Off the field, WCHS senior Eli Cantrell is a soft-spoken, high school student. He is not the type of football player who shows a lot of emotion. Eli Cantrell lets his performance do the talking for him. This past week against Cookeville, he made a lot of noise running the football, helping jumpstart his team on offense.
He lives an idyllic small-town life for a young kid. He rides a four-wheeler, plays Madden and 2NBAK22. His favorite teacher is Regina Matheney, and she describes him perfectly.
Regina Matheney said, “Eli is an All-American boy! He studies hard and he
plays hard. Eli gives his all in his class and on the football field. He is a kind, funny young man. I was fortunate to have him for both English II and English III-honors. He was also in my advisory class.”
Eli played baseball, basketball and football growing up. Baseball was the first sport he learned, and he started playing T-ball at the city fields. He credits his parents with encouraging him to play sports. Eli said, “My mom and dad have always wanted me to play sports. They did not pressure me. I started playing football when I was about 6 years old. I played baseball and basketball too, but of the three, I enjoyed football the most.”
Football is a tough sport, and it is not for everyone. Believe it or not, Eli started as a quarterback in eighth grade. In the ninth grade, Eli switched to running back. He says he wants to be a power running back like the Titans’ Derrick Henry.
Eli said, “I liked running the ball, hitting people, tackling people. You are either the hammer or the nail like coach (Matt Turner) says.” Injuries are often a side effect of playing football, and Eli has had his share.
He has endured two concussions and a freaky injury. His first concussion was in the eighth grade during the first game of the season. Eli’s second concussion was during his sophomore year.
Last year at Coffee County, he got hit and could not move his legs. Eli had some trouble walking when he got up from that hit. He remembers his back was sore. Fortunately, he has no soreness from that freaky injury and is pain free now.
His head coach, Matt Turner describes how Eli helped the Pioneers this past week against Cookeville. Turner said, “Eli stepped up big tonight. Mt. Juliet was not a tailback game. Tonight he told me on the sideline that he wanted to run the ball. So we fed it to him. We started the game with him helping us march down the field. I think we have a good combination with Eli and Braylon Grayson and Jaythan Pleasant on the wings. Eli gave us all he had tonight, and he always does.”
History is Eli’s favorite subject. He said he likes learning about the Civil War, World War II, and stuff like that. Presently, he is taking Honors English, Choir, PE 3, Contemporary Issues and Bridge Math Sails. He brings his own lunch to school, and he usually makes it himself. Occasionally, he may ask his mom to make the sandwich at night, and Eli will put the mustard and other items on it in the morning.
After this year, his ambition is to go to MTSU. Eli wants to be an athletic trainer or something related to sports. Whatever he ends up doing, Eli will be a good role model to young athletes.
His parents are Donhua and Stan Cantrell. Eli credits his coaches and teachers as having been good influences on him, but he says his mom has been his major influence. Eli said, “The person who had the main influence on me was my mom. Anytime I was having trouble with football or needed help, she would help me out, tell me what to do. Every time you are at a football game and hearing screaming, most likely it is my mother. Unless you are deaf, you will hear her. She will yell out “go Eli,” and she has a cowbell and rings it.”
Eli shared what he considers to be a big change in his life. He said, “I have had a pretty good childhood, my parents are still together. My sister is 9 years and 9 months older than me. She moved out when she was 18. My sister and I never really got into any arguments or fights. Was not a love/hate relationship. When she moved out, I did not get to see her as much. When my parents went on trips, it was just her and me. Her name is Shawna. She has been married for five years. She comes to most of my games if she can.”
Eli and his parents live in a family neighborhood between Dibrell and Rock Island with relatives around the corner. His family has cows and a pond for fishing. There is lots of room for four-wheeler trails.
Eli Cantrell was quarantined twice last year, but did not miss any games. He tested positive the Monday after the scheduled DeKalb County game in August. Eli described what it was like having COVID, “It felt like I had really bad allergies. I had a fever. Never lost my taste or smell. After the first three days, I was back to normal except for a little coughing and a runny nose. I had a headache the first day, and that was it. I think I am pretty much where I was. I could tell when we first came back from the 10 days off that I had a little problem in my lungs.”
Eli continued, “It was rough going both ways against Mount Juliet. I enjoy playing both ways, but by the third quarter, I could tell that I was running out of energy. I just stuck with it and toughed it out.”
That is who Eli Cantrell is. He doesn’t quit. He’s tough. He has come back from injuries and COVID. He plays whatever position his coaches ask him to play. His teachers enjoy having him in class. He’s the All-American kid having fun in a small town with his friends and family.