ROGERSVILLE — Ty Ryans is known for his fabulous work on the football field.
He lit up opposition defenses as the quarterback at Cherokee for what seems like the better part of a decade. The senior gunslinger, who threw for more than 2,000 yards this past season as the Chiefs reached the first round of the TSSAA Class 5A playoffs, finished his career with 6,600 yards passing and 56 touchdowns.
Ryans’ craft with a football has not gone unnoticed. He has garnered collegiate interest from the likes of Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay, Virginia-Wise and Carson-Newman.
Thing is, Ryans isn’t sure he wants to pursue football at the next level. It turns out the kid has some skill with the pill, too.
This past summer during a team trip to Coastal Carolina, Ryans turned some heads. He dropped 30 points on a couple of teams. His handle was impressive; so, too, was his jump shot — so much so that Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis took notice.
“Coastal was a great experience,” Ryans said. “We played some tough teams, and I was able to have some good games against them. Coach told me afterward that Coastal’s coach wanted to talk to me, so that gave me a lot of confidence. I don’t know what will come of that interest, but it feels good to know that I was able to make an impression.”
Ryans has been making an impression on the hardwood for quite a while, actually. Though the graduated James Scales monopolized the spotlight for the past few seasons for coach Jeremy Parrott’s team, Ryans was no less a key figure.
When Scales drove the lane, in the process drawing most of the opposition’s attention, it was Ryans whom he usually found in the corner for a pivotal 3-point field goal.
“Ty’s been a key part of back-to-back 20-win teams here at Cherokee,” said Parrott, who guided the Chiefs to their best season in program history in 2011. “He’s seen a lot of success in basketball. There were times in the postseason where we needed him to take over and he did.”
Case in point: the opening round of the Region 1 tournament at Sullivan South. With Scales among four players in foul trouble, Ryans stepped in and provided a game-high 25 points, highlighted by five made treys, and the Chiefs advanced via a 55-35 victory.
That win was one of many for Cherokee last season, the best year in program history. In addition to recording the most wins ever (26), the Chiefs finished as runners-up in the regional tournament and advanced to the state tournament for the first time. Ryans averaged 14 points, four rebounds and three assists per game, and shot 38 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, as the 2011 team carved its name in Chiefs lore.
Several key pieces off last season’s team have departed, however, including the aforementioned Scales, an all-state selection now at King College, as well as Zach Elkins and Zack Lawson.
Parrott expects Ryans to become more of a focal point for the Chiefs, in terms of both leadership and offensive output. How he handles that new role will be pivotal to the team’s success this season.
“Ty is going to be more of a focus for the opposition and the key is going to be how he responds to that,” Parrott said before the start of the season. “James has been there for so long and Ty kind made a living off of letting James create. Now, he’s going to have generate. We know he will respond well to the new role.”
Ryans isn’t sure there will be a new role.
“I don’t think it’s going to be all on me,” he said. “James did a lot for us, and we’re going to miss him, but this year I think we’re going to spread the ball around. We’re not going to have the same leading scorer every game this season. Different players are going to step up at different times. We’re going to be more balanced this season.”
He could be right. The Chiefs have eight players back, including six seniors and four key contributors from last season. There are also five football players joining Ryans on the team. Chemistry, as one would expect, is high.
In fact, chemistry has been a key word around this team for years. A majority of these kids have been playing organized basketball together since they were in elementary school.
“They have chemistry in the locker room, in the class halls, outside of school,” Parrott said. “These guys get along with each other no matter what. I’m just privileged to be around them.”
It’s this chemistry, along with newfound depth and balance, mentioned previously by Ryans, that has the Chiefs optimistic about this season despite the significant departures.
There’s also the small fact of having a multidimensional asset like Ryans, who can drive, shoot and handle the rock unlike many in the region.
“There are not many better guards in this area and I expect Ty to play like that,” Parrott said. “I think we are going to be a competitive team.”
Ryans took that assessment even further.
“We have high expectations,” he said. “We’re going to be deeper this season, more balanced. I think that will give us more confidence in each other. We know what each other’s job is and, with such a good group of seniors, there will be accountability.
“We went to state last season and we obviously want to do it again. We don’t think there’s anyone out there that we can’t beat.”