Daniel Boone’s football schedule is so unforgiving this season that even friend is foe.
Coach Jeremy Jenkins’ Trailblazers have opened the year with four straight hard-fought losses and there’s no reprieve for the weary. Jenkins must attempt to get off the schneid this week against his buddy Stacy Carter’s talented Science Hill (3-1).
The Hilltoppers and Boone are no longer in the same conference after TSSAA realignment. But there weren’t ideal alternatives to continuing the friendly rivalry. Boone was looking at a four-hour drive, at least, to play a 6A team.
“So if you’re gonna play a 6A or a Super 32 school,” Jenkins said, “why not play somebody in your backyard where at least one year we can make some money and the next year they can.”
Carter and Jenkins, who have coached against one another since they became head coaches in 2004, attend Boone Trail Baptist Church together.
“Yeah, we go to church with one another,” Jenkins said. “He sits maybe one or two pews in front of me or right there beside us. And his wife and my wife are good buddies.”
Jenkins worked with Carter and Science Hill assistants Ralph Nelson and Scott Nelson under Pat Fraley at Sullivan South.
“In 2001 he was the defensive backs coach,” Jenkins said, “(current South head coach) Sam Haynie was the defensive line coach and I was the coordinator. … Us three were together on that side of the ball for two years there, and that’s two of the best years I’ve ever had in coaching being with those two.”
Jenkins remembers playing against Ralph Nelson when he was at Boone and Nelson was a good enough South defensive linemen to sign with Tennesseea
“He was the only nose tackle I’d ever seen intercept a pass – over here when I was a junior, I believe – and run it back and score and beat us,” Jenkins said. “He was strong and he could move.”
Jenkins and Carter wouldn’t have minded pausing the friendly fire. The two-year contract includes a Boone visit to Science Hill next season.
“But we didn’t want to go an hour and a half or two hours to play a game, which we’re already doing enough,” Carter said.
“I love Jeremy. I started coaching with him, go to church with him. … He does a super job … and they’re hungry for a win.”
Boone’s been close enough to taste victory in three games, and hung around into the fourth quarter in a 21-7 loss at Elizabethton (3-1).
A 21-14 setback against South (3-2) ended with the Trailblazers at South’s 12-yard line. A 28-26 loss at Cherokee (4-0) wasn’t decided until the Chiefs broke up a late PAT pass.
And Boone outgained Tennessee High (4-1) in total offense (222-197) in a 13-6 loss last week at the Stone Castle. Senior quarterback Gabe Sanders’ 40-yard touchdown run had given Boone a 6-3 lead with 8:39 left in the third quarter.
“Yeah, and then they take the kickoff back,” Sanders said in reference to Courtland Carter’s ensuing 93-yard return. “It was uphill real fast and then downhill real fast.”
Jenkins has been pleased with Sanders’ start.
“We’re led by Gabe,” Jenkins said. “He’s matured a lot.”
Science Hill might not be led this week by senior quarterback Justin Bedard, who left last week’s Maryville loss woozy after a 20-yard run to the 2-yard line concluded with a leap and dangerously awkward landing. Carter said Bedard’s status will likely be determined late in the week, should he pass concussion protocol.
“We’ll make sure he’s safe more than anything,” Carter said.
Bedard went down after Science Hill’s opening drive had gained 78 yards and appeared all but certain to cut Maryville’s lead to 10-7.
The defending state champion Rebels’ two-score lead came compliments of recovering an onside kick after making a field goal on the game’s initial drive.
Shoulders slumped on Science Hill’s sideline when Bedard exited, and a fumbled snap for a 14-yard loss immediately proceeded. The ‘Toppers settled for an Adam Moorleghen field goal, and another Maryville rout was on.
“That deflated us; it really did,” Carter said. “Playing without your quarterback’s tough. Ask the Cardinals (Carson Palmer) last year. Ask the Cowboys (Tony Romo) the next couple of weeks. …
“And Maryville played great. They execute super.”
Carter said he’ll game-plan for multiple quarterbacks this week. Jaylan Adams and Ben Wooten will likely play if Bedard doesn’t.
“I know they’ll take precautions with him,” Jenkins said, “because he’s something special and I know they’ve got the meat of their schedule left. So we’re prepared for him and the other two as well. … I hope that young man’s okay. He’s a good player.”
Heartbreaking losses haven’t disheartened Boone.
“Our kids have come and battled each week and prepared really good,” said Jenkins, whose ‘Blazers will host a good Sevier County team next week.
“And our coaches have done a great job of getting us prepared and getting us ready. … We’ve had self-inflicted wounds when we get inside the red zone.
That’s been kind of our Achilles heel. … Right now, we’re playing as well as we can play defensively as far as effort.”
Jenkins has been especially pleased with senior outside linebacker Tom Ketron, who had 15 tackles at Tennessee High.
“Tom Ketron has really taken over the defensive side for us,” Jenkins said. “He’s a senior who’s been through some battles for us. Him and Gabe – they’ve been through it and they know what’s expected and everything. So we’re really looking to those two to get us out of this little funk that we’re in.”
Jenkins’ candor and consistency resonate with players.
“He’ll tell you what needs to be heard … and you either take it the wrong way or the right way,” Sanders said. “And we’ve got people right now that take it the right way and get better at what we’re doing.”
Indeed, Boone might be the best 0-4 team east of Nashville.
“It’s Daniel Boone,” Carter said. “They’re gonna play hard, especially at home. Playing us is a big deal, and Jeremy does a good job. … We better be ready to play.”
Nothing would make Carter’s friend happier than beating him.
“He’s a real good friend of mine and I’d do anything for him,” Jenkins said. “But at the same time … when Friday night comes he wants to beat us as bad as we want to beat them.”