Nerves, excitement abound on opening night
Just being on the sidelines and basking in the glow of lights on Friday nights has been enough to get Clayton Ogle fired up.
Tonight the Seymour junior will experience that atmosphere in a whole new way — as the Eagles' starting quarterback.
“It’s going to be even more exciting, especially pregame,” Ogle said. “Just hearing the band go, just the kickoff and everything, it’s going to be awesome.”
It’s time for opening night and for some players and coaches it will be their first in new roles or in a completely new state. When Sevier County’s teams open the 2014 season with five games across the region tonight, there will be plenty of emotion, plenty of excitement and maybe a little sloppiness.
“First games are usually a little bit sloppy on offense,” said Sevier County head coach Tony Linginfelter. “Usually you have a lot of mistakes being made. You just try to know that going in and not let the mistakes get to you.”
Linginfelter will get his first chance to lead the Smoky Bears tonight at Bearden after being promoted to head coach following the departure of long-time coach Steve Brewer last spring. Tonight also marks the debut of former Ohio resident Jerry Cooper as Seymour’s head coach when the Eagles host Sullivan North. The King’s Academy (at Sunbright) and Pigeon Forge (at Cosby) begin the second season of the Matt Lowe and Scott Meadows eras while Gatlinburg-Pittman’s Benny Hammonds starts his 43rd year with the Highlanders at Cocke County.
Meadows still has vivid memories of his first game as a head coach at Sequoyah in 1998. The Chiefs lost to Webb School, 32-8, and Meadows said the very first play his team ran was for a loss of two yards.
"I thought, 'Oh Lord, this is not going to be good.' " he said. "I remember that as much as the state championship game (with Alcoa). The biggest thing I learned was just preparation going into a football game. ... I learned more abut it than my players did, how to prepare them. It was an eye-opening experience for me."
Linginfelter had a similar experience in his head coaching debut back in 1988. His old Doyle High School team won a “mistake-filled” game against Clinton that fall.
The win taught the coach not to try to do too much, but to trust his assistant coaches to be experts. Trust in a strong staff is Linginfelter's philosophy now.
“Back then, I think I thought I was a little better coach than what I was,” Linginfelter said. “That’s the way most young coaches are. You want to show everybody what you know. You find out real quick you don’t know as much as you think you do.”
Linginfelter’s quarterback, transfer Deuce Wallace, is also new. He started as a freshmen at Riverside Academy (La.) but said the crowd he saw at the jamboree last week was unlike any he’s played before in the last two years. Brewer said last week football is a mixture of nerves and excitement. Expect Wallace and the county’s other football players to experience both tonight.
“You know, we get pretty pumped up before the game," Wallace said. "It’s a lot of excitement, a lot of excitement in the locker room right here whenever we warm up. You can hear us. We’re going crazy. That first snap, when you walk out on the field, there’s nerves rolling.”
TKA's Lowe has felt those nerves before, counting the hours down to 7:30 when he first coached a game at Powell. Now, he said opening night is all about finding out how new players will fit in. Guys may look good in fall camp, but it's different under the lights.
Cooper, the new Seymour coach, said it's tough for players to get excited if their coaches aren't fired up. Setting an example is a priority for Hammonds, the county's most experienced coach, as well. He said he tries to focus his thoughts a few hours before kickoff. The first Friday of the season is nothing new for the Highlanders' coach, who debuted 45 years ago with Cocke County.
"I've always tried to show the team that focus is very important and hopefully you can get the best out of yourself," Hammonds said. "Your sole responsibility on Friday nights to get your team to perform better than they think they can."
That's almost exactly what happened for Meadows last year. He said he was more nervous about his Pigeon Forge debut than his first game in '98. It didn't help that he was determined to run a play his team had trouble completing during fall camp. It worked under the lights, and the Tigers scored on it, the start of a 55-0 rout.
"Got a little fired up there," Meadows said. "I got a little fired up, little emotional. You kind of let all that out. It’s always fun watching your players get better and execute."