RUTLEDGE — Jacob Bunch has grown accustomed to busting loose and feeling the energy as the crowd erupts.
“It’s just an awesome feeling,” the soon-to-be Grainger High School graduate said.
On Monday morning, Bunch made it official that he’ll get to experience said feeling at the collegiate level as he signed to continue his education and football career at Maryville College.
In doing so, Bunch will play for a head coach with Grainger County roots like himself. Shaun Hayes, a graduate of Rutledge High School, is entering his fourth season at the helm of the Fighting Scots program and easily established a relationship with the All-State running back.
“He and I just related really well,” Bunch said. “He wanted some of the things I wanted and offensively, he wants me to play running back. The system seemed to be similar, and I just enjoyed it down there.”
The relationship Bunch established with Hayes and the Fighting Scots coaching staff made his decision to attend Maryville College over schools such as University of the Cumberlands, Carson-Newman and Tusculum that much easier.
And the quality of education he will receive at MC helped, too.
“It’s just a big moment. It’s humbling,” Bunch said. “It’s really exciting getting to play football in college. That’s always been my dream. Just a surreal moment.”
Bunch indicated he intends to study accounting, and he’s no stranger to numbers. His senior season won’t soon be forgotten, by Grainger or its opponents.
The senior amassed 1,781 yards and 24 touchdowns on 244 carries — all team highs by far — in helping Grainger top its winningest season in school history from 2016 with a 7-4 campaign in 2017. He was also named the Citizen Tribune’s All-Lakeway Area Football Player of the Year.
Bunch gained 222 yards and a pair of TDs on the ground, including a season-high 90-yard jaunt, while also catching a 15-yard scoring toss in his final high school game at second-ranked Anderson County in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs. He totaled 220 yards and three touchdowns receiving on the season while also returning an interception eight yards from his cornerback position to finish with 2,009 all-purpose yards.
Oh, and he was perfect through the air, completing 5-of-5 passes for 80 yards and a pair of scores.
“Just an unbelievable season. I don’t know any coach that wouldn’t like to have a player like that. Just a special player on the field,” Grainger head football coach Chad Tate said. “He was just as important to us defensively as he was offensively. A lot of people don’t talk about him there but he was so important to us defensively in the secondary the way we like to play. He’s in man coverage and basically takes that receiver away.”
No matter which side of the ball he was playing during his tenure as a Grizzly, Bunch made his impact felt.
Both to opponents and to his teammates.
“I just tried to be the best leader I could be and set an example for the younger guys and try not to be overconfident, just stay humble to everybody. That’s one of my main things,” Bunch said.
Having known Bunch since his childhood and coached his older brothers, Tate quickly realized Bunch’s potential and stated he will miss the relationship he’s had with the senior throughout his high school career.
Not to mention the team-first mentality Bunch displayed.
“I knew he was going to be a great player,” Tate said. “The biggest thing is having him around there in the locker room and his leadership. He’s a selfless guy and always puts the team first. Those are the kinds of players you love to coach.”