Sometime during tonight's pregame warmups, Ken Colquette will find his spot just behind the Marion County High School football team's sideline, lean against the fence and soak in the atmosphere of another big game in Jasper.
Standing just a few feet farther back from where he nervously paced the sidelines for 17 seasons and helped build the Warriors into one of the most envied programs in the state, Colquette will swap stories with former players and coaches and quietly analyze the game.
And tonight he will swell with pride as three former all-state players — linebacker Rodney Rankin, quarterback Shane Thomasson and running back/safety Eric Westmoreland — are honored publicly among this year's group of MCHS Hall of Fame inductees. Rankin and Thomasson were key players when the Warriors won the program's first state championship in 1990. Westmoreland is the most decorated Marion player, led the program to three state titles in four years and was part of a senior class that finished 56-1 overall.
While the spotlight will shine on that trio tonight — along with two former Lady Warriors, Angie Raffo Blevins (a three-sport standout) and Keta Robinette (basketball) — a recent vote by the Marion County School Board has cleared the way for Colquette to rightfully be recognized and celebrated as well by having the football field named in his honor.
The official date has not been set, but school administrators said a ceremony will be planned for the first home game of next season.
"I didn't get in this business for that, so I wasn't expecting it," said Colquette, who retired with a 257-94 overall record, having led his teams to four state titles and two state runner-up finishes. He had just one losing record in his Marion career and finished 14-3 against bitter rival South Pittsburg.
"It's a very nice gesture, but they could've just named it Alumni Field for all those players who won the games."
My first year covering Chattanooga-area sports just happened to be the Warriors' magical season that ended with their first state title, and Colquette couldn't have been nicer to a naïve young reporter who probably tested his patience with far too many ignorant questions. Nearly three decades later, I thought the most fitting tribute to attach to the news that Marion's field will soon bear his name is to let some of the folks who shared the sideline with him express what Colquette means to them.
"Ken was the best I've ever seen at the psychology of the game and kids," said longtime former offensive line coach Don Stewart. "He didn't mind playing the bad guy, and he told us that there are 11 players on the field and he was sure, no matter how good we were, that he could find somebody who did something wrong. When he found that mistake, he would just hammer it all during practice. Then he would tell me to go to the kid who had messed up and pat him on the back for something he did right."
Colquette was also a professional worrier and the best I've covered when it came to poor-mouthing his own team. But that wasn't just an act he saved for media interviews.
"He knew exactly which buttons to push to make all of us play our best," Rankin said. "He knew I was a little arrogant at times, and he came up to me in the hall at school during my sophomore year to say I had made all-tri-state. I was trying not to smile real big, and then he said, 'I don't know how you made it. Lord knows I didn't vote for you.' We had a game that night, and I played harder than I had all year just to prove to him that I deserved what I had got. He was a master of manipulation."
Added Thomasson: "We could have just won 50-0, and the next Monday at practice he would be all over us about one play he had found on the film that we didn't run perfectly. Even though we'd all move a lot slower, I have no doubt that we could line up right now and run '21 inside veer' and every single player would know what their job was on that play."
Anthony Martin, an all-state running back and defensive back who was part of three state championships (1992, '94, '95) explained why he is grateful for more than just what he learned on the field.
"You never wanted to disappoint him, and that included how you acted at school or out in the community," Martin said. "He was the best coach I've ever been around, but what I appreciate the most is that any of us could knock on his office door and talk to him about anything that was bothering us.
"A lot of us believe we still could, even now as grown men with families of our own, because we knew through all the yelling and demanding that he really cared about us as people."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.