Sports Editor

As a junior, J.R. Row was being touted for greatness.

Pick your poison. Offense. Defense.

J.R. Row was going to decide the outcome of every game, one way or the other.

Offensively, he was a bull of a runner.

Defensively, he was a thundering herd of bulls.

And, like a bull, he was the brute force that carried the Sequoyah Eagles to the semifinals of the Class 3A state playoffs.

As a senior, J.R. Row was even better.

He led his team in tackles for the third straight year.

Probably led the state in bone-jarring tackles for the third straight year.

He might have backed off from his offensive workload, but he still managed to run over linemen and linebackers in selected, and required, spots.

The team’s offensive leader, quarterback Levi Richardson, often has referred to J.R. Row as “an animal.”

If so, J.R. Row would be the King of the Jungle. He handled the lion’s share of work on defense.

He was the bellwether of a defensive unit that was the best in Class 3A. It was a defensive unit that helped Sequoyah capture the Class 3A state championship.

Row accounted for 184 tackles. The nearest teammate recorded 114.

He made 89 unassisted tackles. The nearest teammate made 50.

Row had seven sacks, accounting for 46 yards in losses.

In one game as a junior, Row added up 25 tackles.

No runner was safe from J.R. Row. He had the quickness, like a lion on the prowl, to track down any runner.

“I definitely wouldn’t want to play against him,” said teammate and quarterback all-star Levi Richardson.

“He plays all-out, 100 percent every time. That’s a big reason why we won.”

Row anchored the defense, solidified it, molded it into a model of himself.

Row played hard. His defensive teammates played hard.

He flew to the ball. His defensive teammates flew to the ball.

He buried his shoulder pads into a runner’s mid-section. So did his teammates.

As the consummate team player, he agreed to give up some of his offensive responsibilities this season to concentrate on defense.

“It was a way to rest my legs for defense,” he said.

It worked. Even in the 14th game, Row looked as fresh as in Week One.

He was, as he likes to say, “still bringing the A-game,” in the state championship game. Three months after the season started.

That’s a testament to his work ethic.

Row was focused on winning. And that filtered down through his teammates.

“We had a lot of guys that wanted to work hard, and wanted to succeed,” he says.

Row was a leader by example. And a leader by effort.

“You’ve got to play hard every game,” he says.

The words should be printed in gold letters on his calling card.

He coaxes, cajoles, compels his teammates to rise to his level.

“Lay it all out!” he howls, as he prowls the sideline while Richardson guides the offense.

“You can rest after the game!” he roars.

“Once we get the gold ball, it’ll all be worth it!” he bellows.

A week after collecting the gold ball, symbolic of the state championship, Row quietly reflected on a long season.

“It was worth it,” he said. “Definitely.”

For three years, J.R. Row was the face, and the heart, of the Sequoyah defense.

He made it what it was.

He made it in his own image.

Tough. Unrelenting. And touted for greatness.