Dustin Buckner knew that when he was hired to take over his alma mater Jellico last year, it wouldn’t be done overnight.
Buckner, 26, graduated from Jellico in 2008 and couldn’t wait to come home and get his former school going in the right direction, but he knew it would take some work.
First things first were upgrades in 2015 as the Blue Devils got new uniforms, helmets and shoulder pads which Buckner thought was a key first step.
“Getting new equipment was a commitment that I wanted to show the players I had in the program,” Buckner said. “The kids really thought getting new uniforms were cool and they started to buy into the program.”
This year, the Blue Devils renovated the locker room as they got new lockers with a twist as members of the community bought sponsorships for the lockers.
“For $100, we sold sponsorships for each locker, which was a way to raise money but also get the kids and the community to buy in to our approach with the program going forward.”
Buckner played quarterback on the last Jellico team that had a winning record as he was a junior back in 2007 and Buckner had a plan to get the Blue Devils program back to respectability.
“We had to come in and change a lot of things, but had to be smart about it,” Buckner said.
Coming into the 2015 season, the Blue Devil program was coming off a winless season at 0-10 and had a 6-64 overall record since 2008, which included three winless seasons (2008, 2011 and 2014), two 1-9 years in 2012 and 2013.
He also inherited a 13-game region 2-1A losing streak as well which had morphed to the state’s second longest region losing streak (22) behind Pickett County (51).
The Blue Devils have made tremendous strides under Buckner so far in his 18 games as head coach as Jellico is 7-11 in those games including 4-4 this season.
Jellico started the season 3-0 with wins over Hancock County, Pickett County and Oakdale as quarterback Tony Smith Passed for 982 yards in those wins as the Blue Devils were 3-0 for the first time since the 1960s.
Smith was lost for the season in the fifth game, a 40-38 loss to Lynn Camp (KY) as he was having a good passing year with 1,318 yards and 14 touchdowns and just one interception before going down, so Buckner had to figure out how to proceed the rest of the season.
“We had some youngsters at quarterback without any real experience so we had to figure something out to get us through the end of the year,” Buckner said.
So they went away from the spread and installed a veer-based ground game and it worked last week in the 34-13 region win over Sunbright as junior running back Kenny Elliott rushed for 183 yards and scored once in the win.
The Blue Devils also rushed for a season-high 288 yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries in the win.
While the Blue Devils are improving their program under Buckner, their region has been unforgiving as they are in arguably the toughest region in 1A. Currently Jellico is looking up at two ranked teams in 1A in Greenback (8-0, No.2) and Coalfield (7-1, No.) as well as Oneida (7-2) and Harriman (6-2).
“I think it’s definitely the hardest region in the state in 1A, no doubt,” Buckner said. “Greenback and Coalfield are both top 10 teams and Harriman was undefeated through the first five games and you never can overlook Oneida because they are good program traditionally.”
Jellico wasn’t the only school to break to a lengthy Region losing streak as seven teams got big win in week nine.
*Cumberland Gap 47, Cosby 12- Cumberland Gap under head coach DeLynn Cline in his second stint broke a 21 game region 1-2A losing streak with a big win over Cosby as Preston Williams led the scoring barrage with three touchdowns (one receiving, two rushing).
“Our focus all year has been on getting better every day. The kids have bought in and continue to improve daily,” Cline said. “ We have a tough finish with Happy Valley and a trip to Hampton, but as I told our players, or focus needs to continue to be on us. Very proud of their efforts and attitude which should lead to a great off season.”
*Perry County 46, Houston County 34- The Vikings continue to improve, snapping a 14-game region 6-1A losing streak as they upended Houston County as running back Curtlen Sparks rushed for 106 yards and scored three touchdowns while quarterback Jeff Martin passed for a touchdown and ran for another while linebacker Cannon Daniel led the defense with 11 tackles and blocked a PAT attempt as well as Houston County remains winless.
“I am very proud of this team, and the fact that we were able to win our first region game in almost two seasons. This was also the first home game this group has won since 2014,” Perry County coach Billy Sawyer said.
“Looking forward, we have two region games left and right now we are focused on playing Clarksville Academy this Friday, and putting ourselves in a position to finish 4th in the region and get a playoff berth.”
*Antioch 32, Lebanon 27- The Bears came from behind to defeat Lebanon and break their 12 game region 3-6A losing streak as quarterback Noah Scales passed for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Blake Wiggins scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown and the Bear defense recorded two safeties in the win as well.
“I am extremely proud of our kids. They fought through adversity and found a way to win. Winning a region game is big because it signifies another step in the right direction for the program. We have two more tough region games before the playoffs begin. Hopefully, this win will inspire our guys to keep working hard and finding ways to improve so that we can add to our win total,” Antioch head coach Mike Woodward said.
*Warren County 13, Coffee County 7- Warren County got a big game from running back Deandre Thomas as he scored both touchdowns in the Pioneers two overtime win over the Red Raiders. The Pioneer defense also came up big as they held the Red Raiders to just 167 total yards as win broke an 11 game region 2-6A losing streak and was their first region win since 2014.
Yes, the win over Coffee County was a great win for all of our people on senior night in our last home game of the year. Our boys fought through a lot of adversity with three turnovers and played excellent defense throughout the game. And our offense was just good enough,” Second year Warren County head coach Tom Moore said. “We hope to gain confidence from our big win last week and play well for the remainder of the season.”
*Jackson South side 49, Westview 26- The Hawks got their first win of the season and their first region win since beating Jackson Central Merry in 2015.
The win broke an eight game region 7-3A losing streak as running back Kalen Jones rushed for three touchdowns in the win.
*Whites Creek 28, White House Heritage 22- Whites Creek (3-5) got their first 5-3A under second year head coach Tyrus Ward as they nipped White House Heritage as the win broke an eight game losing streak for the Cobras.
*Livingston Academy 23, Cumberland County 0- The Wildcats got 210 yards passing from quarterback Will McDonald and 155 yards rushing from Mitchell Ayers in the shut out win. Livingston broke a three game region 3-4A losing streak.
Longest Current Region Winning Streaks
Nashville Christian- 28
Columbia Academy- 21
St. George’s- 16
Stone Memorial- 10
Longest Current Region Losing Streak
Pickett County- 51
Memphis Overton- 20
Claiborne County- 16
William Blount- 15
Union County- 14
Cannon County- 13
St. Benedict- 13
White County- 13
Sullivan Central- 12
West Creek- 11
Oakland and Mt. Juliet are both currently on winning streaks as the Patriots are 8-0, ranked No. 2 in 6A and this week are ranked No. 10 in USA Today’s Southeast Regional Rankings.
Mt. Juliet started the season 1-2 but have reeled off five straight wins and will play for the region 3-6A crown this week against No. 5 Franklin.
The game which will be broadcast on My TV-30 as the Bears are ranked No. 7 in this week’s AP poll.
Both schools can look to their play on special teams as a big reason for the winning streaks, you can also look at the hiring of special teams Coordinators Kyle Shoulders (Oakland) and Tom Turchetta (Mt. Juliet) this off-season to understand why both schools are succeeding so much on special teams.
Oakland have returned four punts for touchdowns as senior wide receiver Zarius Gamble and LSU commitment JaCoby Stevens each have returned two punts for touchdowns.
The Patriots also have a kickoff return for a touchdown and have blocked a field goal that was scooped up and returned for a touchdown as well.
“We love to come after punts because that kind of pressure helps us in our return game,” Second year Oakland head coach Kevin Creasy said.
Mt. Juliet has also been spectacular on special teams as well as the Bears have blocked three field goal attempts, three extra points, three punts (one returned for a TD) and has returned a kickoff for another touchdown.
The Bears special teams unit nicknamed “special forces” has been led by special teams maven Tony Thompson who has blocked four kicks (two field goals, two extra points). In Mt. Juliet’s 39-32 overtime win over Wilson Central, the Bears special teams blocked two extra points which allowed Mt. Juliet to get to the overtime period.
“We scheme them as hard as offense or defense. Our kids do an outstanding job of film study and identification of personnel, where to attack, and how to stay balanced for fakes,” Bear head coach Trey Perry said. “They have seen it win big games already this year and really believe in its value.”
If both teams continue their great play on special teams, here’s a call for a pay raise for both Turchetta and Shoulders.
TSSAA releases updated classifications
On Tuesday, the TSSAA released the updated Classification numbers for Class 1A to 6A for the 2017-21 cycle. All teams have until Monday, October 25 to decide if they want to move up a classification and the TSSAA will set the classifications at the Board of Control meeting on November 17.
The breakdown of teams are as follows: 49 teams in Class 1A, 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A while 2A has 50 teams.
Right now teams playing in 1A will have enrollment numbers of 0 to 375, 2A has 376 to 556, 3A is 557 to 821, 4A is 822 to 1,102, 5A is 1,103 to 1,508 and 6A is 1,509 and up.
Some of the schools that caught my attention as their numbers suggest that they will play up in classification starting next year.
Going up from 1A to 2A
Going up from 2A to 3A
Going up from 3A to 4A
Going up from 4A to 5A
Going up from 5A to 6A
Contact Donovan at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at Examine_Stew