By Trey Williams
Whether he was quarterbacking Science Hill, a starting defensive back at Kentucky or coaching the Hilltoppers or Tennessee High, fiery Tommy Hundley never failed to motivate.
The late Hundley (class of ’57), a Wigwam Wisemen All-American in high school who went on to be a co-captain at Kentucky, coached Science Hill to its only unblemished regular season in 1979.
His most colorful motivational tactic came the day before Science Hill traveled to Tennessee High for its fifth game of the season.
A UPS truck came around from the Freedom Hall tennis courts and pulled up beside the cinder track at the practice field. Before the Science Hill players knew it, an apparent UPS driver was handing out packages to the players. Each package had a pair of panties – with each player’s jersey number on them.
And, of course, the “delivery man” said the shipment came from Tennessee High.
The Science Hill players bought it, and at least one was fired up enough to have the panties in his waistband to rub in players’ faces after making tackles the following night.
Hundley, of course, had orchestrated it all.
“Over on the sideline near the end of the game (when the outcome was obvious) some of ‘em put their panties on helmets,” said Bill McKinney, a senior captain in ’79. “It was funny – it was real funny. Every pair of panties had a player’s number on ‘em.”
The Vikings players were dumbfounded, of course.
“They had no clue,” McKinney said.
But Science Hill won, 20-7, to improve to 5-0.
“That was a big win for us,” McKinney said. “They had Dirk Gentry, who ended up (at Tennessee). He was a pretty good player. That was a huge win to carry us into the second half of the season.”
Hundley was born to coach. He wore Bike shorts to practice and plaid checker pants to games. He wore Spot-Bilt shoes, his players were in Spot-Bilt cleats. He studied film when many, if not the vast majority of high school coaches didn’t.
“Coaching was a calling for Coach Hundley, definitely,” McKinney said. “I guess he spent his whole life around it. He was a very good player in high school and in college as well.”
Hundley returned a punt 35 yards for a game-winning score against Kingsport as a freshman in fearless fashion.
“He caught it on the dead run,” said the late Bob Taylor, a senior who’d scored the first TD in the 13-7 victory and went on to play at Vanderbilt and get drafted by the Baltimore Colts.
Hundley started at quarterback 29 straight games at Science Hill while playing for three coaches in as many years (Mule Brown, Jack Green and Kermit Tipton). He won Science Hill’s coveted Plowboy Farmer Award as a senior and quarterbacked the Tennessee team in the Tennessee-Virginia Shrine Bowl.
“Tommy Hundley was a hard act to follow,” said former Science Hill quarterback Wayne Burchfield. “He was the man. He was your typical Split T operator, very sound mechanics and a super athlete.”
Hundley also lettered in basketball and track for Sidney Smallwood at Science Hill. Smallwood proudly watched Hundley play well in Kentucky’s 10-10 tie at Tennessee in 1960, and chuckled some 50 years later recalling Hundley capping the performance by getting in a fight with a Tennessee player at the end of the game.
“Tommy might’ve been 5-foot-10, and there he was battling those 6-4 and 6-6 receivers Tennessee always had,” Smallwood said. “He battled them right down to the ground and it ended up in a tie. He had a great day, broke up quite a few passes.
“That was I guess what you’d call a thrill for me. Tommy Hundley was tough as a pine knot.”
Hundley also cared about his players beyond their high school days. His son Troy was a senior lineman on the ’79 team, and teammates – from Little League to college – would find their way to the Hundley’s home on Browns Mill Road.
“He was always there after the season was over to talk to ya,” said Malcolm Foreman, who started at quarterback for Hundley in 1980 and ’81. “Playing basketball and other sports, he would always come and support us and ask how things were going. He’d always give me a hard time because I didn’t scor
e much in basketball and he’d say he wondered why they kept me around.
“And he always treated us like we were his own sons when we were at his house and made sure to see if we needed anything. He would ask us about that, make sure we were staying out of trouble. You didn’t think too much about it at the time, but as you look back you realize he was really a players’ kind of coach.”
Steve Fields became Science Hill’s first 1,000-yard rusher in ’79. He also played linebacker.
Foreman said the ‘Toppers called him “The Six Million Dollar Man” in reference to the popular 1970s Lee Majors TV show.
But “Yo-Yo” is how Hundley addressed him for a while. Fields went right on a play when the rest of the team went left one afternoon, much to the chagrin of Hundley.
“He said, ‘Fields, one play you’ll play like a professional and the next play you’ll play like you’ve never seen a ball. You play like a Yo-Yo,’” Fields said. “He knew how to build a fire in you to make you a better person.”
Fields recalled Hundley talking about biting on a pump-fake from Georgia’s Fran Tarkenton, who proceeded to throw a touchdown pass behind him. And Hundley brought in Washington Redskins All-Pro safety Ken Houston to speak to the players when Fields was a junior in ’78.
“He was always doing something to motivate you,” Fields said. “He brought Kenny Houston, a defensive back that played for the Washington Redskins, in just to talk to us. He was an All-Pro, and had been an All-Pro for like two or three years. And he said, ‘As an All-Pro all I’m doing is holding somebody just as good as me back, because there’s always somebody nipping at your heels.’ He was saying you couldn’t relax. You had to stay on top of your game.
“I had the utmost respect for Coach Hundley. He helped me in many ways. I don’t know what he put on my application for a job, but people believed every bit of it and it helped me get a job (at Eastman).”
Hundley was an assistant on Tennessee High’s two state championship teams in 1971-72 and went 74-43 as the Vikings head coach (1987-97). He was 36-25 at Science Hill. Hundley also was an assistant four years at ETSU and worked a year under Dave Rider at Elizabethton.
Hundley was inducted into the National High School Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
“Tommy was ahead of his time,” said Bob May, Hundley’s defensive coordinator, when Hundley was inducted in the Science Hill Hall of Fame in 2007. “They’re doing things now Tommy was doing in the ’70s.”
Foreman, the associate head coach at Unicoi County now, said practices were considerably more stringent in 1979.
“Coach Hundley would have us practice in full pads Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and we would condition all three days, and it was old-school football,” Foreman said. “You ran it most of the time. You’d maybe throw it 15 times. He felt like if you could run the ball you could win.
“And he leaned heavily on Coach May for the defense. He basically let Coach May have full control of that. He did a great job. You did things the way Coach Hundley wanted it done and he would let you know if you didn’t. I loved playing for him.”