By MARINA WATERS
Carson-Newman University’s football program is about to receive two Daniel Boone High School Trailblazers who are more than ready to play more “smash mouth” football.
Boone seniors Bailey Presnell and Zach Taylor both signed to continue their academic and athletic careers with Carson-Newman on Wednesday, Feb. 7. For both ‘Blazers, signing with the Jefferson City college team was a perfect fit on multiple levels.
“I had opportunities to go other places, but I didn’t feel like I gelled anywhere else,” Presnell said. “I felt like the christian atmosphere was a good thing for me. At these other schools you don’t have a christian relationship with all these players. The coaches really care about God and you as a person, instead of just you as an athlete. I just felt like it was the best place.”
“It being a Christian university really played a big part of it,” Taylor added. “That one-on-one with the coaches is huge.
“I like the offense and how they run it. It’s smashmouth, quick-paced. The coaching staff is really good. I think they have a championship coaching staff there. They’re doing really well and I’m excited to get started with them.”
Taylor is a 6’2, 220 pound tight end and defensive end. But he said he might be gearing up to add long snapper to that list as well.
“Right now we’re still trying to decide if I’m going to be playing tight end or defensive line. We haven’t really decided on that yet,” Taylor said. “But I will be long snapping too. I’m ready to get up there and get started doing that because I’ll get to learn a lot from a good guy they’ve got up there who’s an all-conference long snapper. I’m ready to start learning from him.”As for Presnell — an all-state lineman and two-time conference lineman of the year — he’s ready to continue his work as an offensive and defensive lineman.
“They recruited me as offensive line, but I don’t know if I’ll play defense — you never know until you get up there,” Presnell said. “But I’m trying to lose some weight, get stronger, get faster and just be a better overall athlete.”
It’s not just been about football throughout Presnell and Taylor’s four years at Boone; When asked about each of the two players’ obstacles throughout their athletic careers, they both said they considered losing two Boone students, Kaylee Rabun and Justin Rose, who both lost their lives in separate car accidents last school year, as a struggle in their high school careers. But they also said those tragedies added to their motivation on and off the field.
“It really just starts back with the two deaths we had with Kaylee and Justin,” Presnell said. “We were kind of gliding through the season (last year), but when that happened, we just really gelled together as a school. We picked each other up off the ground and it started with athletics. It started with volleyball and their championship and then with us. We went to the playoffs for the first time in forever and that carried over to this season. We try to remember Kaylee as best we can and how she was a good Christian, worked so hard and how she was just so competitive. We just tried to carry that over to the field and it showed this season.”
“We really had to click together and I think that was a huge part of our success,” Taylor said.
The ‘Blazers went on to win the Big 7 Conference Title for the 2017 season, a first in Daniel Boone Football history.
But when it comes to a historic moment, Presnell’s was well before he padded up for the ‘Blazers; the lineman explained at the signing that as a child, he suffered an aneurysm that doctors said would put physical limitations on his life.
“It’s great that I’m even up here. The thing y’all don’t know is I had a brain aneurysm when I was 18 months old. I wasn’t supposed to walk or talk or anything,” Presnell said. “I was supposed to be in a wheelchair. It’s not about me — God had better plans for me. He blessed me in every aspect of my life. I hate when people say ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I’m not smart enough to do this’. I’m living proof that anything is possible with God.”
With those miracles that took place on and off the field, both senior football players are ready to face the work ahead with their faith — and in keeping the commitment to carrying on Boone’s “demand for perfection” — in tow.
“It’s been a blessing being here for four years. Coach Jenkins has such a good program and he’s such a good coach. He’s easily one of the best coaches I’ve played for. He’s all over you if you’re not going 100 percent. He’s going to be on you. We have a great offense here. Our defense coordinator runs a really, really nice defense that I liked. Coach Connor and Coach Duncan have done such a great job with the strength and conditioning program here. I can guarantee you it’s nothing like anywhere else.”
“It’s been great (being a ‘Blazer). I came in as a 240-pound defensive lineman. They transformed me into a 290-offensive lineman,” Presnell said. “It’s completely changed me as a man. I had the best offensive line coach. He demands perfection in every rep. The whole atmosphere here, it just demands smashmouth football and it demands working hard.
“It demands perfection and that helped me be a better man.”