Bryson Eason, Martavius French, Tamarion McDonald (Photos: Terry Davis)
Terry Davis

The Whitehaven Tigers have been in the mix for a championship for much of the past 10 years, winning their most recent championship in 2016.

As the team ramps up for another campaign, Head Coach Rodney Saulsberry is expected to lean heavily on his returning seniors to keep winning.

The Tigers were defeated in the championship game by the Oakland Patriots (Knoxville) 37-0 last year. It was the first time Whitehaven had been shut out of a game since 2010, and added to a rivalry between the teams. The Tigers defeated Oakland in 2016 for the championship.

Once more, Whitehaven’s offense will be driven by the running game. And Saulsberry will turn to standout RB Cameron Sneed to lead the attack.

“It is great having Cameron Sneed back,” Saulsberry said. “He will be the leader back there. We have a plethora behind him. We are excited about that group – from Marcus Taylor, Roman Flynn, Darius Body and others. We are expecting a lot from those guys. Don’t be surprised if you see some of those linebackers playing on offense as well.”

Senior Keyshawn Harris, returning from an injury, will lead the team as quarterback.

“We are so excited to have Keyshawn for an entire season,” Saulsberry said. “He was supposed to start for us last year. Unfortunately, he got hurt during a scrimmage, but he was able to come back at the end of the year.

“That experience will be helpful this season,” Saulsberry added. “He will be prepared. He has played on the biggest stage.”

Harris is one of four seniors Saulsberry will count on, and given their jersey numbers, you can be forgiven for feeling like you’re counting to 10:

  1. Bryson Eason
  2. Martavius French
  3. Tamarion McDonald
  4. Keyshawn Harris

Saulsberry wants his players to leave it all on the field this season – right up to the end.

“This is your senior season. You measure your success by winning the last football game,” Saulsberry said he tells his players. “The only way you can win your last football game is to win the State Championship. We tell them all the time we can only go as far as you take us.”

Eason, French and McDonald have been teammates since seventh grade at Havenview Middle School. As a trio, they’ve have had major success. Eason and French are both five-star linebackers that have been recruited by every major program in region and country.

“It is amazing that a kid that size can be that agile and explosive,” Saulsberry said about Eason, who is 6’ 2’ and 250 lbs. “He is the prototypical linebacker that colleges are looking for and can run like the wind. He is also very astute. He knows the game and has a very high football IQ and is a great teammate. He leads more by his actions than his words.”

Saulsberry had similar praise for how French (6’ 3”, 230 lbs.) has matured into his senior year. has grown in size and maturity.

“Martavius grew so much last year, the maturity level he showed,” Saulsberry said. “With Eason getting hurt in the first game, Martavius had to be a leader. He was thrown into the fire of not having his partner by his side. He really stepped up to the plate and did a great job.”

“It is exciting to have two great guys on the inside that are leaders first,” he said. “Martavius is the fiery one. He is the one that will be up in your face and running around and motivating everyone. They are only going to get better the sky is the limit for those two.”

Rounding out the senior trio is McDonald, who at 6’ 2” and 220 lbs, has built a reputation for versatility that’s earned him a special name.

“We just call him ‘Mr. Everything,’” Saulsberry said of McDonald. “He does a lot for us. He can play wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, safety and punts. He can do everything. We literally use him all over the field. He may be anywhere on the field at any time. He gives us great flexibility.

“We are excited to have 1, 2 and 3,” Saulsberry said of the trio’s jersey numbers. “They were those numbers for a reason.”

Eason and French participated in a five-star football camp in Atlanta earlier this summer.

“It is all about exposure,” Saulsberry said. “We want to expose all our kids to greater opportunities. To see things outside of where you are. We want to continue to shine a light on them to show them that the world is bigger than Memphis, but also to appreciate home. It was a great experience for them. They got to go against a lot of top quality guys.”

Whitehaven doesn’t have the problem many teams face in trying to fill out the roster. In fact, Whitehaven’s bench is deeper than some colleges. Depth and talent appear to be like an endless buffet. This year should not be any different.

Among the other impact players to look for this season, watch for freshmen RB Tristian Taylor and freshman G Tayshawn Guffin (Saulsberry describes him as “a large human being”). Jordan Lee will likely get some carries at running back. “We are excited about those three freshmen,” he said.

Other impact players could be Junior DL/FB Alexander Whitmore and LB/RB Jamal Frazier. Sophomore Jaquez Bradley should see his opportunities to increase this season. He is a freakish athlete and what most scouts are looking for in a cornerback.

The Tigers kick off the season with a tough schedule. The SCIAA jamboree kicks off next week (Aug. 15-16), with a season opener against Hamilton High School on August 24. They’ll also play in Little Rock, Ark. and Nashville this season.