The whole experience entails less than one week of practice and a three-hour football game. But, there are memories to last a lifetime.
For the coaches and players participating in today’s Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia Fellowship of Christian Athletes All-Star Game, this week has been a time to spend time with friends and a chance to build new relationships.
Jeremy Jenkins, the head coach at Daniel Boone High School, said he was excited to be named head coach of the Tennessee squad.
“To be asked by FCA to do that, it’s a chance to have a great fellowship with your players and coaches,” Jenkins said. “It’s an honor to do that.”
Jenkins was an assistant to Science Hill’s Stacy Cater last season. He explained it’s a chance to truly enjoy the company of the other head coaches like Carter and Sullivan South’s Sam Haynie, whom he counts among his closest friends.
Hayden Chandley, one of Jenkins’ former Daniel Boone players, played on the inaugural Tennessee team last season. He said the time together, which includes dinners and devotionals, creates bonds which are not easily broken.
“I built a lot of friendships and I still keep in contact with a lot of those guys,” Chandley said. “It’s a good chance to get to know the guys you’ve been playing against for four years. It was a good, Christian-based experience. I liked that.”
On the field, the first FCA game wasn’t much to write home about.
Greeneville’s Willie Carmichael scored four touchdowns and his Greene Devils teammate Chaz Story added three more as Tennessee rolled to a 48-7 win over Virginia.
It was no surprise that Carter mentioned those two, along with Dobyns-Bennett receiver Maurice Cannon as players who stood out from the inaugural game.
Carmichael capped off his big day with a 98-yard interception return, while Story was the game’s leading rusher with 10 carries for 83 yards. Maurice Cannon was the favorite target of quarterbacks Heath Haden and Taylor Winchell with seven catches for 69 yards.
The Virginia team committed nine turnovers to make matters worse. It helped the Tennessee team put the game out of reach by the half with a 27-0 lead.
Richlands’ Alberto Fajardo provided the only score for Virginia with a blocked punt returned 11 yards for a touchdown. Quarterback Jonathan Whitesides of Patrick Henry completed seven of 14 passes for 137 yards.
Now, a new group of players which includes four members of Greeneville’s state championship team, and record-setting running backs Dalton Boles of West Greene and Phillip Waters of Hampton, get to make their own memories.
Another player on the Tennessee roster is Happy Valley lineman Travis Lowe. Besides Warriors teammate Zack Ball, Lowe gets to play alongside guys like Elizabethton’s Matt Smith and Daniel Boone’s Ryan Iezzi whom he faced during the season.
He’s also practicing with players from the bigger schools like Dobyns-Bennett and Science Hill.
“It will make you better from my standpoint,” Lowe said. “Where you play the bigger schools, it will make you better as a player.”
Lowe wasn’t expecting the invite, but was thrilled when he received it.
There was no surprise that Justin Snyder was among those invited. The Science Hill quarterback has received plenty of honors this season including the Johnson City Press Northeast Tennessee Player of the Year Award and the Big Eight Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Still, there is something special about competing in an all-star game with 80 of the area’s best players. Making it more appealing is another chance to play at Kermit Tipton Stadium, the Hilltoppers’ home field, and a place where Snyder threw the first ever touchdown pass to Ryan Mitchell one year ago.
“This one ranks up at the top,” Snyder said. “To be able to play with all these guys, they all have phenomenal track records. The awards are great, but to be able to play one more time, it’s up at the top.”
Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.