by Rusty Ellis
The Macon County Tigers’ 2022 campaign saw them start 6-0 and put themselves in a good spot at the time in the region championship race.
A lot of it was due to the play of eventual Mr. Football candidate Gabe Borders, who put together an excellent season in all three phases of the game. Whether it was out of the backfield, returning kicks and punts or making plays in the secondary, Borders was all over the field consistently.
It culminated in a do-it-all effort against DeKalb County, a game that saw him run for two touchdowns and snag an interception in a big win for the Tigers.
After the game, head coach Kyle Shoulders sang his praises and listed off the main reasons he was a big fan of Borders.
“There’s two things I really love about Gabe Borders,” Shoulders said. “He’s a sophomore, and he’s got a twin brother.”
Gabe’s brother Zach was seen by many as the missing piece to last year’s team, as his explosiveness within the offense and ability on defense was missed late in the season. Ultimately, the Tigers finished in third place in the region and while they fought to the very end, they fell just short against Red Bank 21-14 in the first round of the playoffs.
And it hasn’t been one injury either, it’s been one after another and one conversation with Shoulders will tell you Borders has done a lot just to make being back on the field a possibility.
“Zach has had a number of injuries that’s prevented him from participating in a full season to this point,” Shoulders said. “Now we’ve reached his junior year, and he’s overcome a lot, just given the number of injuries that have occurred, but it’s never slowed him down or changed his work ethic…when I talk about the way he’s overcome things, it’s more of the mental and emotional side.”
While many kids may become discouraged, Borders instead used this frustration to fuel himself and work harder. This included, as Shoulders points out, being a good teammate and staying locked in for when his time would come.
“He’s always put the team first in any of his decisions,” Shoulders said. “It would be easy for anyone to give up…I think Zach Borders has displayed the type of attributes that any type of employer would want further down the road. The resiliency he’s displayed has given me further confidence about the kind of man he’ll be after high school…how Zach has overcome his situation, it just speaks volumes for him, as well as his parents for how they’ve raised him.”
Every piece fell properly into place for Macon County’s week four win over Smith County, a 6-3 affair that saw Borders pick off SCHS quarterback Riley Martin in the end-zone to seal the win for the Tigers.
In a defensive slugfest that saw both offenses essentially be rendered neutral, Borders’ immediate impact is ultimately what made the difference for Shoulders and the Tigers.
“Nobody deserves it more than (Borders),” Shoulders said after the game. “This is my dude…he’s had a good time getting to this point, he’s worked his tail off. He’s the hardest working dude on this football team and he comes up with the pick at the end. That’s pretty special. We talk about the football gods all the time. Do things right, the football gods take care of you.”
And make no mistake, it was a big moment for the mild-mannered Borders as well.
“It means a lot, not only to me, but also my teammates,” Borders said. “It just means everything that they think as highly of me as they do. It’s just a big moment for me.”
Borders built on that moment with a pick-six to open the Tigers’ week five win over Cumberland County, which now begs a question regarding Macon County.
With both Borders back at full strength, Tyler Gregory and Luke Gammon in the backfield and an offensive line that’s shown nothing but positive signs so far, how far can the Tigers go?
“I think it adds a dynamic to our team that we haven’t been able to display yet,” Shoulders said. “I think you’ll see more of that in the coming weeks, as we get Zach integrated more and more into the offense and special teams…so far, everyone’s sold the house to stop Gabe, and I think that really feeds into what we want to do with our offense as a whole moving forward. I think without Zach, people can invest a lot of time into stopping Gabe, but once he’s mixed into the equation, that’s going to change how teams can prepare for us.”
Macon County faces a big test on Friday, as they host region foe White County at 7 P.M.