The 1997 season is considered by many to be the gold standard when it comes to high school football in Southwest Virginia, and for good reason.
Powell Valley, Appalachia and Gate City all won VHSL state championships that year. Lee High advanced to the state semifinals and just narrowly missed out on a trip to the Group AA, Division 4 title game.
Some future NFL players and others who would eventually have stellar NCAA Division I careers could be seen on Friday nights at packed stadiums throughout the area.
Some seven months or so after the curtain fell on that scintillating season, an encore of sorts would take place with Virginia High’s Alex Walls and Appalachia’s Travis Turner playing key roles.
The 1998 Virginia High School Coaches Association All-Star Game at Hampton’s Darling Stadium in July was a star-studded affair featuring nine players who would eventually reach the NFL.
Michael Vick was there. So was Ronald Curry.
Lee Suggs, David Terrell, Ronyell Whitaker and Jake Grove competed as well.
“Great experience,” Turner said. “It was unbelievable. When you’re a senior in high school, you don’t realize that a lot of these guys are going to go on and play in the NFL. It was quite an experience to hang out with those guys for a week.”
While the East collected a 30-16 victory in the event behind the dynamics of Curry, Walls and Turner combined to produce half of the West’s points.
Walls kicked field goals of 25 and 42 yards, averaged 39.4 yards on his punts and also stopped Curry from returning a punt to the house.
Meanwhile, Turner capped the game’s scoring by rushing for a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter after a touchdown run by Suggs with 7:32 remaining.
“I threw a deep ball early in the game, about the first quarter I believe, and thought I had a touchdown pass and I think we dropped it,” Turner said. “Then Ronald Curry got the ball back and took over.
“He’s by far the best athlete that I’ve ever been around, seeing live in person. He could do it all.”
Graham’s Clifton Bradshaw, Appalachia’s Travis Clark, Patrick Henry’s Jeremiah Eskridge, Gate City’s Jake Houseright, Clintwood’s Paul Linkous and Graham’s Mike Mullins joined Walls and Turner as the other standouts from far Southwest Virginia who were selected to play in the game. Houseright would become a linebacker for the Virginia Tech Hokies and Mullins started on the University of Virginia’s offensive line.
Turner’s playing career would take him to Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise and Eastern Kentucky. Walls would go on to produce 292 career points with his leg for the University of Tennessee Volunteers.
That summer night 17 years ago was another big moment for the local boys.
“I remember it well,” Turner said.
The following is a look at high school football moments that occurred this week in history:
September 17, 1948
Doug Barr and Manuel Garrison produced touchdowns in Tennessee High’s 13-7 win over Maryville. … Norton notched a 19-0 win over Wise as Bobby Herndon rushed for two scores and also threw a touchdown pass. … Clayton Colley threw three TD passes as Grundy claimed a 33-13 win over Clintwood. Colley completed all six of his passes in the game.
September 20, 1963
Eddie Bolinsky’s three-touchdown outing carried Castlewood to a 33-19 victory over John Battle. … Richlands recorded a 19-7 win over Lebanon as Doug Lawson scored two touchdowns. … Dickie Johnson and Harry Johnson accounted for Tennessee High’s touchdowns in a 20-14 setback to Science Hill.
September 19, 1975
Seven different Virginia High players scored touchdowns as the Bearcats put a 48-0 beatdown on Patrick Henry. Lance Stewart, Gordon Balthis, Darryal Wilson, Kenny Wilson, Danny Canter, Danny Banks and Steve Wright reached the end zone. … Jimmy Lee’s two touchdowns highlighted Chilhowie’s 20-6 triumph over Rich Valley. … Behind three touchdown passes from Donnie Hayes, Rural Retreat rolled to a 26-0 victory over Shawsville.
September 17, 1982
Lynn Sturgill (12 carries, 159 yards, three touchdowns) led J.J. Kelly past Pennington, 24-0. … Sandy Rogers racked up 229 rushing yards in Richlands’ 28-16 victory over John Battle. … Todd Jewell and Rodney McNulty scored two touchdowns apiece in Garden’s 34-21 win over Jonesville.
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