At times last year, Garner Cox was dissatisfied with his life.
Yes, he was rolling up college credit hours as a junior, but dad Ron was coaching Sale Creek's first-year football team and the younger Cox was getting the itch to play.
As a junior, Garner enrolled in Middle College, a program sponsored by Chattanooga State. It was a dual-enrollment situation in which he was able to accumulate both high school and college credits. He was, though, shut off from the life of a conventional high school student.
"No football, no proms; you couldn't visit with other students," he explained.
So at the end of his junior year, with close to 30 hours of college credit accumulated in everything from scuba diving to American history, composition, pre-calculus and economics, he decided to transfer and enroll at Sale Creek.
"I wanted to play football. We never discussed football much last year, I think because he didn't want to pressure me," Garner said.
"I'm all about his grades. He's in the process of applying to the Naval Academy, and I certainly want him to go college," Ron said. "I just want him to be a kid just one more time and experience what he's going to experience."
Part of that is being on the practice field now, somewhere he hadn't been since his freshman year at Soddy-Daisy, and another part that brings its own pressures - that of being a coach's son.
"There's more pressure, which makes it harder," Garner said. "I feel like he expects more from me, and I know I expect more from myself because he's out there. I regret not playing and I feel like I'm behind, that I wasted two years of my life football-wise."
Coach Cox is enthused about his son's senior experience and what he'll recall in the future from his return to football.
He knows what's ahead.
"As a football player he's a great athlete, but he's like most every kid we have. He is not very experienced," Ron said.
Each is enjoying the experience and looking to the season's start.
"We have some new people," Garner said. "There are some that didn't come back, but we had more come out. I don't think we'll go undefeated, but I do think we'll win some games."
- Ward Gossett
SALE CREEK PANTHERS
Head coach: Ron Cox (0-10 overall and here)
Last year: 0-10
Returning starters (O/D/K): 7/6/1
(all home games at 7:30 at Finley Stadium)
Aug. 22 - Oakdale
Aug. 29 - Red Boiling Springs
Sept. 5 - at South Pittsburg*
Sept. 12 - at Meigs County
Sept. 26 - Tellico Plains
Oct. 3 - Marion County*
Oct. 10 - at Grace Academy
Oct. 17 - at Whitwell*
Oct. 24 - Monterey
Oct. 30 - Lookout Valley*
* District 6-A game
Two-way players are a must in a struggling second-year program, and most of the Panthers will play both ways, including RB/SS Garner Cox (5-10, 175, Sr.), WR/LB Taylor Painter (5-11, 175, Sr.) and WR/FS Matthew Meeks (5-10, 165, Jr.). "Garner is extremely hard-working and leads by example. Painter is a vocal leader and he works very hard, and Meeks is one of the most experienced players on the roster," Cox said.
The three youngsters who played quarterback last year decided not to come back for the Panthers' second season, so Cox is looking at Jeb Hart (5-7, 140, So.), Chase Harvey (5-11, 175, Jr.) and Chase Poole (5-6, 130, Fr.)
It isn't much by football standards, but the practice field is as close to a football home as the Panthers have. It has been vandalized twice, though, with windows being knocked out and doors kicked in on a couple of small buildings. "But we do have a goal post on one end," Cox said. The ditch that divides the converted hayfield remains, but that isn't such a bad thing because the middle school often practices on one side of the ditch and the varsity works on the other. Sale Creek will continue to play its home games at Finley Stadium.
Plans for a youth league were shelved, probably until next year, because the football team went together with the softball team to erect an indoor facility/weight room. "It will be good for working on speed stuff. We still have the new weights and benches and racks in the old weight room while we finish the inside of the new building," Cox said.
Hiring Daron Brauss as an assistant is the best thing he's done, Cox said. "We're not where we need to be, but we're much stronger than we were," said Cox, who also hired former volunteer coach Micah Hughes to be the Panthers' defensive coordinator. "We see eye to eye," the head coach said.