As a sixth-grader with a brother who was a senior starter at McCallie, Casey Cook was both scared and in awe of then-coach Ralph Potter.
"I looked up to him, too," said Cook, now a senior and one who finally is getting a chance to play for an old hero.
Potter returned to McCallie last spring after spending five years as head coach at Brentwood Academy in Nashville.
"When my brother was a senior, I remember Coach Potter taught them mental toughness," Cook said. "In a lot of ways he's different from other coaches. He spends a lot of time talking about being a man and building a brotherhood."
Nothing's changed. When asked about his return, Potter smiled.
"It's like slipping on an old shoe -- very comfortable," he said. "It's good to be back with that McCallie kind of guy -- a good old hard-nosed kid that wants to do well. I relate well to that kind of youngster."
McCallie always has been home to Potter, said longtime friend and assistant coach Chris Richardson.
"It isn't just because he went to school here but because of what his dad created here. It's more than being a student or alumnus," Richardson said. "They had football before Pete, but Pete made it different, and Ralph is the only person who has been able to both maintain and add to that standard."
Part of that standard is helping players making a positive transition to manhood.
"When I was in the sixth grade I was at Baylor and [Potter] was this great and infamous coach for a rival team that was on a huge win streak, but even then he was an idol," said Mitch Dolinger, a senior linebacker for the Blue Tornado. "It was the winning tradition McCallie had with him as a coach and the way McCallie football players handled themselves,
"I see him the same way now. He lets you know when you mess up, but he also lets you know when you're doing well. He makes you feel that what you're doing is for your team, the school and all the guys that have worn the McCallie helmet. He has ignited a passion for tradition in all of us."
Cook had the advantage of a brother who was part of that tradition but said Potter is pretty much the same person today.
"It's more than I expected," he said. "My brother told me about certain aspects of [Potter's] toughness, but I didn't really grasp it until I went through it. It's important to him for us to grow as men. He believes that through adversity you learn mental toughness."
Potter, who put together a 36-17 record at Brentwood Academy, seems as glad to be back at McCallie as Tornado supporters are to have him.
"I found out I fit better at McCallie, to be honest," he said. "McCallie, I think, had reached a point where they needed me, and I had reached a point where I needed McCallie. The timing just worked out right."
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...