By Trey Williams
Daniel Boone’s injury-hampered football team exited Nathan Hale Stadium for the final time this season as frustrated as it was disappointed after a first-round TSSAA Class 5A playoff loss.
But the Trailblazer program’s first conference championship in its 47-year history almost immediately began the healing process for players such as senior quarterback Noah Shelton, who engineered the program’s steady turnaround since a troubling 1-9 season in 2015.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Shelton was missing his top weapons during a 16-0 playoff loss to Knox Central. Exceptional sophomore running back/pass rusher Charlie Cole was out with a hamstring injury that initially occurred in a preseason scrimmage against Greeneville and limited him to four games this season. And leading receiver CJ Carter left the playoff game early after aggravating an ankle injury.
Defensive lineman Austin Cox (back) also missed the game and starting center Walker Burleson (hamstring) was limited to a half.
“Any time you don’t have some of your best athletes at 100 percent it’s gonna hurt,” Shelton said. “CJ was struggling with his ankle and did everything he possibly could have. Kid played his heart out for us.
“Charlie struggled with that hamstring injury ever since the Greeneville scrimmage and just never got healthy. He showed flashes in some games and still somehow ran for 640 yards in just four games which is amazing. Had we been able to use him in the playoff game it could have been different, just with the way we could have had a more balanced rushing attack.
“And losing Austin Cox may have hurt us the worst considering how big their offensive line was. Austin and Bailey (Presnell) were the only guys on the team who size-wise could go toe to toe with their front five. Ya know Austin is hard to move, and had he played I think he would have given their offensive line a fit by just plugging holes.”
Shelton started two seasons for coach Jeremy Jenkins’ Trailblazers. Boone completed a playoff-qualifying rally with a Musket Bowl victory against David Crockett in 2016 and defeated the rival Pioneers again this season en route to a 6-0 record in Region 1-5A.
“Coming from a 1-9 season sophomore year to being undefeated in conference as a senior has been one of the best experiences of my life,” Shelton said. “As a junior I learned as much as I possibly could have and I really learned how to compete. Coming into senior year I knew that it was now my team. Not to say that there weren’t other leaders on the team, but with the position I played I knew that everyone was looking to me.
“And now I look back on the season with no regrets. I played every game with everything I had and am satisfied with the result. Ya know, we made history by winning the conference, first time ever.”
As a senior, Shelton passed for 1,085 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. As athletic as he is strong-armed (4.7 40-yard dash), Shelton also rushed for 1,099 yards and 18 TDs this season.
Like senior linemen Bailey Presnell, Shelton is being courted by a number of colleges at various levels, including Centre College, an NCAA Division III school in Danville, Kentucky. Centre’s offensive coordinator is former Daniel Boone quarterback Ben Fox, who was the valedictorian at Boone. Shelton made a 32 on the ACT.
Shelton is also an accomplished high jumper. He finished fifth in the state as a sophomore and fourth as a junior.
He’s playing basketball this season, and his leaping ability and physicality have caught coach Chris Brown’s eyes.
“As far as recruiting goes, I haven’t been too focused on it with the transition to basketball at the moment,” Shelton said. “And for the most part I’m still undecided on whether I want to do football or high jump or just pursue an education.”
Whatever path Shelton chooses, he and classmates such as Presnell, Carter, running back Mason Mounger and tight end/defensive end Zach Taylor have left deep footprints in Gray.
“Overall, this season was a huge success,” Shelton said, “and I’m extremely thankful that God has given me the ability to play and that he put so many great people around me like coaches and teammates and trainers and fans that have been extremely supportive and have always made Blazer Nation what it is today.”