There was a time when David Crockett couldn’t legitimately be mentioned in the same sentence with those words. And with the way the 2017 season ended, it didn’t seem like things were going to change any time soon.
But the Pioneers’ broken road led Hayden Chandley to Jonesborough. When Crockett hired the 25-year-old — with no head-coaching experience and ironically a product of county rival Daniel Boone — it may have looked from the outside like a step toward the former days.
Crockett started the season with five straight wins and is ranked No. 5 in the state in Class 5A, with Chandley proving each day he can’t be defined by his birth year.
“Age is just a number,” said Crockett athletic director Josh Kite. “He’s well beyond his years, and he has a great staff around him.
“I’m not a big Xs and Os guy, but I’m learning from him. And other coaches have told me he’s right up there at the top when it comes to those things. When we played at Campbell County earlier this season, a guy came up to me and said, ‘Your coaching staff must watch a lot of film. They had our number.’ That put the icing on it for me.”
Yes, David Crockett had been showing signs of football life for several years. It started with head coach Jeremy Bosken before Gerald Sensabaugh had the Pioneers off to a 5-2 start in 2017.
But Sensabaugh’s in-season dismissal by the administration led to four straight losses, tainting a promising campaign with a bitter finish.
As it turned out, Chandley was the perfect fit. He carried the one thing the Pioneers’ program desperately needed: a clean slate.
“There’s nothing I could do about last year,” said Chandley. “The kids did a good job of focusing on what we wanted to implement for the future of the program. All eyes were looking forward from Day 1, controlling what we can control.”
Senior linebacker Mark Seidler said the Pioneers grew close through the adversity.
“We all bonded together,” Seidler said. “We had a chip on our shoulder, and now we’re hungry. And Coach Chandley brings energy every day. We expect to do big things on the field. It’s the way we carry ourselves in the weight room and classroom. We hold ourselves to a high standard.”
Crockett roared out of the gates with three defensive-dominant wins. And over the past three games, the Pioneers have scored 151 points.
Chandley isn’t taking credit for the offensive outburst.
“You name any successful coach who puts a lot of points on the board, and you will see he has a lot of good players,” said Chandley. “We have arguably the most talented quarterback (Cade Larkins) in Northeast Tennessee. And as good of a football player as he is, he’s a better kid.”
Larkins leads Northeast Tennessee with 1,483 passing yards and 18 touchdown tosses. His top receiver, Donta Hackler, leads the area with 513 yards and seven touchdown receptions. Micah Robinson and John Kollie each have four touchdown catches.
Hackler is also tied for the area lead with three interceptions as a defensive back. Seidler and Kollie are among the area leaders with 44 tackles.
“We all bought into the coach’s plan,” said Seidler. “We trust him and we do our job. Nobody is playing selfish ball.”
HUNGRY FOR RESPECT
Being ranked in the state shows Crockett is earning respect. But have the Pioneers made Northeast Tennessee believe they deserve their ranking?
If you listen to enough people, you will hear the naysayers.
“It doesn’t matter if nobody else believes in us,” said Chandley. “If the kids believe in themselves, we’re good. And we can go as far as we want to go. We told them to block the outside noise and focus on our program.”
Earning respect comes on the field, and Crockett is getting it with physicality.
“Every time we’re on the field, we want to be the most physical team,” said Seidler. “We haven’t been outdone physically yet.”
It’s nice to get a pat on the back, and the Pioneers have been well received in Jonesborough and beyond.
“We’re grateful, but we try to be humble,” said Seidler. “We don’t want to let the hype go to our heads.”
Kite said it’s a refreshing change for the community.
“When I first got here, people said, ‘What are you doing down there? You will never win at that place,’ ” said Kite. “But we’ve had a basketball team make the state tournament, state champion in track, cross country finished in the top 10 in the state, we had seven or eight kids go to the wrestling state tournament, the softball team has been co-champs in the Big Seven Conference. Now, you walk into Hardee’s and Bojangles and people smile at you and want to talk about it. It’s a good feeling down here.”
It shows up on Friday nights.
“We had a great fan showing all the way down in Cocke County,” said Chandley. “We love our fans. They are very supportive of us.”
Friday is another chance for the Pioneers to get better as they take on Hampton, said Seidler.
“There’s always something we can do better,” he said. “A lot of it is the technical stuff, the little details, setting the edge or taking on a block the right way. If we minimize some of those things, we like our chances.”