By Maurice Patton
HENDERSONVILLE – For all the success Summit’s had this fall – including Friday’s 36-29 Class 5A state playoff quarterfinal victory over host Beech – something’s been missing.
That something, junior linebacker Keaten Wade, is likely to return for next week’s semifinal contest at Henry County.
A fractured left foot, diagnosed three days before the Spartans’ season opener against Independence, and ensuing surgery have kept Wade out for all but three quarters of the team’s Week 7 win at Franklin County.
“I feel like I’ve done everything right so I can get back out there,” said the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, who was in dress clothes and a protective boot while serving as the team’s “biggest cheerleader” from the sideline Friday.
“I reaggravated it against Franklin County and had to sit a few more weeks. But we’re so deep in the playoffs, I’m going to play now. It feels good, no pain.”
As the season approached, Wade was slated to play a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role, taking advantage of his physical skills and nose for the ball that led to 103 total tackles and 22½ tackles for loss a year ago during Summit’s run to the Class 5A state championship game.
“The original plan was for Caleb Jolley, a pretty good player, (to be) on one side and Keaten on the other side,” Spartans coach Brian Coleman said. “That was going to shore up our defense.”
What’s happened instead has forced defensive coordinator Alex Melton to be a bit more creative, Coleman said.
“He’s changed fronts, he’s done so many things to alleviate not having him, and guys have stepped up – John Sloan, unnamed guys that have stepped up in the defensive line that have allowed (safety) Brady Pierce to come down in the box or somebody else to come down in the box and take Keaten’s place, more or less.”
After allowing 362 yards Friday, Melton wasn’t looking to take too much credit but expressed pride in his unit’s performance – with or without Wade.
“We weren’t as tight as we’d like to have been on defense, but it’s a team effort,” he said. “We’ll keep working to get better, and we get another week to do it.
“The great thing about this game is it’s a team game. We’re not just one man. Keaten’s a great kid, a great football player. We are a team, a team that’s built around multiple players. We’d love to have him back if he’s able to come back. But he’s so proud for the guys, and he’s doing a great job cheering us on and keeping his spirits up. They’re not selfish kids. They believe in each other and he believes in the ones that are out there when he’s not out there.”
Should Wade return for the semifinals, Coleman thinks the effect won’t just be from a game-plan, scheme perspective.
“I think the biggest impact is the shot in the arm for these guys,” the coach said. “They love that kid, they love Destin and they fight for both of them. I think it’s a big boost for our team if they see him out there – if he plays one way, if he plays 10 plays, if he plays five plays. For him to be in practice all week, I think that’s a big shot in the arm for our team.”
Destin Wade, the Spartans’ Class 5A Mr. Football candidate, agreed.
“It’s been hard, transitioning from last year to this year, without him,” Destin said. “He’s a key factor in our offense and our defense. Hopefully we’ll get him back, but we’ve just got to keep rolling.”
The quarterback ran and threw for 412 total yards and accounted for all five touchdowns in Friday’s quarterfinal win.
“I did it for him, basically,” he said. “He’s been through a lot. Our teammates played for him, too. We wanted some of the seniors that are hurt to be able to play again and for him to be able to play again.”
In addition to Keaten Wade, Summit expects to have senior receiver Zac Switzer and junior linebacker Jacob Turner for Henry County as well after both missed Friday’s contest.
“I’d love to help Destin out there, have another threat out there,” Keaten said. “I’m excited to see what I can do, what my brother and I can do. Hopefully we can get back to the state championship game and finish it.”
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.