Hampton football fans have scored a treasure thanks to Jamie Combs’ time-consuming drive toward a goal.
The former Johnson City Press sports writer’s thoroughly researched “Unleashed: The History of Hampton High School Football” is a well-executed, 240-page drive down Memory Lane.
There are game capsules and scoring summaries on every Hampton game on record, beginning with a 52-0 loss to Rogersville in six-man football in 1940. Adam Townsend rushed for three TDs and 184 yards in a 26-14 home win against Coalfield in the Class A quarterfinals in 2005, a season in which the Bulldogs finished 12-2 and Townsend became the school’s first 2,000-yard rusher (2,079 yards).
But the stories outside the lines are even more compelling than championships, deep playoff runs and rivalry victories.
There are profiles on all of the head coaches: Bill Pike (1940), Irvin Evans (1941-52), John Pansock (1953-61), Howard Duncan (1962-67), J.C. Cambpell (1968-2008) and Mike Lunsford (2009-present). You’ll feel like you’re all but being barked at by these tough-loving molders of men while coming up hard but happily in a picturesque, few-frills mountain town.
According to Mike Young, who went on to star at East Tennessee State, Pansock was “a fiery Czechoslovakian whose favorite word was ‘feces.’” Pansock’s vocabulary was influenced by the fact that the Bulldogs’ fieldhouse was built by the kennel club and was also used for dog shows and coon dogs. Pansock also once hauled a load from the Elizabethton sewage treatment center to fertilize Hampton’s field.
Pansock was best known for conditioning runs, often up Iron Mountain or to Dennis Cove and back. Combs writes that Pansock was a tough, thrifty World War II veteran who refurbished equipment East Tennessee State had discarded, used rags and sawdust to transform seaman duffel bags into tackling dummies and made former player Finley Jenkins sign a 16-gauge shotgun as collateral on a 50-cents loan.
Duncan also was in WW II, having parachuted into Normandy. After helping win the Big One, he went 27-6 in the Watauga Conference in six years and won four straight league titles while ruling in a no-nonsense fashion that could include backhanding a player’s face.
Campbell, a TSSAA Hall of Famer, is the face of Hampton football, and his face received more than one football. Combs details multiple accounts of Campbell getting hit in the head and chest with errant throws in games and practice.
It’s understandable if Campbell wasn’t always keen on passing. In fact, during a game with Happy Valley in 1979 quarterback Jeff Andrews got a signal from Campbell that suggested passing the ball was for the birds. Andrews had told Campbell beforehand about a signal.
“Jeff Andrews said, ‘If you see me do this’ – he cocked his arm forward – ‘I’m going to throw a pass,’” Campbell said. “I said, ‘If you see me do this (middle finger extended), you give the ball to Tim Davis.’”
Sure enough, Campbell saw an opportunity for a touchdown pass and signaled to Campbell, whose response was to look around a moment, shield one hand with the other and give Andrews some old-school digital data to digest.
“He put that hand up and flipped me the bird,” Andrews said, “and he said, ‘Pitch it to Tim and get out of his way.’ So I did, and we ended up winning the ballgame.”
Combs has everything from cockroaches to roach clips covered. Indeed, it seemed a lot of programs were going to pot in the free-spirited 1970s, but players were high on mountain life long before then.
There’s an anecdote about two brothers who weren’t going to be available to play one night during the Pansock era because they had to cut wood for their father’s moonshine still. So two cars filled with players went to the top of Simerly Creek and cut wood (no chainsaws) and loaded it on a sled for a horse to pull up the mountain to the still.
“The stories themselves were funny enough,” Combs said, “but some of the people being interviewed would often be laughing so hard they could hardly get the words out.”
Hampton assistant coaches who worked at least eight years are also profiled. Doug Phillips was the defensive coordinator from 1969 until 2009 except for the 2000 season. Campbell and Phillips produced a yin-yang existence that helped many teenagers balance lives.
Assistants Scotty Bunton, Danny McClain, Tim Andrews, Pat Kelly, Gary Lewis and Jeff Bradley are also featured, as is the late, great Rod Swift, a passionate booster known to offer $1 per tackle or $5 postgame handshakes. Swift even let Young live with him his junior and senior seasons after Young’s father got laid off at Raytheon and took a job in Huntsville, Ala.
Young went on to East Tennessee State to play for another father figure, John Robert Bell, and was on the Buccaneers team that beat Terry Bradshaw-led Louisiana Tech.
“It was a great pleasure getting to talk with … Young, who played a starring role in the 1969 Grantland Rice Bowl and has long since lived in the Florida Keys,” Combs said. “I consider his comments a major asset in the content, as well as the comments given by former ETSU Little All-American David Holtsclaw.”
Known as the “Hampton Hammer,” Holtsclaw left ETSU (1962-65) as its all-time leading rusher (1,610 yards) and is still ranked 10th.
Hampton’s college players are accounted for, including Robin Forbes, a second-team All-Ohio Valley Conference defensive back at ETSU as a senior in 1964 who signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns.
Dale Campbell started some at right tackle at ETSU (1989-90) and Danny McClain was a two-year starter at receiver for Lenoir-Rhyne (1989-92).
Combs lists everything from long-time boosters to winners of the Jeff & Mike McKinney Award. The brothers were all-conference players at Hampton in the early 1980s who died too young. Jeff died in a car wreck at 19 and cancer killed Mike when he was 25.
“The voice of Tim Andrews,” Combs writes, “a football senior in the fall of ’83, cracked with emotion as he started to dole out a few of his feelings about Mike.”
The book was a pilgrimage for Combs, who, as former Johnson City Press sports writer Rick Sheek notes in the foreword, grew to love Hampton athletics while growing up in the Siam-Valley Forge area.
Combs technically worked on “Unleashed” eight years, but essentially has been most of his life.
“The only down note is that four individuals I interviewed – Ross Potter, Chad Grindstaff, Randy Montgomery and Wayne Ellis – died before the completion of the project,” Combs said. “Mr. Ellis, whose son (Wayne Jr.) is the school’s golf coach, passed away earlier this week.”
But there is solace in legacies preserved by Combs’ hard work.
Books are $25, and $30.30 by mail. Contact Combs at 423-547-3218, firstname.lastname@example.org or payments can be sent to: 126 Emily Drive, Elizabethton, TN 37643.