HEAD COACH: William Dean (1st season)
LAST YEAR: 2-7, missed playoffs
RETURNING STARTERS: 5 offense, 5 defense
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: QB Payne Fullen, WR/QB Sam Cannon, WR/RB Ellis Fullen, OL Gibson Phillips, OL Thomas Patton, OL Ben Wilson, DB Aiden Petrowski, K Nathan Washington, DB Jonathan Stewart, WR Gavin West
KEY PLAYERS LOST: LB Tucker James, RB Tiger Vinson, OL Heath Harrald, WR Jalen Hurt , WR Aidan Sprenkle
During Tipton-Rosemark’s media day last month, a couple of Rebel seniors were joking around with first-year head coach William Dean.
Thomas Patton asked Dean, who is 26 and might look even younger, why he has never seen any stubble on his face.
“I shave every morning,” Dean said.
“Yeah,” said Patton, “but what about at night?”
“I don’t hang out with you at night,” Dean said.
“You should,” Patton said with a sly smile. “We could party.”
That got a laugh from Dean and other players who were standing around.
While there’s no doubt Dean is the man in charge, it’s pretty clear his players, some of which are just eight years younger than him, relate with their head coach.
“I like younger coaches,” said senior Gibson Phillips. “You can get closer to them and hang out with them. A lot of guys, they go play golf after practice. He’s here and it’s a lot like family.”
“I love him as a coach,” said senior quarterback Payne Fullen, who was a ninth grader when Dean joined the staff as the quarterback coach. “I’ve gotten really close to him. I think everybody respects him. He doesn’t have to yell at you to get his point across.”
Said senior wideout Gavin West: “He’s one I definitely respect. He’s not going to be in your face unless he has to be. It’s nice having somebody who, if you mess up, he’s going to lift you up.”
Dean is making some schematic changes this season, but, to the casual fan, things will look pretty similar to last year. The Rebels will line up in the spread and let Fullen run the ball as much or more as he did last season, when he racked up 772 rushing yards on 110 carries, both team highs.
Fullen passed for 1,004 yards last season, but that total will likely be lower this season. Dean said his team will run about 60 percent of the time and junior Sam Cannon will see some time at quarterback. Fullen had shoulder surgery last winter and his right arm is still not fully recovered.
“They have two different skill sets,” Dean said. “Payne is a great runner, while Sam is a pocket passer who reads defenses and slings it around. Our identity will change based on who’s back there.”
Cannon said there is no quarterback controversy and has been good friends with Payne for several years.
“I think we can compliment each other,” Cannon said.
Ellis Fullen, Payne’s cousin, will be one of the team’s key receivers and will also get some handoffs from his cousin.
Dean is very excited about the guys who will be blocking for the Fullens.
“We’ve got a deep offensive line,” Dean said, “which is something we haven’t had in the last few years. We’re going to run a lot of the stuff you saw here two years ago, just out of a spread formation.”
Phillips and Patton return to the offensive line as four-year players who started last season. Ben Wilson, another senior, is back as the starting center. Aydon Rock, Chandler Wilson, Austin Wilson and Beau Downing will also see time on the O-line.
“It’s hard to say who we’re going to lean on,” Dean said. “They’ve all been getting some playing time and all of them will help us in some way.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Phillips will anchor things at noseguard and tackle. Payne Fullen is a leader at linebacker and Ellis Fullen and sophomore Aiden Petrowkski will be mainstays in the defensive backfield.
Sophomore Nathan Washington, who was 3 for 3 on field goals last season, will handle the kicking duties again.
Rosemark’s league will have a different look in 2021. Harding Academy and First Assembly Christian School moved down into DII-A-West with the Rebels and Nashville Christian and Donelson Christian moved out, meaning no more long road trips to Nashville. In fact, the longest road trips the Rebels will make this year are to Memphis to play Harding and Somerville to play Fayette Academy.
A seven-season playoff streak for the Rebels ended last season, though COVID-related cancellations caused a lot of uncertainty.
“The kids are ready to get back to normal,” Dean said. “This time last year we were in small groups and couldn’t be in contact with others. I think this summer it was important being able to work out together and come together as a team with a sense of normalcy that we took for granted. I know they’re ready for a normal season, no waiting by the phone seeing if the game is going to be cancelled.”
It’s been 17 seasons since the Rebels won a playoff game.
“We want to make the playoffs,” Dean said. “We haven’t won a playoff game in a long time. Winning one has kind of been the thing that has eluded us. We want to get that monkey off our back and move on from there.”