By Trey Williams
Trying to defeat Dobyns-Bennett could pump up Jaylan Adams with “blood” pressure, but the Science Hill quarterback’s breathing easier after a rocky start to the season.
Adams’ father, Gary “Shorty” Adams, carried the ball 41 times for 221 yards in a 21-13 defeat of Dobyns-Bennett as a senior in 1988, and his older brother Addison was a running back when Science Hill snapped a 19-game losing streak in the series with a 35-24 win in 2013.
Jaylan, a junior first-year starter who was knocked out of the season opener at Elizabethton with a bruised sternum, will try to extend that wins streak against D-B to five when the Hilltoppers (3-3, 6-3) host the Indians (3-3, 5-4) in the regular-season finale Friday.
The right to host a first-round playoff game is at stake for the archrivals, a goal that didn’t look likely when the ‘Toppers fell to 0-3 in Region 1-6A with a 23-7 home loss to Hardin Valley. It included an early interception in the red zone from Adams.
But Adams and company have since found a groove. Skill players’ experience has accumulated, as has the number of healthy offensive linemen.
Consequently, Adams has completed 25 of his last 30 passes, including 18 consecutive completions in a 42-18 win at Jefferson County on Oct. 14. Adams finished 21-of-22 passing for 279 yards against the Patriots, which might’ve reminded Jeff County coach Spencer Riley of when his former Tennessee Volunteers teammate Tee Martin completed 23 straight passes against South Carolina.
Some even thought of UCLA center Bill Walton, who made 21 of 22 shots against Memphis in the NCAA Tournament.
“It was really fun,” Adams said. “It felt comfortable coming out of my hands – just like in basketball when a hot shooter says the rim looks bigger to him.”
A number of factors fueled Science Hill’s early season struggles on offense, including an injury-riddled offensive line, losing running backs King Russell (permanently) and Ahmik Watterson (temporarily), and a receiving corps lacking the dynamics provided in recent years by the likes of Malik McGue, Mikey White, Elijah Mathes and Tyrek Perkins.
“We had a lot of things going on early,” Science Hill coach Stacy Carter said. “He’s playing with a whole lot more confidence now. I mean this is his first year as a starting quarterback, and as a coaching staff we’re finding what he does best, too. And having Nakiya (Smith) back, using our tight ends a whole lot and throwing to our backs and doing different things to get him involved running and throwing and finding the right sets for him has (helped).”
Adams was knocked out of the season opener on the first half’s next-to-last play thanks to a hit from Alex Norwood, and it looked like he might be shelved for far more than the second half.
“When he first hit me I thought it was over for a little bit,” Adams said. “I felt my sternum push in and I just thought it was broken and the rest of my season was over. It still hurts a little bit getting hit once in a while and I can still feel it getting slammed down to the ground.”
Adams, however, is no worse for wear. The elusive 5-foot-10, 150-pounder rushed for two TDs last week in a 34-20 home win against Bearden. This season he’s rushed for five TDs and 546 yards, which are second on the team behind Watterson.
“Here’s the thing: he’s always been raised as a running back,” said Shorty Adams, who’s in his ninth year as Science Hill’s running backs coach. “I never coached him growing up. The only thing I’ve told as far as being the quarterback is you’ve gotta know when to take those hits and when not to take those big hits, because with his background his first instinct is he’s gonna run or try to make something out of something that’s not there. As a running back everybody’s always telling you, ‘Grind it out, get what you can.’ Well, as a quarterback, you can’t do that.”
Shorty, a 5-foot-9, 190-pounder who finished runner-up for Mr. Football in ’88, rushed for 2,004 yards and scored 27 touchdowns while leading Science Hill to a 9-2 record and a share of the Big Ten title that year.
“We had Bubba (Harber) at quarterback, Tim Delaney at fullback,” Shorty said. “Charles Dickson was the tight end. Jon Eikenberry was, like, our top receiver. The defense had Curt Kradic, Todd Good, Richie Walker. Jamie Mascaro was a big defensive end being recruited by a lot of people.”
So was Shorty, who had a league-record 342 yards on 26 carries against Volunteer. He was courted by Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Johnny Majors at Tennessee. He said Science Hill grad Phil Stuart was his host when he took a visit to Tennessee to watch the Vols and Boston College play in the rain on a weekend when Chuck Webb and Corey Fleming also visited.
He opted to play three seasons in the minors for the Montreal Expos, where he hit 17 home runs in 532 career at-bats and made a lifelong friend in Rondell White. Some thought Adams should’ve played football, if not both sports, in college instead of turning professional.
“I ended up playing a year in the minor leagues with Cleveland Gary, who played for the University of Miami and was with the Rams at the time and playing with us – the Expos – in A-ball,” Shorty said. “It’s tough if you’re not just focusing on one sport.”
Shorty still gets especially focused for D-B, and indicated feeling blessed to have now had two sons start against the Indians.
“It goes back to that song Kenny Chesney made, these Friday nights don’t last forever,” Shorty said. “Every Friday night it’s exciting, no matter if my son is out there or not.”
Shorty is pleased with how his son has handled a season that’s often been trying.
“He supports everybody, and I’m not just saying that,” Shorty said. “We didn’t know what to expect, really. I didn’t know what to expect. Up to this point, I think he’s grown with it. He doesn’t care if he’s at quarterback, running back, slot, wide receiver. If you ask him he’ll go play defensive back.”
Having an older, considerably bigger brother like Addison helped mold Jaylan. Addison rushed for a touchdown that gave Science Hill a 34-19 lead at D-B only to see the Malik Foreman-fueled Indians rally to a 37-34 victory in a battle of 9-0 team in 2012. Addison was some 80 pounds heavier in high school than Jaylan is now.
“We used to wrestle a lot (growing up),” Jaylan said with a chuckle. “So he toughened me up a little bit.”
Shorty said Jaylan’s in good hands with Carter, who’s coached the likes of Malik McGue, Reed Hayes and Kurt Phillips.
Indeed, Jaylan has completed 60.6 percent of his passes (57-94) for 821 yards, seven TDs and three interceptions.
“I’m just trying,” Jaylan said, “to carry on some family tradition.”