Football means everything to Meigs County High School senior Will Meadows, and it's not hard to understand why.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Meadows is a versatile threat who totaled more than 1,700 yards last year and scored 14 touchdowns to earn all-state recognition and help the Tigers reach the Class 2A championship game. Getting to play on the same field where his father was also a star — Gary Meadows had 3,600 all-purpose yards as a Meigs senior in 1993 — adds a special connection to the program.
"I grew up dreaming of playing state championship football," said Meadows, who spent the first 15 minutes of Monday's practice working on his receiving for the state's second-ranked Class 2A program, which is 4-0 and will host Region 2 foe Rockwood (2-2, 0-0) on Friday night.
"I love this place and the atmosphere. Last season was special for this town and the program. We have another really strong team this year. Even though we lost Aaron Swafford, I think we have the pieces to be very successful again. An offense should never be around just one person."
Swafford rushed for 2,118 yards, passed for 1,202 yards and scored 43 touchdowns last season, when he was a state Mr. Football finalist for the third time — he won the award as a junior in 2018 — but the Tigers appear to have made a seamless transition to football after Swafford thanks to Meadows and others.
Meadows, despite missing the home opener due to COVID-19 contact tracing, has scored five touchdowns in his first two games, with four of those scores coming two weeks ago in the region opener against Cumberland Gap as he totaled more than 200 all-purpose yards.
His path is cleared by blockers that include all-state left tackle Malachi Hayden (6-3, 280) and left guard Hunter Brown (6-1, 285), who is new to the offensive line after starting at nose guard last season.
"I love running behind them," Meadows said. "With their blocking, my speed and our quarterback play, we can be a dominant offense. We are all grateful to be playing and have to make the most of every chance we get."
Junior Logan Carroll made an impact for last year's 13-2 team as a wide receiver, with his highlights including a 40-yard catch in the state championship loss to Peabody. He has enjoyed immediate success and handled pressure well as the team's new quarterback this year.
Carroll was 7-of-10 passing for 148 yards and three touchdown in a 38-0 shutout of 2019 Class 1A state runner-up Greenback this season, when he has thrown for 252 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 111 yards and three scores overall. Those numbers, though, have come in just seven quarters of action as Meigs has been up big in the second half of its victories and won by forfeit last week, when Clinton was unable to compete due to having a player test positive for COVID-19.
"We have been able to pick up right where we left off even after replacing a once-in-a-lifetime type athlete who put up crazy numbers," said Carroll, who is also a standout shortstop and leadoff hitter for the Meigs baseball team.
"Aaron taught me a lot about the quarterback position, and I have had great coaches help me a bunch, too. I think I can bring a little bit of a new perspective, too, because I throw the ball better than I run, which is a little different than Aaron."
The Tigers have outscored their opponents 111-7, and in one game they led 14-0 before their first offensive series.
A physical defense has been led by hard-hitting Ben Smith, along with Brady Blevins, Cam Huckabey, Hagan Lowe and Da'quan Tatum. Smith has 10 tackles for loss, four sacks and two 10-tackle games, including one in which Meigs held Cumberland Gap to minus-6 yards of offense.
As the schedule becomes more challenging, including an Oct. 9 visit from South Pittsburg, which is currently the state's top-ranked Class 1A team, the Tigers should be helped by the confidence they have built early.
"I think we can keep the offense rolling at a high pace, especially with an all-state running back who can open up the play-action passing game," Carroll said. "We all play with a lot of pride and love representing this community. There is nothing better than small-town football and having everyone behind you."