Scotty Dykes didn’t know what he was getting into when he took over a resurgent Cocke County High School football program. The former offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach for Hardin Valley and Austin-East had never been in charge of a team before, but luckily he was being tossed the keys to a playoff team with some talent.

“We’re still growing,” Dykes said. “Kids are excited about playing. I didn’t know what would be here when we got here, but the cupboard wasn’t bare. Some of these kids have a chance to go on and play college ball. We’re just excited about working with them.”

Dykes, of course, has been where those kids are. He played at Cocke County himself, before going on to a storied career as a wide receiver for ETSU. He remains in the Buccaneers’ record book, still in the Top 10 in yardage and receptions in a single season.

“It’s been a challenge,” Dykes said. “They say that the first time you’re a head coach it’s like drinking water from a fire hose. I understand that for sure. Getting people to buy into a new system, new terminology, a new ideology and things like that. We’re coming along day by day.”

There were changes in store for the Fighting Cocks with Dykes in command and they were on display in Friday night’s jamboree at Burke-Toney Stadium. Cocke County has moved to a pro set on offense, away from the spread.

Dykes wants to set up the pass with play action, run the ball and be physical upfront.

With guys like Hunter Ellison and Jeremiah Benjamin, he has the tools to do it.

“We want to run the ball more, be more consistent,” Dykes said. “Lean on the big guys up front and hoping we can establish the run and work on the play-action pass.”

It was a passion for coaching and helping develop young men that brought Dykes back to Cocke County. He’s non-faculty, an insurance agent for State Farm, but he never left the sport that had such an affect on him growing up in Newport.

“I love the game of football,” Dykes said. “I love what it teaches young men about working together and some of the things they’ll go through. Sometimes you’ve got to pick yourself up off the ground. I think football teaches good life lessons.”

The first lesson learned will be about building on the success of the 2018 season. The Fighting Cocks finished 7-4, with a 3-3 Region 1-5A record and a playoff berth. It was the culmination of years of yard work, much of it coming with a losing record after their previous playoff season in 2011. The goal now is to not fall back into old patterns, to not rebuild but to reload.

“We want to take what they did last year and build on top of it,” Dykes said. “We want to build a program that has high expectations of making the playoffs every year and continue to be successful.”

He has the tools to do it, kids with a taste for winning and the experience necessary to get them there. They do have tests early on, two road games to open the season at Campbell County and then Northview Academy, but it’s Region 1-5A where the Fighting Cocks can show real growth. They’ll get their first crack against one of the region’s best teams in Week Five when they travel to Jonesborough to take on David Crockett.