JASPER, Tenn. — In Jasper, there is an unequivocal buzz on Fridays during the fall. Not because it is the end of the work week, but because it is game day for the Marion County Warriors. For a population of around 3,400, football just means more in this small town.
If you examine the crowd on a typical Friday night at Bill Baxter Stadium, you will see hundreds of kids cheering on the Warriors, hoping that they will be able to play for them one day. Marion County star, Mason Keel, was once one of those kids.
“I’ve always been a Marion County Warriors fan,” Keel said. “I’ve always looked up to those players.”
Keel was able to get involved in the program early on as an eighth grader, helping out as a ball boy.
“It’s a small town, but the community is amazing,” Keel said. “The support system is phenomenal. You wouldn’t believe that it’s such a small town on Friday nights when they pack in the stadium.”
After a run of four state championships in a seven year stretch in the 1990’s, Marion County football has seen some down years since. With Keel helping lead the team to a 5-0 start in his senior season, the energy is back for football in Jasper.
“The atmosphere is starting to erupt more with the roll we’re on right now,” Keel said.
Keel had a strong junior campaign, where he made an impact as a running back and middle linebacker. He was rewarded by being named to the First All-Region and All-County teams. Despite his accolades, Keel was not contacted by any college coaches until the following summer.
“I wasn’t necessarily starting to panic, but more or less starting to wonder if I’m that caliber,” Keel said.
With the help of effectively using social media and attending prospect camps, Keel was finally able to attract some attention using self-promotion.
“Twitter has been such a big stepping stool for me,” Keel said. “It’s really such a blessing.”
Keel has since received attention from local schools such as Maryville, Bethel, Kentucky Wesleyan and others.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to play on Saturdays,” Keel said.
With that opportunity now in front of him, Keel can breathe a sigh of relief and just focus on strengthening his game through working out and watching film. Growing up as fan of the University of Tennessee, the player he tries to emulate most is former linebacker, Henry To’oTo’o.
“He’s just a hard-hitting, downhill linebacker,” Keel said. “He’s a ball player. A machine.”
Keel has some personal goals set, but one goal reigns supreme: bring glory back to Marion County.
“I really have a strong feeling that we can make it all the way to state,” Keel said. “Individual goals can come after that, but my number one goal is that state championship ring.”
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