There are no playoffs this season for Sale Creek’s football team, but coach Ron Cox emphasized to his players last week that Friday night’s regular-season finale was not the end for the Panthers.
“We’re just getting started,” he told them.
The first-year program wound up 0-10 with a 30-0 loss Friday to previously winless Lookout Valley, but the roster at the small school remained about two dozen strong. The players car-pooled every day to practice on a converted hay field that still has a trench running through the middle of it. They took their lumps and were on the wrong end of a running clock more times than they care to remember, but that didn’t dent their desire.
“I’d do it again and again and again. I hate it that this is my senior year,” said Chris Huffman, a linebacker who also played running back and receiver. “As soon as I heard, ‘Football, high school, seniors can play,’ I was pumped.”
The 6-foot-4, 165-pound Huffman was one of a dozen juniors who indicated last year they wanted to play in this inaugural season. As a group, they had volunteered to be a practice squad if Sale Creek administrators and Cox decided to go a junior varsity route for two years.
“I went to Mr. Davidson (Sale Creek principal Tobin Davidson). I had met with juniors [to be], sophomores and freshmen, and then two or three days later the seniors asked to meet with me,” Cox remembered. “They said they’d be our practice squad, that they were serious about it. I told Mr. Davidson I wasn’t worried about the record, that we were here for the kids and if we don’t [begin as a varsity], they’ll never get to play. He said, ‘If your skin’s tough enough to handle it, I’m for it.’”
After spring practice, though, all but five of the 2013-14 seniors had found something else to occupy their time. Another projected to be the team’s starting middle linebacker quit the day before the jamboree, and another left the team three games in.
“I don’t think they realized the time and effort it takes to play football,” Cox said. “If they had stayed, I don’t know if we would’ve won any games, but some of those games would’ve been a lot more competitive. Looking back, we had to take our lumps, but the freshmen and sophomores won’t have to get used to the speed of the game now. What we have to do is get stronger and work on our football knowledge.”
Most figured out quickly that there is a huge difference in X-box football and the real thing. Their coaches also figured some things out.
“I know I can’t assume anything from a knowledge standpoint,” Cox said. “When I was young I paid attention when I was watching. We learned football and went out in the back yard and played it. I wasn’t looking at the uniforms or who was dancing.”
Freshman Jared McGee is the only one of three brothers to get the opportunity to play, and he played in the middle school programs. Because of an injury, he then wound up as the Panthers’ starting quarterback, something he didn’t expect.
“It takes a lot of time and then losing isn’t that much fun, but I feel we’ll win later in my career so I’ll stick with it,” McGee said.
While returning players almost immediately will begin offseason weightlifting (those playing basketball will lift before school), coaches will begin setting up a youth football league and also resume work on the hay field adjacent to North Hamilton County Elementary as all strive to build on the sacrifices made to lay Sale Creek’s football foundation.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.
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 ...