Rick Rice was at a crossroads in his coaching career.
In 33 years as a coach including 29 as a head coach, he had accomplished a lot: ran programs the right way, won district and region titles, had over 200 coaching wins and in 2011 reached the pinnacle as he won a Class 1A state title at Wayne County.
Besides Wayne County, Rice also led the programs at Lake County (1991-92) and Perry County (2001-05).
But Rice still yearned for more as he felt he had done all he could in his time at Wayne County.
He spent 21 seasons in two different stints at Wayne County (1993-2000 and 2006-2018) and led the Wildcats to unparalleled success.
Before Rice, 56 took over in Waynesboro in 1993, the football program had made the playoffs only four times (1987-90) and by the time he was finished there, the Wildcats made the playoffs 19 of his 21 years in charge including 13 years in a row.
He led the Wildcats to a 176-77 record, made them a perennial contender every year and led the program to the school’s only football state title as they beat South Pittsburg 27-14 to cap off an undefeated 14-0 season in 2011.
But still something was missing for Rice.
“I felt like I had done all I could do in Waynesboro and I felt like I needed a new challenge or something but I wasn’t sure what it was,” Rice said.
Then he received a phone call from a friend asking him if he would be interested in the Rockvale football job.
He did some research on the job and sent his resume in not knowing what would come of it if anything.
Rockvale Gets New School 47 Years Later
Rockvale is a small community in Rutherford county nestled between Murfreesboro and Eagleville.
In February of 2017, the Rutherford County school board signed a $59 million dollar construction contact to build a new Rockvale high school that would be set to open in August 2019, becoming the 11th high school in the ever expanding county.
On November 1, 2018, Rutherford County School Superintdent Bill Spurlock tabbed Steve Luker as the new Rockvale Principal.
When the school opened last month, the total cost of the school that has 1,800 students was $72 million.
If any community deserved another chance to get another high school it was Rockvale, considering they had a high school then lost it.
The small community consolidated with another small community Concord to make a two teacher school in 1910.
Rockvale opened as a four year high school in 1927 and it operated as such until Riverdale high school was built in 1972.
The last graduating class for Rockvale was in 1972 as the students went to Riverdale high school after the high school closed.
Rockvale was then turned into a K-8 school from 1973 until 2002 as Rockvale Middle school was built in 2003.
Now in Rockvale, there are three schools: Rockvale Elementary (K-5), Rockvale Middle (6-8) and Rockvale High School (9-12).
So to say that the Rockvale Community was hungry for another high school is an understatement.
Building from Scratch
Luker is a former science teacher and football coach and had administration experience as he served as principal at David Youree Elementary School and Smyrna Middle School before getting the call to lead Rockvale high school.
But he had never started a school from scratch.
“It was overwhelming at first, trying to get a lot of moving parts in motion,” Luker said.
Luker didn’t have a certain football coach in mind to lead the program but there were some characteristics that the new coach had to possess.
“Obviously, I wanted a good football coach that could win games and lead the players but he had to be a good person and stand for the right things and have lots of integrity,” Luker said.
Once Luker saw Rice’s resume he shot to the top of his list.
After they interviewed for an hour and a half, Luker knew he had found his man.
On January 7, Rice was named as the first head football coach at Rockvale and ironically was the first hire at Rockvale by Luker.
“After the interview, I felt good about the job but when Coach Luker called me and asked me if I was ready to run this program, I was excited and couldn’t wait to get started,” Rice said.
Now Rice can check off starting a program off his coaching checklist and he knew building the Rockvale program was what he was missing.
First Things First
Rice is a planner and he knew he had to research at every turn on how to start a program so he consulted three coaches that had started football programs and picked their brains on what to do and what not to do.
“I talked to Jack Daniels (started Ravenwood program in 2003), Will Hester (Nolensville in 2016) and David Martin (Stewarts Creek in 2013) about how they did it and what was successful and what failed for them,” Rice said.
“The number one thing I had to do was to hire the best coaching staff and coaches that knew what it’s like to coach in Rutherford county on Friday nights.”
Seven of Rice’s assistant coaches have that Rutherford county that Friday night experience as David Barger (coached at Stewarts Creek), Dakota Crane (coached at Blackman, played at Siegel), Justin Cunningham (Blackman), Ricky Eberlei (Stewarts Creek), Kerry Henderson (Smyrna), J.D. Gambill (Siegel) and Tom White (Siegel) have the coaching experience and can let the players know what they are in for on Friday nights as the region schedule will be brutal.
“Coach Rice’s veteran leadership and his ability to hire such a great staff is one of his best attributes for our football program,” Luker said.
The Rockets region 3-6A is filled with road blocks as defending 6A champion Oakland as well as Blackman, Riverdale, Siegel, Cookeville, Coffee County and Warren County all call the region home.
“The region is daunting to say the least,” Rice said. “You are looking at a really good team every week and there’s not an off week in region play.”
All the Rockvale athletic programs held a meet and greet on February 21 but because the school was in the process of being built, the Rockets football programs didn’t have spring practice like the rest of the state’s programs were afforded.
The Rockets football team at 116 players were able to lift weights and started practicing at Central Magnet in June and July and were able to practice at Rockvale Elementary in August before their football stadium and field were finished.
“I’m not going to lie, getting things going and building this program has been very challenging and there have been some tough days,” Rice said. “But I have the best coaching staff and administration in the state because they both have took a lot off my plate and allowed me to focus on the big picture of building the program.”
One of things that Rice has done is given up offensive play calling duties as the offense is co-coordinated as Cunningham is the running game coordinator and Eberlei is the passing game coordinator and Barger is the defensive coordinator.
“Giving up play calling allows me to take a step back and view the program overall and allows the coaches to really coach the kids up without my interference,” Rice said.
Inaugural Season is Here
The Rockets in two games have shown flashes of really good play (that get the coaches excited about the future with so many young faces) and not so good play (which shows the team’s inexperience and youth which dot the roster).
Of the 116 players on the Rockvale roster, 50 are freshman and 40 are sophomores and the Rockets only have four seniors.
Rockvale lost 44-20 to Rutherford county school Lavergne in the school’s first game two weeks ago as they only trailed 21-20 at the half before faltering in the second half.
The Rockets first home game versus Franklin County last Friday was a sellout as the very supportive community really showed up load and proud for their new team and the members of the 1972 Rockvale senior class served as the honorary team captains.
“The community has been amazing and they are really fired up about having a team again and they really deserve it,” Rice said.
Franklin County wound up winning the game outlasting the Rockets winning 58-47 as both teams combined for 929 yards of offense.
Franklin County running back Dakota Waggoner ran for 213 yards and scored five touchdowns as the Rebels overcame a 47-45 Rockvale lead in the fourth quarter to get the win.
The Rockets mustered 415 yards of offense as brothers Lamarious and Lamarcus Nelson both had strong games.
Lamarious, the sophomore quarterback threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns on 9 of 13 passing while Lamarcus, a freshman running back accounted for 232 yards of total offense and scored four total touchdowns.
Lamarcus rushed for 35 yards, scored two touchdowns on the ground, caught five passes for 101 yards and another touchdown and returned a kickoff 96 yards for another touchdown.
So is the future is bright for the Rockets?
Franklin County head coach Mac McCurry certainly thinks so.
“That was a dogfight,” McCurry said moments after the game.
“I’ve known Coach Rice a long time and his kids never quit and they will be just fine going forward, we are fortunate to win tonight and they have a bright future ahead of them.”
“They will improve every week and will be salty by the end of the year, I’m glad we played them early because I wouldn’t want to face them at the end of the season because they are going to be dangerous.”
Cannon County Breaks State’s Longest Losing Streak
A week after losing 17-6 to White County and watching the Warriors break a 24 game losing streak, Cannon County got the losing monkey off their back in week two as they defeated Warren County 20-7 to break a 27 game losing streak.
“The win is a great one for our program. We have worked hard to improve our team this offseason,” Cannon County head coach Matt Daniel said.
“We really have not talked about the losing streak that much. We focus on the process of making plays and improving our technique each week and we knew that Warren County would be a tough opponent and they came to Woodbury to win. We talked about doing your job and execution this week coming off the close game against White County.”
Behind rushing touchdowns from Connor Tucker and Jamal Barrett in the second quarter, the Lions led 13-7 at the half.
Cannon County had 212 yards rushing as a team and had four different backs with at least 46 yards as Tucker led the way with 62 yards while Brady Cunningham (48 yards), Logan Bundy (47 yards) and Barrett (46 yards) kept the Warren County defense off balance.
Barrett added the final Lion touchdown as he intercepted a pass and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
“Now that the streak is over we have to focus on entering region play against a very good Sequatchie County team coming to us next Friday,” Daniel said.
Now that Cannon broke the losing streak, Hamilton and Hixson now are tied for the longest losing streak in the state as both teams go into week three of the season with 22 straight losses.
Cannon County wasn’t the only team to break a losing streak last week as four other teams broke losing streaks of at least seven games.
*Gleason 40, Fulton City (KY) 24- Bulldog quarterback Kolton Crochet threw two touchdown passes and ran for another, while Isaac Denton had a touchdown run and catch as Gleason broke a nine game losing streak.
*Lexington 26, Riverside 3- The Lexington defense came up big forcing four Riverside turnovers as defensive back Donte Bard intercepted and returned an interception 63 yards for a touchdown in the win that snaps a Lexington eight game losing streak.
Braxton Grice added two touchdown runs for the Tigers in the win.
*Jellico 39, Oakdale 6- The Blue Devils broke an eight game losing streak and got Brent Peel his first coaching win of his coaching career as they dominated Oakdale.
Jellico quarterback Joseph Paul passed for 200 yards and three touchdowns while all three touchdowns were thrown to wide receiver Jordan King who caught six passes for 147 yards.
*Jackson County 20, Sale Creek 18- Jackson County broke a seven game losing streak behind three touchdown runs by running back Wid Robbins who rushed for 81 yards on the night.
More Regular Season Winning Streaks Snapped
Three more teams saw lengthy regular season winning streak fall by the wayside in week two.
*Cordova 21, Germantown 20- The Wolves jumped out to 21-0 lead early but had to survive a furious Germantown comeback to get the big win.
The win for the Wolves snapped a 22 game regular season winning streak for the Red Devils as Cordova junior quarterback Cameron Wimberly threw a touchdown pass while also rushing for two more touchdowns in the win.
*Powell 48, Anderson County 36
The Powell offense was hot as they accumulated 553 yards of total offense including 370 on the ground but it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that they really clicked.
Powell trailed 30-20 heading the fourth quarter but cut the deficit as Jason Foust caught a 21 yard touchdown from quarterback Walker Trusley early in the fourth.
The Powell running game got going as Corrion McIntosh (118 yards), Jordan Brown (91 yards) and Bailor Hughes (83 yards) all had rushing touchdowns in the pivotal fourth quarter as the Panthers broke Anderson County’s 21 game regular season winning streak.
*Nolensville 32, Watertown 18- Nolensville trailed 7-3 at the half but the offense led by quarterback Ryder Galardi scored 29 points in the second half to halt Watertown’s 18 game regular season winning streak.
Galardi passed for 172 yards and all four passing touchdowns in the second half including two touchdown passes to Liberty commitment Tim Courtas in the win.
Running back Ryan Pistulka led the Knight ground game as he ran for 77 yards and scored a touchdown on the ground.
*DCA Breaks Region Losing Streak
DCA rudely welcomed Webb School at Bell Buckle to Division II-A region play as the Wildcat defense held Webb to only 25 yards of total offense including -68 rushing and in turn broke a six game region losing streak in the process.
DCA got rushing touchdowns from John Lewis (91 yards), Jordan Lewis (71 yards), Brady Russell and Bradford Gaines in the win.
1st Career Coaching Wins
The following seven coaches grabbed their first head coaching victories in week two
*Jason Curtis, Halls beat Humboldt 33-7
*Dwayne Daniel, Cheatham County beat White Creek 27-14
*Scotty Dykes, Cocke County beat Northview Academy 34-8
*Dan Hammonds, Greeneville beat Daniel Boone 31-14
*Wes Johnson, Dresden beat Scotts Hill 14-7
*Brent Peel, Jellico beat Oakdale 39-6
*Aubrey Phillips, Booker T. Washington beat Oakhaven 29-6
1st Win at New School
The following three coaches grabbed their first coaching victory at their new school in week two
*Derrick Davis, McMinn Central beat Tellico Plains 14-13
*Mike Martin, Sweetwater beat Rockwood 13-12
*Marty Wheeler, Cleveland beat Hardin Valley 31-19
2-0 For First Time In a While
The following 12 schools are off to their first 2-0 start in a while and here’s a closer look
Freedom Prep War Eagles
Resume So Far- Defeated Bolivar 24-0 and Bluff City 60-0
2018 Record- 9-4, Made the Class 1A Quarterfinals
Last Time 2-0- Never been 2-0 before as program is only three years old as it started in 2017
Resume So Far- Defeated Independence 34-15 and Spring Hill 34-7
2018 Record-6-5, Made the 5A playoffs
Last Time 2-0- Never been 2-0 before as program started in 2011
Resume So Far- Defeated Manassas 38-0 and Douglass 36-13
2018 Record- 9-3, made it to the 2A second round
Last Time 2-0- 2002, Finished the season 8-4 and made it to the second round of the 4A playoffs
Jackson Christian Eagles
Resume So Far- Defeated FACS 30-28 and Chester County 49-28
2018 Record- 5-6, made the DII-A playoffs
Last Time 2-0- 2002, Finished the season 8-4 and made it to the second round of the 1A playoffs
Resume So Far- Defeated Cumberland Gap 43-21 and Pigeon Forge 38-19
2018 Record- 5-5, Missed the playoffs
Last Time 2-0- 2004, Finished the season 4-6 and missed the playoffs
Resume So Far- Defeated Cheatham County 34-7 and RePublic 42-6
2018 Record- 3-8, made the 5A playoffs
Last Time 2-0- 2004, Finished the season 12-1 and made the 4A Quarterfinals
Lawrence County Wildcats
Resume So Far- Defeated Hickman County 33-26 and Loretto 28-3
2018 Record- 2-8, missed the playoffs
Last Time 2-0- 2005, finished 5-5 and missed the playoffs
Fayette Ware Wildcats
Resume So Far- Defeated Chester County 32-9 and Northpoint Christian 30-26
2018 Record- 3-8, made the 4A playoffs
Last Time 2-0- 2007, Finished the year 7-5 and made the 3A second round
Resume So Far- Defeated Sale Creek 35-12 and Lookout Valley 43-0
2018 Record- 5-6, made the 1A playoffs
Last Time 2-0- 2009, Finished the year 5-6 and made the 1A playoffs
White Station Spartans
Resume So Far- Defeated Bolton 64-14 and Arlington 42-0
2018 Record- 3-8, made the 6A playoffs
Last Time 2-0- 2009, Finished the season 13-2 and won the 6A state title
South Greene Rebels
Resume So Far- Defeated Unicoi County 28-7 and Cloudland 41-22
2018 Record- 8-5, made the 2A Quarterfinals
Last Time 2-0- 2010, Finished the season 6-5 and made the 3A playoffs
Bledsoe County Warriors
Resume So Far- Defeated Whitwell 41-13 and East Ridge 14-13
2018 Record- 3-8, made 2A playoffs
Last Time 2-0- 2011, Finished the season with a 10-2 record and made the second round of 2A playoffs
0-2 Not A Good Start to the Season
The following 14 teams are winless through their first two games for the first time in awhile, here’s a look
Northview Academy Cougars
Losses So Far- Lost to West Greene 27-13 and Cocke County 34-8
2018 Record- 4-6, missed the playoffs
Last Time 0-2-never been 0-2 as the program started in 2015
MBA Big Red
Losses So Far- Lost to Brentwood 9-6 and Pearl Cohn 21-15
2018 Record- 10-2, made the DII-AAA Semifinals
State Titles Won- 7 (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2014)
Last Time 0-2- 1976, Finished 2-8 and missed the playoffs
Oak Ridge Wildcats
Losses So Far- Lost to Hardin Valley 13-6 and Dobyns Bennett 41-6
2018 Record- 10-3, Made the 5A Quarterfinals
State Titles Won- 4 (1975, 1979, 1980 and 1991)
Last Time 0-2-1992, Finished 5-5 and missed the playoffs
Jo Byrns Red Devils
Losses So Far- Lost to Harpeth 17-14 and Huntland 35-8
2018 Record- 6-5, Made the 1A playoffs
Last Time 0-2- 1997, Finished 3-7 and missed the playoffs
Science Hill Hilltoppers
Losses So Far- Lost to Elizabethton 28-20 and David Crockett 62-34
2018 Record- 6-6, Made the 6A Playoffs
Last Time 0-2- 2002, Finished 5-5 and missed the playoffs
Losses So Far- Lost to Biggersville (MS) 26-13 and Hardin County 35-0
2018 Record- 4-6, missed the playoffs
Last Time 0-2- 2004, 6-5, made the 2A playoffs
Losses So Far- Lost to Hillsboro 36-8 and East Nashville 17-0
2018 Record- 12-2, Made the 4A Semifinals
Last Time 0-2- 2004, Finished 0-10 and missed the playoffs
Losses So Far- Lost to Alcoa 23-14 and Ravenwood 16-13
2018 Record- 10-2, Made the 6A playoffs
Last Time 0-2- 2006, Finished 2-8 and missed the playoffs
Losses So Far- Lost to Loudon 54-20 and Meigs County 27-20
2018 Record- 12-1, Made the 1A Semifinals
State Titles Won- 2 (1987 and 2017)
Last Time 0-2- 2006, Finished 1-9 and missed the playoffs
Chuckey Doak Black Knights
Losses So Far- Lost to Knoxville Catholic 48-0 and Happy Valley 14-6
2018 Record- 4-7, Made the 3A playoffs
Last Time 0-2- 2007, Finished 3-7 and missed the playoffs
Columbia Academy Bulldogs
Losses So Far- Lost to Marshall County 41-7 and Shelbyville 48-22
2018 Record- 9-3, Made the 2A playoffs
Last Time 0-2- 2009, Finished 4-6 and missed the playoffs
Losses So Far- Lost to Tellico Plains 28-0 and McMinn County 50-0
2018 Record- 5-5, Missed the playoffs
Last Time 0-2- 2009, Finished 0-10 and missed the playoffs
Memphis Central Warriors
Losses So Far- Lost to Cordova 13-12 and Houston 48-13
2018 Record- 8-3, Made the 6A playoffs
Last Time 0-2- 2010, Finished 4-6 and missed the playoffs
Losses So Far- Lost to East Ridge 38-8 and Bledsoe County 41-13
2018 Record- 15-0 Won the 1A State Title
State Titles Won- 1 (2018)
Last Time 0-2- 2010, Finished 1-9 and missed the playoffs
Opportunistic Defense and Special Teams Matter
Crazy stat of week two in White House’s 42-12 win over Glencliff.
The Blue Devils ran only 27 offensive plays and gained just 76 yards of total offense (49 yards rushing, 27 passing) but led 35-0 at the end of the first quarter and won the game comfortably 42-12.
Say What? How is that possible you ask?
The Blue Devils (2-0) defense forced four first quarter turnovers (two fumbles, two interceptions) and the special teams unit blocked two punts and returned both for touchdowns.
White House’s Wil Blackburn had a touchdown run and blocked a punt, while Harrison Autman-Springer intercepted a pass and recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown.
Ranen Blackburn had a touchdown run, Kevin Tate blocked a punt and Kalvin Williams recovered the blocked punt and returned it for a touchdown.
Also getting into the act with interceptions Bryson Harper and Logan Neufeld and through the first two games of the season, the defense has a +2 turnover differential.
Contact Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at Examine_Stew