Walker Valley football standouts, from left, Cooper Melton, Grayson Rountree and Bryce Nunnelly celebrated their collegiate decisions Friday in the school library. The trio helped the Mustangs win seven games, which included the program's first playoff victory this past season. (Banner Photo, Patrick MacCoon)
For Walker Valley head football coach Glen Ryan, seeing his players be able to move on to play on the collegiate level is an amazing feeling that will never grow old.
Three important members to the record-setting 2016 Mustang football squad celebrated their final college decisions Friday afternoon, as Bryce Nunnelly, Cooper Melton and Grayson Rountree were joined by friends and family in the WVHS library.
“In the last five years I believe we have had 16 players sign to play football at various schools,” Ryan said. “To see these three great young men continue to play the game they love and get their education while doing it is what it is all about. The football tradition is growing here.”
Nunnelly donned a UT-Chattanooga, “Power C” football cap, while Melton, a “preferred walk-on” at Tennessee, wore a “Power T” hat and Rountree chose Emory & Henry gear, a NCAA D-III school in Virginia.
The Mocs signee is the first full-ride scholarship player to play under Ryan, who believes all three will have strong futures at their respective colleges.
“I expect Bryce to do big things and see the field and play a lot,” Ryan said, who also coached current UT-Chattanooga offensive linemen Alex Hooper and Tanner Dillard. “Cooper has some work to do at UT, but he has never backed down from work and I am confident he will earn a spot. I think Grayson will go up to Emory & Henry and do a bang-up job and all he can for their program.”
With plenty of touches to go around on the offensive side of the football in a season where Walker Valley scored a program and district best 501 points, life-long friends and a pair of standout wide receivers enjoyed the special day.
Honored to continue his playing career for a successful program right down the road in Chattanooga that has won three of the past four Southern Conference championships, Nunnelly is excited his dream of playing college football he realized in 10th grade is coming true.
“When they had offered me, I felt really good and was humbled and honored to be offered by a school like that,” Nunnelly said. “I really enjoyed going down for my visit and they took me right under their wing. Once I get there I am going to buy in to what the coaches want me to do and put in all the extra work.”
Nunnelly scored 10 touchdowns this past season, with eight of them coming through the air. He also had a career-high 12-catch, 206-yard performance in a 68-36 win over Cleveland and finished the season with 796 receiving yards on 46 catches.
“We had a great quarterback in Kolten (Gibson) and he put it where we needed it to be,” the 6-foot-2, 185-pound shifty receiver said. “A defense could not focus on me or Cooper and if they did we had even more outstanding receivers with Zach (Eslinger) and Tucker (Mendenhall). All of my teammates helped me get to where I am.”
Melton’s heroics in Walker Valley’s first TSSAA playoff victory in school history helped take down an Oak Ridge many thought to be a Class 5A state championship favorite, as the 6-foot-3, 195-pound receiver had 151 receiving yards and a touchdown in the 35-27 road win.
The future Vol is excited about fulfilling a childhood dream after a big senior season of 61 receptions, 1,123 yards and 13 touchdowns (27 career) helped him get to the school of his dreams.
“I have watched every Tennessee game since I can remember, and I am excited to be a part of a program still known as the original Wide Receiver U,” said Melton, who will be a preferred walk-on wide receiver. “Coach (Zach) Azzanni is a great coach and I am going to do whatever he needs me to do. I am going to learn a lot and work hard over the next couple of years.”
Melton made a trip up to Knoxville last weekend where he was able to meet the coaching staff with his family and talk to future teammates such as Colton Jumper, Jarrett Guarantano and others.
“It was really cool this week on National Signing Day they put my picture up and Butch Jones announced my name with all the others,” Melton said. “He and Coach Azzanni were both walk-ons too and I am going to work hard for my spot.”
Rountree also is stoked for his college career at Emory & Henry College in Virginia, a program he believes to be in a class of its own at the Division-III level.
“They have had a lot of success with their football program,” Roundtree said. “For a Division-III school they had a very large crowd. They average around five or six thousand fans per home game. They have a new field and fieldhouse and I love the atmosphere up there. It was a no brainer for me.”
The Mustang defensive back, who finished top-five in program history in total tackles, will be ready to give his all for the Wasps who play in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.
“I will play defensive back, linebacker or any position they need me to,” he said. “To get an offer to play college football is a blessing. I am thankful for my coaches at Walker Valley and my time here was awesome. My favorite memory was beating Bradley Central my first year starting as a sophomore."