By Trey Williams
Science Hill’s 1979 football team was on the field last Friday night for something it’d never experienced – a regular-season loss.
A number of players from the ’79 team reunited to be recognized at halftime of Science Hill’s setback against Greeneville.
The late Tommy Hundley’s ’79 Hilltoppers started the season with 10 straight victories, the only time in 99 years the program has achieved the feat.
Plowboy Farmer’s 1939-40 teams went 10-0-1 and 10-1 (the tie and loss came against Dobyns-Bennett). And Bob “Snake” Evans first team went 10-1 in 1967, losing 14-6 during the regular season to Knox Central.
Hundley’s Hilltoppers weren’t expected to do much in 1979. He had a two-year record of 11-9 at Science Hill prior to that season.
But Steve Fields rushed for more than 1,300 yards, a school record at the time, and Bob May’s defense held opponents to 26 points during nine regular season games (a tenth regular season game was canceled that season).
“We weren’t very big,” said Bill McKinney, a starting defensive back who went on to be an assistant on the staffs of May and Mike Turner. “But we were tough and we worked hard and we played hard. And I know a lot of people like to say that, but it was true about this bunch.”
Hundley (class of ’57) played for three different coaches while at Science Hill when Sidney Smallwood was the athletic director. Some 20 years later, after Hundley played in college at Kentucky and had been an assistant on Tennessee High’s state championship teams, Smallwood brought him back to Science Hill to replace Evans.
“I believe Tommy was the last coaching hire I recommended,” the late Smallwood said in 2007. “It was a good one.”
Hundley was willing to exhaust all avenues to give his players an edge. A UPS truck pulled up to a Science Hill practice the week of the Tennessee High game in ’79, and the driver delivered a box. When they opened it, players found a pile of women’s underwear with the ‘Topper players’ jersey numbers on them. The return address was Bristol.
With their manhood seemingly challenged, Fields ran for three touchdowns, two of which Nick Smith set up with a fumble recovery and a punt return. Eventually, Smith was waving panties around at confused Vikings.
McKinney chuckled at the memory.
“Coach Hundley would do crazy stuff like that,” McKinney said. “He was a really good motivator.”
During his playing days, Hundley had played with an edge. Smallwood recalled taking a Science Hill contingent to watch Hundley’s Kentucky Wildcats play at Tennessee. Hundley got in a scrape on the field.
“Tommy might’ve been 5-10, 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 (10-10) 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.”
First team All-Big Seven players for Science Hill in 1979 were Fields, nose guard Todd Judy, running back Dan Pence, defensive tackle Mike Tipson, defensive end Paul Lockart, receiver-defensive back Dee Dee Scott and Hundley’s son Troy, a linebacker.
Second team selections were receiver Nat Rollins, defensive tackle-running back Ernie Carson and linebacker Bobby Emert. Smith, McKinney, Scott Shrum, Bill Graham, Anthony Bell and Marvin Bell received honorable mention.
Science Hill won 19-13 in overtime in the first round of the playoffs at Morristown East. Hundley intercepted a third-and-14 pass to end it after Pence had scored.
The Hilltoppers’ season came to a screeching halt with a 50-0 loss at Oak Ridge, which was coached by former Science Hill assistant Emory Hale, who went on to win one of his three state titles at Oak Ridge that year.
Still, years later, Hale noted Hundley doing a good job with that team to start 10-0 in ’79. McKinney heartily agreed.
“He was one of those, you know, sometimes it was tough love,” McKinney said. “If you didn’t do what you were supposed to do he’d let you know about it. But he’d praise you if you did well. It wasn’t always negative.
“I don’t know what it was about that team itself, but it just jelled and came together and had great chemistry. He was a part of that.”