ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL)- In our digital series ‘High School Standouts,’ Digital Sports Reporter Michael Epps features local athletes with incredible talent, hoping to take that talent to the next level.
These are athletes that stand out both on and off the field.
This week’s High School Standout is Ladarian Avery, a senior football player at Elizabethton High School.
This team is on a mission.
“We’ve used the motto of ‘gotta fight for five,’ fight every time you catch it every time you run it you gotta get five yards,” Elizabethton head football coach Shawn Witten said.
The Elizabethton football team is in pursuit of a second-straight state championship, never accomplished in school history.
“Our program made a decision two years ago that we’re gonna do something about it we’ve come so close several times we got knocked down by Greeneville and Anderson Co. and that’s what I’m most proud of is these guys decided they’re gonna do something different and they deserve all the credit,” Witten said.
There are a number of talented guys on this team, but also a number of leaders, including senior Ladarian Avery.
“We won it last year but it’s even harder to win it back to back so we just gotta keep working keep conditioning keep running through our plays the little stuff that we gotta do to get on top again and stay on top,” Avery said.
“LA’s the best he’s a coach’s dream and he will run through a brick wall for you he’s a guy that’s been in every workout never missed a practice or workout, he works out double with his dad and on his own,” Witten said.
Avery is one of many on this team to grow up around here, dreaming of taking this program to the next level. This senior class has done that, and is nearing the end of this special run.
“It coming to the end is very sad I’ve been playing football ever since I was a little boy you know I’d come out here I came and played at TA Dugger Field that was very special and then coming out here running out in front of the home crowd, people say there’s nothing like Friday nights and I definitely understand what they’re saying cause running out of the helmet there’s just no other feeling,” Avery said.
They still have much to accomplish; winning back-to-back state championships would not only make history in this community, but prove the hard work of these kids has paid off.
“I put in a ton of work, I would workout twice a day and then I would practice and then go home and eat right just trying to get my body changed like freshman year I was strong but then I was like I can be really strong,” Avery said.
“He’s a bruiser, you ought to see him lift weights he’s explosive he’s been all in from day one whatever you need him to do he’s just that type of kid,” Witten said.
That hard work has produced results, as he’s become a key piece on both sides of the ball, scoring six touchdowns this year out of the backfield.
“I feel like from my freshman year I’m a totally different player from the maturity level the grit the more grit I have, more strength I have, more conditioned I am, the weight room can change everything,” Avery said.
But Ladarian’s stellar career hasn’t come without facing his share of obstacles; for him, it’s been the injury bug.
“Last year Game 6 against Grainger I tore my MCL and I was out for five games and I was thankful enough to play for the rest of the year I got to play in the state championship so that was fun,” Avery said.
“He worked so hard and they didn’t think he was gonna make it back but he made it back through the playoff run and had his best game last year in the state championship game made a number of tackles and this year he’s kinda done everything for us,” Witten said.
Unfortunately, that bug came back this year; he injured his ankle in the season finale and had to miss the team’s first round playoff game.
“It could have been a lot worse I got rolled up on and it could have broke it and I wouldn’t be playing anymore but I’m just thankful that it was just a sprain and I’m back out here playing,” Avery said.
These obstacles helped him learn how special an opportunity it is to play this game for this school.
“It just takes grit you gotta keep battling for what you love to do you can’t just lay down and be like oh I don’t want to play anymore I’m hurt, you have to keep rehabbing it and keep getting better,” Avery said.
This run at a state title has looked a little different than last year’s, battling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You know it’s been awkward but at the same time it’s for the love of the game and coming out here and playing with no fans or all the fans it’s coming out here and having fun,” Avery said.
But a state championship trophy would mean the same in 2020: a chance to make history.
“Guys like LA don’t come around a lot coaches call it the “it” package the total package he has that and we’re just excited about him and about finishing this season strong and glad 33’s gonna be out there Friday night,” Witten said.
Follow this series throughout the year as WJHL’s Michael Epps finds the High School Standout every week on WJHL.com.