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Staff file photo by C.B. Schmelter / Boyd Buchanan football coach Jeremy Bosken's first year has brought the Buccaneers back to relevance a winless 2018 season.

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Boyd Buchanan football turnaround

Admittedly, Jeremy Bosken is not much of a handyman around the house.

"I can cut the grass," Bosken joked. "My wife would tell you I'm not really a Mr. Fix-It."

But with Boyd Buchanan's football program in dire need of a complete rebuild, Bosken is in the midst of a fixer-upper project that would make Chip and Joanna Gaines envious.

Bosken took over a program that not only went 0-10 last year but was outscored by an average of 49-5, finished the season with 17 players and continued a streak of home losses dating to Oct. 14, 2016.

This year's Buccaneers were picked to finish last in their region in a preseason coaches poll. The most realistic goal, besides simply winning a game, was to possibly contend for a playoff spot and lay the foundation for the program's future success.

Instead the Bucs have made one of the most dramatic one-year turnarounds in the state.

Going into Friday night's regular-season finale at Knoxville Grace, Boyd Buchanan is 8-1 and ranked No. 2 in Division II-AA. A win at Grace (7-2) would assure the Bucs a finish of no worse than second in DII-AA East, and they could even win the region championship.

"When the season started, we didn't know how much of a reality this could be," said senior all-purpose athlete Eli Evans, who has played every skill position and on special teams this year. "We were just focused on turning things around for the younger kids and the future, but now we're in a position to do something that's mind-boggling.

"We're playing with a ton of confidence now. It's a completely different outlook, and we believe we can play for a state championship. It's an unbelievable feeling to get to be a part of something that is changing the culture of the program."

For 20 years Boyd Buchanan was one of the most successful programs in the city, averaging nearly 10 wins per season, producing more than 20 all-state players, winning a state championship and finishing as runner-up three times.

"I'm extremely proud of my alma mater, and the commitment from the top to be really good in athletics is showing," said UNC Charlotte football coach Will Healy, a former all-state quarterback for the Bucs. "There's an excitement around the program again, and it's very similar to what happened in 1996 when Coach (Robert) Akins took over and built something that was pretty special for a lot of years.

"They had taken some major steps backward for a few years, but what they've already been able to do this year is unbelievable."

Although the program was just three years removed from its most recent playoff appearance and had won 11 games in 2016, Bucs players and coaches agree the toughest aspect of the turnaround was a mental hurdle. The Bucs had lost 18 of their previous 20 games entering the season, and they had to clear that from their minds.

Two victories over outmanned competition at least got them feeling good about themselves, but it was a week three win over state-ranked Knoxville Webb that instilled the confidence they could compete with any opponent.

"People at the school were used to winning and really wanted to get back there, but I'm not sure how many thought we could do it this fast," Bosken said. "Early on we had to teach them to compete and finish, but as the season has progressed and we've beaten some really good teams, the kids just kept building belief in themselves and now they don't even talk about last year anymore.

"We were down by 24 against CAK in the second quarter, and the kids were joking and telling us not to worry because they had been down by a lot more than that last year but now they believed they could come back and win, and that's what they did. They've earned the right to be in some big games over the next few weeks and they don't want this run to end."

With a roster of 52, many of them athletes in other sports who were recruited by football players to join the team, the Bucs have an impressive and versatile group of potential playmakers who have helped the offense average 40 points per game and compile more than 3,600 total yards. The defense is opportunistic, having caused 24 turnovers.

"Last year felt like a down year around the whole school because football was struggling," said junior quarterback Eli Morris, who has amassed more than 2,400 total yards and 27 touchdowns. "Now the schools is alive with a new atmosphere and you can just feel how excited everybody is. It's a great feeling."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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