The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

February 6, 2013

State champion Tanner sends four players to next level

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

TANNER — TANNER — The sheer numbers are staggering.

A Class 2A state championship, two Super Six appearances, four region championships, four straight playoff trips, 49 victories and a trophy case brimming with awards.

After countless hours of film study, weightlifting, sprints and drills, Tanner seniors Tray Fletcher, Greg Maclin, Fred Rich and Kyle Shoulders are hoping to parlay their hard work and triumphs within the cozy confines of Rip Swanner Field into gridiron success at sprawling college stadiums across the state.

The four Rattlers became a Lion, a Tiger and a Golden Bear — plus a Blazer — by signing national letters of intent during a Wednesday morning ceremony in the Tanner High School media resource center.

The tight-knit quartet grinned for television cameras in a straightforward ceremony that barely resembled the flashy National Signing Day press conferences being broadcast throughout the day.

Instead of donning three-piece suits and pulling out a hat to reveal their college choices, the players wore crisp blue jeans and collared shirts as they mingled with teammates and family members.

Then they headed outside to toss around a football near the field house as they debated who would win their college showdowns, traded friendly trash talk and swapped stories.

College choices

Both Fletcher, a 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound lineman, and Fred Rich, a 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound linebacker, will play in the Division II Gulf South Conference this fall.

Fletcher will play for West Alabama in Livingston, and he will likely redshirt his freshman year for the Tigers, who are coached by Harlon Hill Trophy winner and former North Alabama quarterback Will Hall.

“I’m going to redshirt because I want to get everything right,” Fletcher said.

Rich, who wants to play immediately but is willing to redshirt, will join former Tanner teammates Landon Stephens and Javin Thatch at North Alabama.

The Lions are led by Bobby Wallace, the only coach in NCAA history to win three consecutive national championships in football.

Shoulders, a 5-foot-11-inch, 255-pound fullback and defensive end, is headed to Birmingham-area Fairfield to play for Miles College, which is coached by former UNA star Reginald Ruffin.

Shoulders, whom teammates refer to as “The Terminator,” said he plans to earn playing time this fall for the Golden Bears, a member of the Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

Maclin, a 6-foot-2 1/2-inch, 190-pound all-purpose back, had already verbally committed to UAB last year. He will play for the Blazers, who are coached by former Oklahoma quarterback Garrick McGee. UAB plays its home games at Legion Field in Birmingham and will play LSU in Baton Rouge and Vanderbilt in Nashville this fall.

Maclin has the opportunity to play immediately, and he also plans to play basketball for UAB, which competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Conference-USA.

Maclin, Fletcher and Rich play for the top-ranked Tanner basketball team, which is favored to win its second state title in three seasons.

Rich and Shoulders might line up against each other in seven months because Miles will open its season against UNA at Braly Stadium in Florence on Sept. 7. Fletcher’s UWA and Rich’s UNA traditionally play each other in their teams’ regular-season finale, and UWA eliminated Miles in the first round of the D-II playoffs in 2012.

Leaving a legacy

Tanner football coach Laron White said the four players are part of a special group of seniors. He said earning a football scholarship, especially a four-year offer, is a difficult task because of the exposure recruits receive nationwide.

“Football scholarships are very, very hard to come by with the Internet and everything else out there. Everybody from Oregon to the tip of Florida had to try and get a scholarship. I’m proud of these guys, and everybody got a full ride,” said White, who lettered at the University of Alabama as a nose guard and an offensive lineman. “There are a lot of memories, and I’m going to miss all of them. I won’t forget this group — those guys are a trip — and all of the senior class.”

The senior class compiled a 49-4 record and included Fletcher, Maclin, Rich, Shoulders, Bubba Smith, Kendrick Jamar, Dexter Douglas and Rashard Gill.