By MARINA WATERS
On Monday morning, the David Crockett High School football team had a big decision to make.
They could finish the rest of their season, starting with the county rivalry match up against Daniel Boone this Friday. Or they could opt to put the whirlwind season, following the suspension of their head football coach, to rest.
The Pioneers chose to finish.
Now they’ll do so with Pioneer head baseball coach, and now interim head football coach, Nick Lingerfelt leading the pack.
“I felt like it was my responsibility as a person to step up and say ‘hey, if these kids want to play, I’ll be there.’ And if they decide not to, I’ll support them in that too,” Lingerfelt said at a press conference held at the school on Monday.
“It’s not about me. It’s really not. It’s about these kids. They decided they want to play and they told me today I was going to be the coach. And here I am.”
Lingerfelt was hired in July to take over the baseball program at Crockett. He served as an assistant coach at Dobyns-Bennett for seven years and at his alma mater, Unicoi High School, for eight. He assisted with both the baseball and football programs at those schools.
The decision for Lingerfelt to take on his latest role as Pioneer football’s interim head coach came after head coach Gerald Sensabaugh was put on administrative leave last Tuesday. The letter of reprimand from Crockett head principal Peggy Wright to Sensabaugh lists practicing an injured player, verbal attacks and profanity from the coach as concerns from administration.
After the suspension of their coach, the football team was left divided between students who still wanted to compete in last Friday’s game against Tennessee High and those who opted not to play or attend the game, in support of Sensabaugh. The Pioneers lost 35-13 against the Tennessee High Vikings under the direction of assistant-coach-turned-interim-head-coach Brandon Qualls.
“It’s been an emotional week,” Lingerfelt said. “We were on fall break last week, and I think the lessons these young men have learned exceed any lesson in a classroom.
“The fact that these kids showed some resiliency and went in there this morning and voted to have a season, that speaks volumes. That speaks volumes for their character. I’m ready to take on this challenge.”
Lingerfelt didn’t confirm who would join his coaching staff for Friday’s game and the remainder of the season, but he did say he would be meeting with former Pioneer head coach Kent Green who resigned from the position in 2012.
“After I got word, I went straight to some of the people that I’ve assembled and I said, ‘Listen, we can’t reinvent the wheel. We’ve got two weeks left in the season and then we’ve got playoffs.’,” Lingerfelt said. “We’re going to get in the playoffs. What happens there, we’ll see.”
As for his roster, Lingerfelt said the student athletes present at Monday’s team meeting exceeded the number he had on his updated roster of 51 kids. He also said if players show up at practice, they’re going to play.
Lingerfelt isn’t the only one stepping into an interim position this week; Crockett head basketball coach John Good is currently serving as the school’s athletic director after Josh Kite was put on administrative leave following allegations from Sensabaugh who said Kite offered him prescription drugs. An investigation on the allegation is pending.
For Good and Lingerfelt who are taking on additional roles at Crockett, both say they are ready to concentrate on allowing the Pioneers a chance to take the field.
“Last week we picked up a kid on his way home from practice and took him to eat,” Lingerfelt said. “I said, ‘What do you think about all this stuff?’ He said, “Coach, I’m 15 years old. I just want to play football.’ And I thought, ’It’s really sad that this young man doesn’t get the opportunity to play a game that he loves.’”
Now that the team is officially back in action, the Pioneers will battle longtime rival Daniel Boone for a Musket Bowl victory on Friday night.
“It’s huge,” Good said. “Kids grow up wanting to be a part of this game. It’s bragging rights within the county.”
This year’s 47th annual Musket Bowl game comes after Boone defeated Crockett 14-10 at the Pioneer’s stadium, but Lingerfelt has confidence in the Pioneer squad.
“We’ve got to play Daniel Boone on the road at the Musket Bowl and we’ve got to be prepared to overcome a lot of adversity,” Lingerfelt said. “We know Daniel Boone’s a good team, but I have no doubt our kids can overcome this and they can win that football game.”
Just by looking at the number of kids on his roster and showing up for team meetings and practices, the interim head coach said it’s clear to him these kids are ready to be out on the field for another Friday night.
“The easiest thing to do would be to fold up tent and quit,” Lingerfelt said. “I don’t see that in these kids. I don’t. I see the drive and the initiative to go forward and I’m excited.”
Crockett will face Boone for the Musket Bowl competition on Friday Oct. 20 at Nathan Hale Stadium in Gray. Kick off is at 7:30 p.m.