Even with no state title, Marion County's seniors leave special legacy

The team captains shake hands before the coin toss. The Marion County Warriors faced the Memphis Trezevant Bears in the Class AA TSSAA State Football Championship played in the BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville on December 3, 2016.

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - Alex Kirkendoll didn't have to say a word. The blood stain on the right knee of his white football pants, the plastic grass matted to his sweat-soaked face and two fingers on his left hand dripping blood said it all.

Marion County's senior linebacker was the walking definition of a warrior on the field. He had nothing left to give, and for anyone who watched him run sideline to sideline to make 10 tackles - one for lost yardage - the Mr. Football award winner had nothing left to prove, either.

It was the third time in as many seasons that Kirkendoll and his Marion teammates were forced to walk off the Tucker Stadium turf carrying the disappointment of a runner-up finish in a state championship game.

Moments after Marion's second straight title game loss to Trezevant was far too soon for any teenager to process all the good that should be taken from a four-year career that most prep football players would love to experience. But Kirkendoll and his 16 senior teammates should feel proud of all they accomplished and the pride they restored to one of the Chattanooga area's most tradition-rich programs.

"I grew up with all these boys," Kirkendoll said. "It's truly been an honor to play with them for all these years. We met a lot of our goals and it's a great accomplishment to get here three times, but we just couldn't get that last one and it hurts.

"We gave our best effort and did everything we could on the field. I think we've left a legacy at our school, and I'm sure we'll all come back over the years and watch and support the teams after us. I just wish we could've finished with a better result."

Over the course of their four years with the program, this group of seniors compiled a 48-9 overall record, claimed two region championships and had three Mr. Football finalists. All of that was accomplished despite the turmoil of having gone through three head coaching changes in those four seasons.

And that is one of the most admirable aspects of this group of seniors: Nothing away from the field could derail them from sticking together and working toward the goal they set.

"It's such a special group of young men," said Marion first-year head coach Joey Mathis, who had been the offensive coordinator the previous two seasons. "They've shown our younger kids how to prepare and work and be a selfless group. They're all an example of what's right about high school football.

"They're my first group of seniors, so I'll always remember them fondly. The stadium lights will turn off soon and we'll all go our separate ways, but I'll use this senior class as an example for others to follow. It's a group this program can build off of and accomplish some special things because of for a lot of years."