By MARINA WATERS
When the David Crockett High School football team rushes onto the field this season, it’ll be with the new Pioneer head coach, Hayden Chandley, leading the charge.
For Chandley, donning brown and gold might be an adjustment, seeing as how he graduated from Daniel Boone High School in 2011 where he played under Head Football Coach Jeremy Jenkins. But now, he sees his new role in the south end of the county as a blessing — as well as a sort of homecoming.
“My little brother was here and all four of my grandparents were here for the announcement. I’m so blessed to have that,” Chandley said. “It’s just cool to get to share that with them and meet everyone. I’m still meeting the faculty and everyone in the community, but they’ve all been so welcoming. It just feels like a family here.”
If he didn’t already realize his alma mater was lingering at the bottom of the Pioneer’s upcoming football schedule, he’s sure been reminded of the match up since he landed the head coaching job in Jonesborough on April 6.
But Chandley said the rivalry game, like every other gridiron face-off listed on the newly released schedule, will be just that — another game.
“I had a good four years at Boone,” Chandley said. “But we’re going to approach that game just like we would any other. It’s at the end of the season so it does have potential to have a lot riding on it. But we’re just going to stay focused and take it one game at a time.”
Now, the head coach is ready to instill his one-game-at-a-time approach in the Crockett program, not only as his own coaching mantra, but the team’s as well.
“When I met with the team, I asked them, ‘Do you think you have to be the best team in the state to win a championship?’ And they said, ‘no,’” Chandley said. “I didn’t expect that. I thought they’d say yes. But I told them they’re exactly right. The team that wins is the team that plays the best in that stadium on that night. That’s what we’re going to try to do every time. We’re going to do things the right way. And we’re going to be fast, physical and disciplined.”
After graduating from Boone, Chandley was a lineman at the University of Virginia at Wise and, after graduating, signed on as the UVA-Wise linebackers coach. Chandley later received a coaching opportunity at Bluefield College in Bluefield, Virginia where he was an offensive coach. Now, he said he’s ready to combine the knowledge he gained from coaching both sides of the ball under Head Coach Dewey Lusk and Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Dino Kaklis.
“It really was one of the changing points in my life. It was a really good experience,” he said. “Coach Lusk is an offensive guru. Kaklis played at Purdue and was at the Division I level. He was really good to learn under and was a good example to our players.”
Before joining the Bluefield coaching staff — and coaching the college team that went 6-5 in a season after going 5-50 throughout the past five years — Chandley applied for the Crockett head coaching job which was awarded to former NFLer Gerald Sensabaugh. But he counts that time and experience as a blessing he’s ready to utilize in his new role.
“I just feel extremely blessed,” Chandley said. “I applied for the job last time but I was fortunate to get the job at Bluefield a few months later. I’ve been able to learn under two of the brightest minds in all small college football. I can honestly say that. They’ve won multiple championships and made it to the national semifinals, coached all-Americans. I was with them every single day, learning their schemes and what they like to do — and how to handle kids and parents.”
For Chandley, his one-game-at-a-time mindset also translates into the whole of being the head coach at Crockett; after a whirlwind year of two interim coaches to finish out the Pioneers’ 2017 season following the suspension and eventual termination of former head coach Gerald Sensabaugh, the high school saw its share of media attention surrounding the coaching debacle.
But Chandley said a clear focus — in addition to some advice from a legendary Boone football coach — is the way in which the new head coach plans to move the program forward.
“I got a phone call after I got the job. It was Bobby Snyder, one of the best coaches in this area,” Chandley said. “He said, ‘Everything that happened before, that’s just water under the bridge. You just have to focus on football.’”
But what Chandley is most looking forward to doesn’t completely revolve around time on the field; the new head coach said he’s ready to focus on the other task at hand — which is being present in the lives of these high school students.
And in doing so, Chandley chose a former Pioneer with connections to the team to join his coaching staff.
The new head coach said he’s still finalizing his staff, but when Chandley was announced as the new Pioneer head coach, he had already decided that former Crockett quarterback Ryan Burger would be making his way back to the Pioneer field as a coach.
“Ryan Burger is a kid we tried to recruit when I was (coaching) at Wise,” Chandley said. “We didn’t get him, but what a guy. He’s a family friend and he already has a relationship with a lot of these kids here. And he knows the offense as well.”
The Pioneer head coach may be the helm of the Crockett program, but he said he’s ready to be alongside these student athletes in facing life outside of football as well. For Chandley, he said, it’s more than a goal — it’s a calling.
“I’m starting to build relationships with these kids,” he said. “I feel led to be here with these kids. I’m ready to be here for them and get to know them better.
“There are things they’re going to be dealing with, as I told all my previous players. I want to be there for them.