Central region

Hargis: Unique family ties bind Central Region football title hopefuls

The main ingredients of a successful preparatory football season start, of course, with a roster full of talent and depth, along with a dash of passionate coaching.

During his second stint as Central’s head coach, Curt Jones shuffled his staff and built the roster in the role of a regional contender as the program seeks to win its first league championship since 1986. when the team reached the third round of the playoffs.

The Purple Pounders shared a regional crown last season with East Hamilton and Red Bank, but they have never been the sole holders of a league title since the TSSAA implemented the regional format in 1993.

With this season just getting started, Jones and company are hoping the extra dash of family spice will help take things from solid to special this fall on the road to an eventual 3-4A Region Championship.

With a regional slate set to heat up this month, Central has the rare chance to take charge of its playoff fate before the fall temperatures even cool things down. This run started with last week’s impressive 20-point regional win over Soddy-Daisy, picks up on Friday at Hixson, then includes co-league favorite Red Bank in another road game next week before East Hamilton only visits Central on the last Friday in September.

All other Chattanooga-area runs will last through October, but if the Purple Pounders sweep these bruisers’ league game row, they’ll be – in the immortal lyrics of Earth, Wind & Fire – “Ba-dee- ya, dancin’ in September.”

The Purple Pounders are uniquely bonded by five sets of brothers: senior two-way linemen Marquis and Trevion Toney, juniors Tyson and Tristan Odom, junior Cor’darrius and freshman Joseph Jefferson – both receivers and defensive backs – two-way freshman linemen Keylon and Kylon Henderson and assistant coach Calvin Watson (a former running back for Baylor) and sophomore star quarterback Ronye ‘Watson.

There are also the additional family ties of eight cousins ​​plus three staff who coach their sons, including Jones, who also coaches two of his former players’ sons.

“That’s what made the last two years so easy to build on was the closeness and camaraderie that everyone already had with each other,” Jones said. “They didn’t have to buy anything we sold because these kids were used to supporting each other from a family perspective. So when you put them together as a team, they fight each other even harder. for the others.

“To be honest, we spoke to the team right from the start of the big month of September for us in terms of achieving what we want. We have set our sights on winning the region, and it’s still there, but our approach now is to take each week one game at a time, and I think the kids will do a good job of controlling each other.”

In 2001, during Jones’ first stint as Central coach, he took over a program that had dealt with more 1–9 finishes than winning seasons in the 30 years before his arrival. It took three seasons to reshape the mindset before guiding the Purple Pounders to a magic record of eight wins and a regional runner-up in Cleveland in his third season.

The following year, Jones left to pursue opportunities with more established programs, including Notre Dame, where he was the defensive coordinator for the 2017 Division II-AA State Finalists.

In his absence, Central returned to its previous struggles, winning three or fewer games in eight of the next 13 seasons, including a winless 2015 when the team scored seven or fewer points eight times. The revolving door also returned as seven head coaches oversaw the program before Jones returned in 2018.

Now in his fourth season back – and having once again suffered growing pains with a young roster – Jones has Central 2-1 on aggregate and believes he can take on perennial league leaders Red Bank and East Hamilton.

“They’re like any family; they have differences with each other, but as soon as someone picks on one, it’s like the whole pack comes to their defense,” Jones said. “The family aspect that we have drives everything we try to do. We want to build on their relationships and make that the foundation of what we build.”

Watson has already thrown for 655 yards while totaling nearly 7 yards per carry while gaining another 123 and totaling seven touchdowns. He has three targets who already have 10 or more catches each, led by incredibly talented two-way star Donovan Smith, who is rapidly rising on college scouts’ wish lists.

A defense that allowed just 10.2 points in six wins last year is starting to return to that stingy role, and in addition to the amount of overall talent the team can squeeze onto the field, much one of the reason for early progress is the lifetime bond between such a close-knit group.

“We’re always competitive and pushing each other to be better because we know we’re all capable of it,” said senior middle linebacker Moses Duckett, who plays alongside the Larry cousins. Henderson (senior defensive back) and Houston Boykin (outside sophomore). linebacker) on defense. “We’ll pull each other to the side and cheer each other on or get closer when we know we can play better, and we can do that without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings. We’re just real because we have that kind of relationship and it helps.

“A lot of our whole team grew up together and played together since little league, so we know we can trust each other. It’s like a big community in our locker room, and that family atmosphere definitely helps us push to want to accomplish something special.”

Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected] or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.