By TREY WILLIAMS
David Crockett senior football players Cade Larkins and Donta Hackler have multiple Division I college suitors, and it appears junior Prince Kollie will have a number of options at that level next year.
Kollie, who has played safety, receiver and running back during his first two seasons, including a record-setting rushing performance as a freshman against Campbell County, performed well at a Virginia Tech mini-camp on Saturday.
“It was an invite-only kind of thing, and he performed really well,” Crockett coach Hayden Chandley said. “They showed quite a bit of interest and said they like what they’ve seen, and they’re gonna continue to monitor him as well.”
Larkins, a record-setting quarterback that led the Pioneers to a 12-0 start and their first quarterfinals appearance last year, also had a productive week on the recruiting trail.
“Arkansas State has been on Cade here for a couple of months now,” Chandley said. “He went to camp there on Friday and performed really well. They’re gonna continue to monitor him.”
Larkins has been offered by the likes of ETSU, Chattanooga and Tennessee Tech. Clint Freeman, a former baseball standout at Crockett and ETSU, said he thinks Larkins has just as high an upside, if not higher, in baseball – and that’s no knock on his quarterbacking skills.
“I know he’s a great quarterback,” Freeman said. “I get it. But some of the things he did in baseball this season, especially when he’s not playing baseball most of the year, were really impressive.”
Hackler, an explosive 6-foot-3 receiver, has offers from Eastern Kentucky, Tulane and Texas-San Antonio. Some of the coaches in Region 1-5A give Crockett an edge at the top, primarily because of Hackler.
“Hackler’s a difference-maker,” said first-year Morristown East coach Caleb Slover, who coached against Hackler in previous seasons while at Cocke County. “He’s a big-time player.”
The Pioneers’ media day is Thursday at 10 a.m. There will be plenty of hype following last year’s unprecedented playoffs run.
Chandley can only hope the taste of success – heaping helping of success, actually – will whet his players’ appetites. There might’ve been a day or two of complacency in the offseason, which is understandable.
“Maybe we’ve battled that a little bit, had to get that little bit of a sense of entitlement out of ‘em,” Chandley said. “We’re still learning to battle through things like that, and our kids are figuring out that nothing’s going to be handed to them and it doesn’t matter what you did last year. We’ve gotta create our own identity.”
Region 1-5A has a number of dangerous teams and quality players, perhaps none more imposing than Charlie Cole at archrival Daniel Boone, Chandley’s alma mater. Cole, a running back with size, speed and strength, has committed to Army.
“The conference has three pretty big stars (Cole, Hackler, Larkins) at the top of it,” Chandley said. “Charlie’s got the big-time offer from Army. That’s a credit to his work ethic. He’s got a great family. I’ve known them for a long time, and I’m extremely happy for him to get the opportunity to go up to West Point.
“But you look past those three guys and there’s still quite a bit of talent. You’ve got the (Nolan) Wishon kid from Bristol that’s a big kid and a big-time talent. You’ve got the quick (Peyton) Derrick kid from Volunteer. Cocke County’s got the big (Lundon) Shelton kid at running back. Morristown East has the (C.J.) Livesay kid at linebacker. There’s hidden gems at each and every school. Some of those guys just get overshadowed by Cole and Cade and Donta.”
The Pioneers are jumping in on the deep end this season, opening by hosting Ooltewah on Aug. 23 before Science Hill visits Jonesborough on Aug. 30.
“We feel like we’ve set ourselves up with a pretty tough non-conference schedule at the front of the year,” Chandley said. “Hopefully that will translate and we will benefit greatly from those challenges at the beginning of the season when we start the tough stretch of conference play.”