Bradley Central) OL

20. KeSean Eubanks (Red Bank) WR

 

Rivers is also an all-state point guard who is being recruited by some mid-major basketball programs. But several college coaches agreed that he likely will get offers from bigger programs in football.

"There are a bunch of guys who are going to be on the national radar this upcoming season," said Charlotte head coach Will Healy, who has also worked as recruiting coordinator at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and as head coach at Austin Peay. "My staff knows the Chattanooga area well, and what's different from the last few classes is you're going to have the biggest programs nationally coming in to see multiple players.

"There is a lot of top-notch talent coming up in that group. It's as good an overall class for that area as I can remember, and I'm really proud for the brand of football in Chattanooga."

Curry (6-foot-4, 205) is ranked as the No. 3 prospect in Tennessee and the nation's No. 63 overall prospect according to 247Sports, and Burke (6-foot, 200) continues to climb the recruiting rankings. Curry, who had nearly 1,400 yards of offense last season, has scholarship offers from every SEC program except Alabama and LSU, with Tennessee, Kentucky and Auburn thought to be leading for his commitment. He is the nephew of former Cleveland all-state defensive back Dante Hickey, who is widely considered to be one of the best athletes this area has produced.

Burke, a dual-threat quarterback who threw for more than 1,900 yards and ran for 650, has offers from Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Virginia and Charlotte, among others. He is not only the Bears' fastest player but also the strongest on the team, squatting more than 500 pounds and bench-pressing more than 300. The Volunteers are recruiting him as a defensive back, while the other teams have told Burke he would have a chance to play quarterback.

"Tray is an absolute freak," Floyd said. "Those are the exact words that more than one college coach used to describe him. He's just not your normal high school player. To be his size, he's as fast and athletic a kid as I've ever seen.

"Javin is just so explosive. Coaches at the next level love how quickly he gets to full speed and his ability to change direction without missing a step. If his brother (Javon) adds a few pounds, with his speed, I believe he'll pick up some bigger offers, too, which will just mean it's going to get crazier around here."

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

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