By TREY WILLIAMS
First-year David Crockett football coach Hayden Chandley is quick to tell you his Pioneers haven’t played two complete halves in a game this season.
But the Pioneers’ record indicates they’ve played a perfect half of a season.
Crockett improved to 5-0 when it outlasted previously unbeaten Cocke County, 41-20, in Newport on Friday. The last time Crockett started that fast was when future Virginia Tech Hokie Sandy Johnson was carrying the ball during the program’s first season in 1971.
Cade Larkins passed for four touchdowns and ran for another at Cocke County, and fellow junior Donta Hackler had two TD receptions and two interceptions as the Pioneers improved to 2-0 in Region 1-5A.
“Like I’ve said many times, I thank the good Lord every single day for putting me in the position that he did,” Chandley said. “You take any successful coach in any sport at any level whatsoever, and you could sit there and name some really good players that that coach had. That’s the case with us. We’ve got guys up front and at the skill positions that are just really good football players.
“And not only that, but they’re coachable. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you’re not coachable, it means absolutely nothing. It’s a credit to our kids buying into what we’re doing here. They’ve taken it and it’s translated to the field. We’ve started to see some success, and I think we’re getting better every single week. But the good part for us is we’ve yet to play our best on both sides of the football (an entire game).”
Hackler, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound highlight reel already receiving interest from the likes of Cincinnati and Kentucky, has been instrumental in the fast start. He had seven catches for 174 yards at Cocke County. He elevated to complete a fade pattern on one of the TD catches.
“He makes tons of amazing catches all the time,” Larkins said. “Last year against Tennessee High he made a one-handed catch. Last year against Morristown East he laid out (for a diving catch). He’s just an amazing receiver, to be honest.”
Chandley was most impressed in Newport by Hackler’s diving interception.
“It was one of the best high school plays I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Chandley said. “It was a slant and he broke on it, and him and the guy went to the ground at the same time and they were facing each other. And the next thing you know, they roll over and Donta’s got the ball. It was almost like he wrestled it away from him in midair.”
Hackler said there were four hands on the ball simultaneously when he snatched McKayne Ramsey’s would-be catch.
“I just ripped the ball out of his hands,” Hackler said. “I knew the middle of the field was wide open and I just read it and made a play.”
Hackler has 28 catches for 511 yards and eight TDs this season. He credits his productivity to defenses having to account for fellow receivers John Kollie, Micah Robinson and Mark Seidler, as well as effective pass protection from an offensive line that includes Doc Coffey, Tony Davis, J.R. Giles, Tyler Estep, Gabe Hendricks, Blaine Greer and Adrian Boles, who was injured against Gibbs on Sept. 7 and is expected to return either Oct. 5 (Cherokee) or Oct. 12 (at Tennessee High). There’s also a potent ground game with Ronquille Joyner and Prince Kollie keeping teams honest.
Larkins heartily agrees.
“I’d trust my life with those guys (on the O-line),” Larkins said. “This is my third year with Doc Coffey, the center, and I’ve just got all the faith in the world in him. Tony is a big dude. And J.R. and Blaine and T-Step – whoever’s in there I know they’ve got my back.”
The 5-0 start has fired up the Jonesborough community, not to mention the student body.
“There’s a lot of hype, I think, around us right now,” Larkins said. “Whenever we got out of the locker room against Cocke County Friday night everybody that made it to the game was just surrounding us. It was a lot of fun.”
Hackler noted students making posters and shout-outs via Twitter.
“We just have a lot more people coming to our games and stuff like that,” Hackler said. “We have a lot of energy from the crowd.”
Even nose-to-grindstone Chandley has taken a moment to smell the flowers.
“The buzz in the school is awesome,” Chandley said. “And the support from the faculty and the student body – you turn around in the stands at Cocke County and look around, and we had beaucoups of kids there supporting us in the student section. Our fans are awesome and they travel so well.
“It’s a good feeling and the energy’s high and right now we’ve got it going in the right direction. But as I’ve always said we’ve gotta stay humble and hungry.”
Crockett will visit Hampton on Friday. A bye week will follow.