Five Patriots sign to continue football careers

Seated from left, Taylor Thomas (Maryville College), Jake Hyer (ETSU), Jaylon Haney (VMI), Blaine Taylor (Brevard) and Kris Hawkins (Lindsey Wilson) highlighted National Signing Day at Jefferson County High School on Wednesday morning.

DANDRIDGE — Kris Hawkins shared the load in the backfield his sophomore and junior seasons, but he was determined to make his name known as a senior. His name — and stat line — certainly didn’t go unnoticed by opponents, and Lindsey Wilson College soon caught on as well.

Hawkins, one of five Jefferson County seniors who signed to continue their football careers at the collegiate level on National Signing Day Wednesday morning, officially inked to further his studies and play college football at the Columbia, Ky., school.

Once the Blue Raiders came to watch Hawkins in action, the running back went on multiple visits to the Lindsey Wilson campus including an overnight stay. Even though Hawkins didn’t officially decide until the final day before National Signing Day, he knew in his heart he’d be a Blue Raider.

“It was all God. I let Him lead me, and He led me in this direction,” Hawkins said. “I’ve been working hard for this all my life and I just want to continue to grow in my football career.”

Hawkins took full advantage of his time to shine in 2018.

Having not cracked the century mark on the ground since the Patriots’ season opener in 2016, Hawkins did so in the first game of his senior year with nearly 200 yards in Jefferson County’s comeback win at Sevier County.

It was a sign of things to come for the senior running back, who had a career night against Hardin Valley with 36 carries for 331 yards and all five of the Patriots’ touchdowns.

Needless to say, it came as no surprise when Hawkins surpassed 1,000 yards rushing in the Patriots’ homecoming win over William Blount. Despite missing much of Jefferson County’s last three games due to injury, Hawkins finished the 2018 season with 1,547 yards on 194 carries with 18 trips to the end zone.

“It was a journey just from my recent years of being injured,” Hawkins said. “I was thankful and blessed to be able to do what I did this year with the team that I had. I’m just blessed to be able to sign right here. All glory to God.”

JAYLON HANEY — VMI

Jaylon Haney recalled getting “pushed around” when he first earned a starting spot on the varsity roster his sophomore season.

But by the end of his prep career, he was dishing out the punishment.

His sophomore year was also the first season for Jefferson County head coach Spencer Riley, and Haney visibly developed from a physical standpoint and eventually became a regular starter on the Patriots’ defensive line.

“Through Coach Riley coming in my sophomore year and thanks all my teammates and all the people that you see in the picture with me, they helped me through this,” Haney said. “I’m a young man now. I’m blessed, I’m just happy to be here.”

Haney, who has also lined up at tight end for Jefferson County in his career, recorded 4 sacks his senior season on the JCHS defensive line.

In total, he recorded 12 tackles for a loss in his 37 total stops while forcing 2 fumbles and recovering 1 during the 2018 season, and he also broke up a pair of pass attempts.

Coincidentally, the coaching staff at Virginia Military Institute was visiting another player when they learned of Haney.

In late December, the Keydets extended their offer for Haney to attend the Lexington, Va., school.

“God made it work,” Haney said. “Honestly, this is one of the greatest moments of my life. I came from nothing, and to put in this work and finally just see it come to fruition, it’s a blessing.”

BLAINE TAYLOR — BREVARD

Some brotherly advice has led to a family reunion on the gridiron for Blaine Taylor.

Having played with his brother Blake Taylor dating back to peewee and middle school football before Blake graduated JCHS in May 2018, the two will be on the same sideline once again next fall at Brevard College in North Carolina.

“He just tells me how fun it is and how exciting it is just to play on Saturdays and how much he enjoys being there and how the coaches help him with so much and how much he just really enjoys being over there,” Taylor said of his brother’s college freshman experience. “We played together a whole lot — peewee, middle school and high school — and it’s just a really great feeling going to play college football with him too. I’m really excited.”

Taylor, a defensive back for Jefferson County, worked his way into the starting lineup as a sophomore in Riley’s first season.

Nervous as he admitted to being at the time, Taylor evolved over the course of three years.

Taylor finished his senior campaign with 41 total tackles, of which 3 1/2 went for a loss.

The defensive back led the Patriots in fumble recoveries in 2018 with a total of 3 while recording 4 pass breakups for the season.

“I was really nervous at first (as a sophomore). I wasn’t very big at all, probably weighed 150 pounds,” Taylor recalled. “As I went through, Coach Riley, Coach (Ben) James, Coach (Bill) DeLozier, a lot of them really helped me develop mentally and physically as a player.”

TAYLOR THOMAS — MARYVILLE

One decision made, one more to go.

Taylor Thomas has officially signed to play football at Maryville College. All that remains is for him to decide which side of the ball he wants to play.

A starter on the defensive line coming into the 2018 season, Thomas eventually began starting on the offensive line for Jefferson County as well his senior year.

“It was so enjoyable. I like anything challenging so it was great,” Thomas said. “Maryville gave me the option. They were like whatever you want to play to get you through the door, we’re ready for you. So they’re going to let me play either way.”

Thomas recorded 42 stops for Jefferson County his senior campaign and just as importantly, led the Patriots with 13 1/2 tackles for a loss which included a team-high 5 sacks.

The staff at Maryville College including head coach Shaun Hayes made a lasting impression on Thomas, and the lineman embraced the opportunity to be part of a successful program which is defending an outright USA South championship after going unbeaten in conference play.

“The first day I went to Maryville, I met (Hayes) and he was a phenomenal guy. He made a great impression. He’s a great guy and I think they’re doing great things over there,” Thomas said. “They all seem like family. They’re exactly where I want to be. They feel like the family I had here (at Jefferson County).”

JAKE HYER — ETSU

Jake Hyer’s skill set includes but isn’t limited to wreaking havoc on opposing offenses.

In his prep career at Jefferson County, he made a habit of doing so.

But Hyer can also succeed as a long snapper, and he will have the opportunity to do so at the Division I FCS level as he signed to play football at East Tennessee State.

And it was Morristown native Billy Taylor — the Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach — who reached out to Hyer and encouraged him to visit the Johnson City campus.

“Coach Taylor wanted me to come to a summer camp and I went to the summer camp and we’ve been talking ever since. I went from defensive line and showed them I could long snap, and it’s been a great experience since then,” Hyer said. “It feels amazing because I’ve been dreaming about this my entire life. It’s been something I’ve worked really hard for and it’s still hitting me that it’s finally happening. I just want to thank everybody else that’s helped me along the way.”

Hyer, a two-year starter on Jefferson County’s defensive line after transferring to JCHS for his junior year of football, recorded 4 sacks in 2018 while finishing the year with 34 total tackles. Eight of those stops came in the opponent’s backfield.

In addition, Hyer broke up 2 passes and blocked a kick his senior year while also recovering 2 fumbles.

“I felt like I put in a lot of hard work and I got out what I put in,” Hyer said. “That’s really big to me is whatever you put in is what you’re going to get out, and that’s just how I like to live.”