There are no peripheral distractions for Carson Gentle when it comes to football.
With his college decision already made — he has been committed to the University of Tennessee for more than a year — and after being named both a Tennessee Titans Mr. Football semifinalist and an all-state performer for a second straight season last fall, McCallie's 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior defensive lineman has nothing left to prove individually.
That has allowed him to focus squarely on making sure his teammates are preparing just as intently as he is on helping the Blue Tornado return to the top of TSSAA Division II-AAA.
"It's definitely helpful to have things like my college future secured," said Gentle, who is No. 5 on this year's Times Free Press Dynamite Baker's Dozen prospects list. "I wanted to win four state championships in my career, but since we came up short last year, obviously that won't happen. But I am totally focused on making this team as good as we possibly can be.
"I am taking on more of a leadership role. Before this year, I was focused on just doing my job the best I could, but now it's also about the guys around me and making sure everyone is doing their job to the highest level. That's what we'll need to accomplish our goal, and I believe we can win it all again, and it would be satisfying to go out with a third title for us seniors."
Gentle, who had 51 tackles, five sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss last season, will likely be a hybrid on the McCallie defensive front, spending time both at defensive end and outside linebacker. He projects to be a strongside defensive end in college.
Noted by McCallie coaches for being a cerebral player (he has a 4.1 GPA) who has also learned the advantages of leverage from wrestling (where he was a state qualifier), what really separates Gentle from other players — even those near his own size — is the intensity he brings on each snap.
"He's just a fierce competitor," Blue Tornado coach Ralph Potter said. "When you have someone with as much ability as he has, plus his attitude and approach to competing, you've got something special.
"Carson is a difference maker and someone who isn't afraid to hold his teammates accountable for how they're preparing or playing."
As evidence of the type leadership McCallie coaches believes Gentle can bring, he was selected to wear No. 17 this season. The significance of that number is that it was worn by a fiery former Baylor School linebacker, Jason Green, who was on the team when Potter and assistant Chris Richardson coached the Red Raiders from 1994-96.
After Green was killed in a car wreck, Potter and Richardson began the tradition of selecting a senior who shares the same character and high-motor style that Green played with.
"It's a great honor," Gentle said. "There's a whole ceremony with our coaches and teammates when it's announced who will wear that number. To be a part of the legacy of former McCallie players who have worn that number and represented the team as a captain is something really special.
"Now that I have the opportunity to wear that number, I'm going to make the most of it by playing as hard as I possibly can and make sure I carry on what it represents."
Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].