Casey Tate didn’t exactly have the cream of the crop when he started his tenure out at Grundy County in 2015.
He had a team with very little muscle power–including only a handful that could successfully power clean–and several names you might recognize, namely Houston Mainord who led Sequatchie County to a 7-4 record last season and current South Pittsburg signal-caller Hogan Holland whose resume might include a trip to Cookeville when things are said and done.
On top of that, there were players who refused to play in a split-back veer system and simply quit football completely. It was a system that didn’t allow for much passing or superstar play on the field. Cut and dry, it’s what won Grundy County alum Ken Colquette four State Titles and several other appearances at Marion County in the 1990s.
It’s not flashy but it gets the job done.
Tate, along with all of that, followed the tenure of Nick Bryant who had consistent playoff success in a district that was much easier to win in. The first round wasn’t out of reach back then, but now, the Yellow Jackets have to cue an upset or two to play in the coveted Week Twelve. The masses don’t tend to understand how difficult or competitive a region is. Frankly, all they care about is one extra Friday to root on their team.
Don’t let the lack of postseason success fool you, though, as Tate and company are at least tenfold better than the 1-9 squad that took the field last season.
Their lone win this year was against Cannon County in a dogfight fashion, 13-12. That was also the score of their loss against Region 4-3A power Upperman, a 3-0 (in region) team that will likely be in the top three in seeding heading into the playoffs.
But the game that hit the nail on the underestimation scale was Friday night’s heart-breaking defeat to Dekalb County.
Starting out with the first score of the night and leading 8-0 going into halftime, Yellow Jacket fans were probably optimistic but wondering when Grundy County would drop the ball. It was inevitable, many thought, especially after last season’s averted upset in Smithville, 28-20.
But into the fourth quarter, Grundy County kept the Tigers from scoring an offensive touchdown–Dekalb’s first score was off a 94-yard interception return–and scored two of their own, eventually riding a 22-8 lead in the fourth. Dekalb County came back, though, and with the score tied 22-22, barely got a field goal in with seven-tenths of second left on the clock.
At Upperman a few weeks prior, the Yellow Jackets had a 12-0 lead before losing 13-12 in the last five minutes of the contest.
And if you look back at the Upperman game as well, Grundy County is a mere four points away from being playoff worthy right now. In fact, if they win against Smith County and York, they’ll be in, but those losses will likely make Tate lose sleep at night for weeks, months, and years to come.
It’s also the sign, though, of a team rising from the ashes with a 2015 Tennessee-esce, just-above-par type of feeling. And in the case of Tate, the powers that be in Coalmont took a chance that 1-9 would become 9-1 in due. Maybe years down the road, but in due time.
And if Tate is making a run like this with the talent he currently has, imagine what he could have done with the likes of Holland, Mainord and a host of other players that jumped ship when he came aboard. 1-9 turns to 7-3, 8-2 very quickly.
Still, Tate would probably prefer to do things the way he knows how, with lots of time and work ethic. And if you go by the philosophy of the split-back veer system he so cherishes, you would know that you can’t rush a great thing.