The 48th City Championship
To say that the Morristown City Championship has been tough on new head coaches at either school would be quite an understatement. And if it could be worse, it has been totally brutal to new coaches who had never been involved in the game.
First-year Morristown East coach Caleb Slover will be trying to become the first coach in Hurricane history to win his initial city title battle when he leads his team against Morristown West Friday night in the 11th annual Citizen Tribune Kickoff Classic presented by East Tennessee OB/GYN and Dr. Frank Ellis at Burke-Toney Stadium.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
There have been a dozen coaches go into the game and the first 11 of those lost before current Trojans’ head man Dr. Alvin Sanders won in 2017.
Slover will become the seventh coach who has never been part of the game as an assistant to try and post a win. The previous six, three at each school, have failed.
None of that means a lot to Slover as his main goal is to get the Hurricanes season started on the right foot by snapping a five-year losing streak to their crosstown rivals.
Slover said, “I’ve never been a part of the rivalry, heck, I’ve not even seen one of the games.”
But that doesn’t mean Slover isn’t fully aware of what’s on the line Friday night. “It’s all I’ve heard for the last 3 or 4 months is just how big the game is to the community.”
“I know what a big deal it is in Morristown and I’m happy and excited to be a part of it now,” he added. “I know it’s not been very good for us in the past but we’re aiming to start changing that a little bit.”
Slover does know the importance of huge rivalry games. He was part of a big one as a high schooler at Anderson County when Clinton was the foe. “The schools were a little farther apart than East and West but Clinton was just down the road a couple of minutes, so it was similar.
“And then in college Carson-Newman and us was really huge.” Slover quarterbacked Tusculum to its first victory over C-N in 67 years when he led a 37-36 victory as a senior in 2001.
“This is a big deal. It’s fun and it’s exciting,” he stated. “We have to keep our kids level-headed, play for four quarters and try not to make too many mistakes.”
The coach knows that mistakes are likely with a team that is so young. “We intend to go out and play hard. We know there may be some mistakes but we’ll check our composure and see where our hearts are when that happens.
“Things are not going to go the right way for us all the time and how we react to those times will be a big key in how good of a team we can be.”
Slover went on to say, “I know we’re going to be very energetic. We’ve talked all week about not getting two worked up. We’ll try to keep it scaled back but once the ball kicks off is when we’ll turn it loose.”
Although it’s the first game, the coach says he has a good ideal of what to expect from the Trojans. “We exchanged scrimmage film with them and we played them when I was at Cocke County. They are still very similar to what they did then.”
He said, “They’re going to be a big, strong and physical team. We know they like to run the football and that’s going to be their priority number one.
“You know you pretty much always go into a game knowing what the other team is going to do,” he explained. “But you still have to go out there and line up and play football and stop them. It doesn’t matter if they walk up to the line and look at you and say we’re going to run right here...you still have to stop it.
“One of the big things is that you can’t only play on heart and pride. You have to be disciplined and mentally sharp and you have to make plays.”
Slover said he is pretty happy with the progress the ‘Canes have made. “You know, just getting used to it has been the main thing. It was two new systems and new terminologies.
“The kids have worked hard and the kids understand it more and more. Four months seems like a long time but it’s a quick turn-around for 14, 15, 16 and 17-year old kids to turn around and pick up something completely new.
“They’re living life and have things to worry about outside of school and outside of football so it was tough for them,” he continued. “But I think we’ve come a long way. I think the kids will be ready and excited. They understand what we’re doing now and that’s allowing us to play a little bit faster.”
When asked what the key to a Hurricane victory would be, Slover replied, “I really think it’s how we keep our composure. How are we going to respond to adversity? I think if we can handle it and respond then we give ourselves a chance.”
The ‘Canes have already had to deal with adversity, losing starting senior running back Jacob Gossett to a knee injury. “It’s really tough to lose someone like Jacob. He’s worked so hard to be that leader and that guy for us. We’ll really miss his experience and his speed along with his leadership on the field.
“He’s still a very big part of this team and will continue to be one our leaders. He’ll be on the sideline and he’ll be at practices.”