The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

December 2, 2013

COLUMN: Tanner sets sights on athletic program’s 5th title in 3 years, 7th overall

— Alabama and Auburn have combined for the past four national championships in college football, with the Tigers seizing the possibility they could play their way into the BCS Championship Game this season after winning an Iron Bowl that somehow lived up to its enormous hype and blew up both Twitter and the Crimson Tide’s title hopes on Saturday night.

Five BCS championships in five seasons for a resurgent AU and dynastic ‘Bama would be an impressive feat not likely to be replicated anytime soon.

One Limestone County high school also is leaving a remarkable legacy, with four state championships in four sports since February 2011 and an opportunity to win a second football title this Friday.

For the third straight year, defending state champion Tanner will be playing for a football crown in Friday’s Class 2A rematch against No. 3 Washington County at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

The senior class of linemen Baltazar “Tito” Rubio, Seth Smith and Shamaud Baker, wide receivers Blake Whitt and Chris Townsend, running back Hayden Stephens, defensive back Deshun Freeman and reserve Landon Kyle have spearheaded a season that saw the Rattlers lose at 3A defending champion Madison Academy in Week 1, capture their fourth straight region crown and advance through the playoffs with four comeback victories.

What is the secret behind an athletic program that has produced six state champions in the past 30 years — one apiece in football and boys track and two each in girls and boys basketball — and is poised to bring home a seventh Blue Map trophy?

Besides dedicated coaches that care about their players and a deep pool of athletic kids willing to suit up for multiple sports, there appears to be another driving force behind all the rings, trophies and banners.

As former Tanner basketball standout Candace Byrd recently put it, the pride of those that bleed black, green and white is difficult to describe to people who don’t hail from the small but close-knit community nestled between Athens and Decatur.

It’s the confidence generated by Tanner fans when they provide the feel of a home-field crowd no matter where their team plays, whether it’s Rip Swanner Stadium, remote football fields across the state or the big stages of Bryant-Denny and Jordan-Hare stadiums, where the Super Six games are held on a rotating basis each year.

It’s the gridiron swagger that comes with winning 35 consecutive region games, four region titles and three North Division championships, while stockpiling a 51-3 record since 2010.

And it’s the indelible chip on the shoulder for anyone that dares to doubt the prospects of a Tanner team, no matter the sport, opponent or odds.

Go ahead and pick against this resilient bunch as they try to claim the school’s second football title against a talented and experienced Washington County squad looking for revenge after last year’s 28-14 loss in the finals.

But whether the Rattlers bring home the red runner-up trophy or the coveted Blue Map on Friday, they already wear the dynasty label like a snakeskin glove.

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