By Trey Williams
David Crockett quarterback Cade Larkins said he initially thought he’d like to get away from home to go to college, but East Tennessee State University and head coach Randy Sanders quickly grew close to his heart.
Larkins signed with the Buccaneers last week after becoming the most prolific passer ever in East Tennessee.
“I never really had like a certain choice, but it was pretty much between ETSU, Chattanooga and Tennessee Tech,” Larkins said. “And then they had me up on a visit (at ETSU) and I just kind of fell in love with it.”
Larkins was a Mr. Football finalist last year. He finished his career with 11,042 passing yards. Only Trinity Christian’s Kyle Akin (11,122 yards) has more.
Sanders, a former Morristown East quarterback, was a Mr. Football finalist, too. He’s coached quarterbacks such as Jameis Winston (Florida State), Tee Martin (Tennessee) and De’Andre Woodson (Kentucky).
“He talks about where he’s been and what he’s done,” Larkins said, “but I didn’t really take it as him beating on his own chest. It was more him talking about his background. Obviously, if you’ve coached guys like that and guys like that are that successful, it’s hard to pass up on that.”
Larkins initially talked to former Science Hill and ETSU player Mike Rader while being recruited by the Bucs.
“Eventually I started talking to Coach Sanders a lot,” said Larkins, who noted Sanders mentioning playing against David Crockett in high school. “He told that he always used to get hurt against Crockett or something. He said he basically put up some big numbers against ‘em, but he always used to get hurt against ‘em.”
Larkins liked everything from the game-day electricity and the coaching staff at ETSU, to the campus and administration.
“I loved the atmosphere at the games,” Larkins said. “But at the same time, I live close but I’d never really been around the ETSU campus or saw what the dorms looked like. … I hear so many good things about (ETSU president) Dr. (Brian) Noland. Every time you hear stuff about ETSU everybody always talks about Dr. Noland and how good of a president he is.”
Larkins’ parents, Doug and Gina, attended ETSU. Better yet, they won’t have to travel to Chattanooga or Cookeville to watch Larkins perform – at least during home games.
“I’d say they’re pretty appreciative,” Larkins said. “One of the things was I wanted to get out of town. I kind of wanted to get away from home, but I really got to thinking about it and I’ll be living on campus. It’s not like I’ll be home all the time.
“Both of my parents graduated from ETSU. It wasn’t really a deciding factor at all, but it did help knowing that they loved it there.”
Larkins is happy to have the recruitment process in the rearview mirror.
“At times it was stressful just because I plan on spending four or five years there,” he said. “So it’s something I didn’t want to not think about and put behind me. It was definitely on my mind a lot, but I wouldn’t say I stressed about it. I kind of prayed about it and tried to let God lead me wherever he thought I should be.”
Larkins led David Crockett to its first playoff victory, its first quarterfinals appearance, its first undefeated regular season and its first win against Science Hill. All of that came during a tumultuous period for the program. Larkins had three head coaches and two interim head coaches in four seasons, but was thankful Hayden Chandley coached the Pioneers during his junior and senior seasons.
“It’s been a lot of fun – a lot of firsts at Crockett for us,” Larkins said. “I’m very grateful to have been a part of that. Just seeing that community gather behind us even though we’d been through so much the past four years … I feel like we helped turn the program around. The administration, Coach Chandley and everybody’s done a great job with that. I’m very grateful to have been a part of that, seeing everybody in Washington County kind of support us.”
Crockett assistant Herbie Campbell kicked at ETSU.
“We call him The Legend,” Larkins said. “He was very excited. I think he holds some records for them. It was awesome having him out there (at Crockett). He helped us a lot.”
As did Chandley, who won his first 12 games as Crockett’s head coach and lost both of his playoff games in hard-fought battles against eventual state champion Knox Central.
Chandley wouldn’t be surprised if Larkins helps ETSU win games.
“If Cade goes in and performs the way we know he is capable and will keep his strong work ethic going, he will get his opportunities in the coming years,” Chandley said. “His smarts, ability to learn and eagerness to get better will be what enable him to be successful at the next level.”
Chandley anticipates Larkins becoming an outstanding ambassador for the Pioneers program.
“We couldn’t be more proud and happy for Cade here at Crockett,” Chandley said. “This great accomplishment is a direct reflection of his hard work and dedication to being great. One of the biggest factors in him choosing ETSU was Coach Sanders. Cade is excited to get to play for someone who has coached as many great QBs as he has. …
“It sure has been a pleasure to coach 16. He will be missed as a Pioneer, but it’s safe to say there are a few more Buccaneer fans now in Jonesborough.”