It’s been eight months — eight months and one day, to be exact — since I returned to Knoxville, dropping in during the thick of football season.
There’s been plenty to keep me busy, but now that I’ve had a chance to catch my breath, here are six items I’ll remember from this past school year:
Rankin’s Reign: Alcoa High School football coach Gary Rankin established himself as the state’s standard for coaching success last season, when he became Tennessee’s all-time wins leader after the Tornadoes’ 28-19 Class 3A state semifinal win over Chattanooga Notre Dame on Nov. 28.
Rankin, who is 369-71 all-time, owns 10 state championships, including four at Riverdale and six at Alcoa.
Blackmon Shines on Big Stage: Maybe it’s all that good voodoo Maryville has accrued over the years, but the Rebels have a knack for prevailing on high school football’s biggest stage, regardless the odds.
It can thank sophomore linebacker T.D. Blackmon for delivering the good vibes in 2014.
Blackmon helped Maryville win its 15th state championship by blocking a kick to force overtime and intercepting Cole Brown’s 2-point pass moments later to cap the Rebels’ thrilling 35-34 win over Ravenwood in the Class 6A title game at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium in December.
Blackmon forced overtime when he blocked Crews Holt’s 35-yard field goal attempt as time expired in regulation. The Rebels trailed 20-7 after the first quarter, before rallying to tie it by the end of the third. West also won a state title (its first in Class 5A), and Fulton and Webb three-peated, but no game titled the drama meter as much as Maryville-Ravenwood.
Hardin Valley’s Crescendo: Hardin Valley Academy’s baseball team might have been new to the Class AAA state tournament party, but it capped its debut in style. The Hawks scored eight ninth-inning runs to stun reigning champion and District 4-AAA rival Farragut 10-2 in Murfreesboro last month, securing their first championship.
HVA had never previously advanced past the Region 2-AAA tournament, despite some regular-season success in district play. Grace Christian Academy baseball (Class A) and Greeneville softball (Class AA) also won state title for the first time.
Coaching Carousels: Scott Cummings ended his 13-year run as West High’s football coach with his most memorable triumph: a 23-6 win over Nashville Hillsboro in the Class 5A title game on Dec. 5. Cummings resigned a month later for the Cleveland High football job, and has since been replaced by Loudon’s Jeff Harig in one of several marquee shifts in the PrepXtra landscape in the past eight months. Others include:
- Shadowens Lands at WB: Few hires were as big as William Blount landing Philip Shadowens, a two-time state champion coach who resigned as Murfreeboro Blackman’s football coach before resurfacing with the Governors.
- Culbreth Retires: Farragut boys soccer coach Wallie Culbreth retired after 14 seasons. Culbreth coached the Admirals to four of their five state championships, along with a national championship in 2004 and national runner-up finish in 2003. He earned multiple PrepXtra coach of the year honors, and was named national high school coach of the year by ESPN in 2010.
- Boydstone Returns to Georgia: Joby Boydstone resigned as Carter’s boys basketball coach after two fast-paced — and successful — seasons, opting to return to Georgia, his former state where he spent more than 30 years before coming to Knoxville in 2013. The Hornets returned to old form under Boydstone, making consecutive trips to the Class AA state tournament. Boydstone, who cited a “tremendous job opportunity” for his wife as the reason for his exit, now is the boys basketball coach at East Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga.
- Other Exits: Jim Gaylor was fired as Maryville’s baseball coach, but chose to stay on as defensive coordinator for the football team. … Mike McLean, who built Hardin Valley’s soccer program from the ground up, resigned after coaching the Hawks to the Class AAA state semifinals this season. McLean is moving to Atlanta. … Scott Norman resigned as Seymour’s baseball coach after 16 seasons.
Eleven in Basketball State Tournament: Eleven teams from the PrepXtra coverage area advanced to the basketball state tournament this year, including six girls programs (Webb, Bearden, Morristown West, McMinn Central, Grainger and Oliver Springs) and five boys (Oak Ridge, Maryville, Fulton, Carter and Grace Christian). The grouping produced one state champion (Webb, Division II-A), three finalists (Webb, McMinn Central and Fulton) and eight semifinalists. Oak Ridge and Maryville were the only teams not to advance past the first round.
Snowed In: Consistent waves of wintry precipitation disrupted the basketball postseason, and forced the TSSAA into action. Only a handful of district tournaments were completed in the PrepXtra coverage area due to ice and snow, and region tournaments were postponed long enough for the TSSAA to move back its state sectional deadline, nixing the draw for the state tournament.