Category Archives: High School Football

Former Shelbyville coach hired as Summit OC

By Chris Yow

If you can’t beat ’em twice, join ’em.

Former Shelbyville Central football coach Justin Palmer was officially announced on Wednesday, May 27, as the new offensive coordinator at Summit, joining Brian Coleman’s staff.

Friends first, coaching rivals second, Palmer said Coleman was among the first people to reach out to him following his untimely dismissal from Shelbyville, where he compiled a 33-14 record in four seasons.

“Coach Coleman and I have been friends for a long time, and he reached out as soon as he heard, not to try and offer me a position, but just to check on me,” Palmer added. “That meant a lot to me.”

Justin Palmer was hired as offensive coordinator at Summit HS on May 27, 2020, following a 4-year stint at Shelbyville Central. (Photo courtesy Gary Johnson/Shelbyville Times-Gazette)

Palmer was fired in February despite coming off a Class 5A quarterfinal berth where his team — which defeated Summit 42-25 in a regular-season region contest — lost to the Spartans 20-12 a month later, preventing the first state semifinal appearance in program history.

According to Palmer, his dismissal from the program after an 11-2 finish was due to a personal family matter eventually resolved by him and his wife, Brittany.

The Eagles’ loss is Summit’s gain, though, and both Coleman and Palmer are excited about the future.

“We are extremely excited and blessed to have him come join our staff,” Coleman said. “(Palmer) brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our team and our staff. We couldn’t be happier to have him.”

Spreading it out

Known for his balanced spread offense, Palmer takes over a unit that averaged just over 29 points per game and returns the bulk of its skill players for 2020, including twins Destin and Keaten Wade. Palmer’s vast experience with the spread offense will be a positive for the two.

“I really think I can help Destin become the quarterback he wants to be,” Palmer said. “I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to talk with him yet, but when we sit down and decide what kind of player he wants to be for Summit and at the next level, I know I can help him.”

Destin was 87-of-164 passing for 1,341 yards with 17 touchdowns in 2019. He also rushed for 727 yards and had 10 rushing TDs. At Shelbyville, Palmer’s team averaged just under 170 yards passing and 184 yards on the ground per game in 2019.

Taking a step back

Going from head coach to coordinator seems like a step back career-wise, but Palmer looks at this as an opportunity to take a step back to his roots. Without having to focus on other aspects of the team — defense, special teams — he can focus on putting together the best possible offensive game plan.

“It’s a little bit of a relief; there will definitely be less stress,” he said. “I had several offers to be a coordinator and even a few head coaching offers, but I felt this was the best opportunity for me and my career at this point.”

In their first staff meeting together, Palmer said he had to adjust his brain to remind himself when to jump into the conversations.

“I held my hand over my mouth to keep myself from talking because I’m usually the one doing all the talking,” he laughed. “I’m sure there will be moments when I have to keep myself from speaking out of turn, but (Coleman) and I have such a great friendship I don’t think it will make a difference.”

That friendship and experience may also help Coleman.

“He’s going to give us another educated opinion on the sideline when difficult decisions have to be made,” Coleman said. “We are happy to have his expertise to lean on.”

The pair are undoubtedly ready to take on the task of achieving the same goal on the same team for a change.

“Hopefully we can come together and get back to Cookeville and bring home a gold ball this time,” Palmer said.

Chris Yow is the multimedia director for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. He can be reached by email at sports@sm-tnsports.com or on Twitter at @ChrisYow14.

Return to local gridirons hits snags

By Maurice Patton

As summer workouts for Tennessee high school football teams gear up under local COVID-19 restrictions, squads in Maury County are still on hold.

“Right now there’s not been a decision made,” Maury County Public Schools athletics director Chris Poynter said of plans for Columbia Central, Mt. Pleasant and Spring Hill to commence activities. “Our leadership is discussing a plan to reopen. Hopefully that will take place by the end of the week and we can let everyone know what the plan is for reopening and returning to athletics in Maury County.

“We’re still reviewing all options. The central office is reviewing the plan in its entirety and making sure it’s all buttoned up before we release it to athletic directors, coaches and the public to let them know what our course of action is going to be.”

By rule of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, programs cannot begin summer workouts prior to the final day of the previous school year. Tuesday was scheduled to be the last day for MCPS, though that day has differed for other systems across the state.

“When you see pictures of Alcoa and Maryville – they’ve been going for a week,” Mt. Pleasant coach Bronson Bradley said. “Over in West Tennessee, Peabody and Union City have been going for over a week. Those are championship-caliber teams, and they’ve been leading the way. There’s a reason they’re championship-caliber teams.

“Other coaches are calling and telling me what they’re doing, asking me what we’re doing, and we’re not getting any guidance. The lack of making a decision is what’s aggravating me the most.”

Teams were forced to improvise for spring practice in light of the pandemic, but no one was able to hold on-field workouts – leveling the field for everyone from Memphis to Mountain City. With some programs able to get their summer workouts started quicker than others, the frustration mounts for Bradley.

“When everybody’s in the same boat, missing spring practice wasn’t so bad when everybody in the region (5-1A) was missing spring practice,” he said. “Now that it’s getting fired back up, everybody in our region is starting June 1.

“It’s affecting Columbia and Spring Hill as well. I’m sure those coaches feel as frustrated as I do.”

Raiders coach Ben Martin concurred.

“I’ve been inundated with (social media direct messages) and text messages and phone calls and I don’t have anything to tell ‘em,” he said. “We’re at the mercy of the district. I understand this is unprecedented, that none of us has gone through anything like this. I understand they want to err on the side of caution. But it’s very concerning that other districts are being allowed to come together and starting and we’re not being able to do that yet.

“My biggest concern is, we basically spend June, three weeks in July and three weeks in August getting these kids ready to play. If that time is significantly cut down, I worry about the safety of our players. We have a lot of kids that have to go both ways, and it does take quite a while to get those kids in football shape to play. You hope they’re in shape and taking advantage of the workouts we give them at home, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that.”

Whatever plan comes out of the MCPS office — which will likely address the fall sports of cross country, girls soccer, golf and volleyball as well as football — is expected to have little to no input from the coaches expected to implement it.

“It’s obviously out of our control,” Central’s Jason Hoath said. “They’re meeting about it, figuring out the best possible plan for the safety of the players and everybody involved. We’re all anxious to get back to work soon. 

“It’d probably be good if they had everybody’s input. Football, girls soccer, volleyball – I know those are being affected, and each of our needs are different.”

Neither Columbia Academy nor Zion Christian have a clear path to a restart in place, either.

“We’re really waiting; the administration is trying to figure out what they want to do,” Zion coach Brad Lowery said. “We can’t do anything till after May 22; that’s when school is out for us. We could start in the weight room after that.

“After the dead period (June 21-July 4), hopefully we’ll be able to do everything, get back at it on the field.”

CA athletics director Pernell Knox said a tentative target date for the Bulldogs to begin workouts would be June 1.

“I want to talk to the coaches, make sure they’ve got a game plan, make sure we talk to the parents, make sure we’ve got the ample cleaning supplies,” he said. “I want to do all the research I can to make sure it’s safe for our kids and our coaches.”

Central gridiron, hardwood voices announced

By Maurice Patton

Radio play-by-play duties for Columbia Central football and basketball on WKRM (1340-AM/103.7-FM) this season will be shared, station manager Clayton Harris announced this week.

Newcomer Lee Maddox will handle Lions football this fall, with veteran Barry Duke returning after a 20-year hiatus to broadcast Central basketball.

“We didn’t want to put it on everybody to have to do everything like we’d done in the past with Mike,” Harris said, referring to nine-year Central play-by-play veteran Mike Epley, who will serve in that role for Summit football and basketball broadcasts on WKOM (101.7-FM) this year.

Duke will be a familiar voice to area listeners. The 1971 Central graduate handled Lady Lion radio duties beginning in 1978, and was mic-side for both boys and girls teams from the mid-‘80s through 2000, when he stepped away because of “philosophical differences” with the station’s ownership.

“Barry’s one of the best play-by-play voices in the area,” Harris said. “We’re thrilled to have him back. I really think it’s going to be a good thing for everybody involved. I grew up listening to him. He’ll do a really, really good job.”

Duke’s return will resume a family connection to the Central program. In addition to his radio chores, sons Seneca and Trevor both played for the Lions.

“My sons are excited about me coming back, and my grandchildren are excited because it’s something new for them,” he said.

Similarly, Maddox will have the chance to call his son’s name on the air. Louis Maddox will be a junior lineman for Central this fall.

“We’re going to do the best we can and have fun,” Maddox said as he contemplated his first play-by-play assignment. “I’m looking forward to it, hoping they can continue the momentum they had at the end of last season – competing for the Region (5-5A) title, getting back to the playoffs and see what happens.”

Maddox, communications director for Columbia-based Tennessee Farm Bureau, is a television/radio veteran and serves as vice president of the Columbia Central Gridiron Association.

“He’s very familiar with the student-athletes coming up through the program. It made sense to give him the opportunity,” Harris said.

“We didn’t want to put too much on either of these guys. You’re talking about 30 basketball games, and 10 (regular-season) football games. It really worked out well to be able to get both these guys to come in, hopefully take us to the next level and have people enjoy listening to our broadcast.”

Central’s Bailey sets grid destination

By Maurice Patton

For David Bailey, the next phase of his football career will take place in Decatur, Miss.

The reigning Region 5-5A defensive lineman of the year, who helped Columbia Central to the state playoffs last fall, committed Friday to East Central Community College.

“It’s close to home. It’s a really nice spot to be at,” said the 6-4, 270-pounder, who posted 39 total tackles (eight for loss, including two sacks) as a senior. “It feels nice to commit to a school I feel comfortable with.

“It’ll be nice to play in a stadium with the same name as me.”

The Warriors, who play at Bailey Stadium, finished 4-5 in 2019. One of their products, receiver Antonio Gibson, was selected in the third round of last month’s NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins after completing his collegiate career at Memphis.

“I spoke with one of their coaches a lot through the (recruiting) process the last couple of months – keeping him up to date, him keeping me up to date,” Columbia Central coach Jason Hoath said. “I’m just glad he’s got the opportunity to go play college ball.”

Bailey also considered Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, but felt closer – in more ways than one – to East Central, particularly in light of the recruiting restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 virus.

“I couldn’t really see the school, but East was the only school that ‘Zoomed’ me and showed interest,” Bailey said regarding ECCC, a five-hour drive from Columbia. “The rest just sent pictures.”

In March, East Central opened its new Warrior Hall football operations center. Located just outside the north end zone of Bailey Stadium, the facility contains locker rooms for players and for coaches, a team meeting room, position conference rooms, coaches’ offices, an equipment room, a players’ lounge, and a laundry room. Additionally, a state-of-the-art training room with a hydrotherapy pool for use by student-athletes in all nine of the college’s varsity sports is housed in the building.

Despite the unique recruiting limitations, Hoath is optimistic regarding Bailey’s situation.

“He’s a good fit for what they do (defensively),” the coach said. “They’re going to have a pretty solid defensive line with him in the mix. They seem to think they’ve got two or three (NCAA Division I-caliber) linemen, and they think he’ll be the fourth DI prospect. With a couple of good years of success, I think he’ll have the opportunity to continue his playing career.

“I think the Mississippi schools put a little more stock in their out-of-state commitments. They have limited scholarships (for out-of-state athletes). But I think he’ll do well down there and have a chance to go where he wants in a couple of years.”

Broadcasts set for Spartan football, basketball

By Maurice Patton

Kennedy Broadcasting Company and Summit High School recently announced a partnership, under which the Columbia-based radio station will broadcast the Williamson County school’s football and basketball games on its FM frequency, 101.7 (WKOM).

Additionally, WKOM will host a one-hour weekly coach’s show in season, featuring staff, athletes and administrators.

“We want to really try to expand our area as far as coverage and get into the Williamson County area, for the simple fact that they don’t have an FM station,” newly named station manager Clayton Harris said in confirming the agreement. “We thought if we could get hooked up with a school in Williamson County, that would be good.”

The station, purchased by Delk Kennedy earlier this year, increased its signal strength – allowing WKOM to reach as far as southern Davidson County.

“We think it’s going to be a good deal,” Summit athletics director Chad Kirby said. “They’re going to do all of football and basketball, and they’re talking about baseball as well.”

Over the past six months, Summit advanced to the Class 5A football state championship game and the Class AAA boys basketball state sectionals.

“Winning cures a lot; everybody wants to get on board,” Kirby said. “They’re getting on at the right time. We’re going to be competitive, that’s for sure.”

“This is how (football coach Brian Coleman) and myself grew up. He was at Forrest (in Chapel Hill) at the same time I was at Marshall County. It’s hard to get that hometown feeling in Williamson County because it’s not anybody’s hometown. Hopefully we can create what it used to be for a lot of us.”

Previously, Columbia Academy football games had aired on WKOM, with WKRM (1340-AM/103.7-FM) carrying Columbia Central football and basketball. Longtime Central play-by-play announcer Mike Epley is expected to handle those duties for Summit broadcasts, with his successor yet to be determined.

The two stations will also air a postgame scoreboard show on Friday nights. Additionally, Kennedy Broadcasting will carry both Tennessee and Alabama football this fall, according to Harris. WKOM also carries TriStar Sports Live, a regional sports talk show airing from 6-8 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays.

Columbia-based WKOM (101.7-FM) will be the home of Summit football and basketball radio broadcasts beginning this fall.

Football regions studied for 2021

By Maurice Patton

Citing travel and scheduling concerns, Columbia Academy officials are expected to present a proposal to the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association that would divide Division II-A into three regions for football, beginning with the 2021 season.

With the TSSAA Board of Control’s regularly scheduled June meeting postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the proposal would likely be submitted for the board’s consideration during a classification study session in late July.

Currently, DII-A consists of 18 programs in two regions – East and West – with Columbia Academy making trips during a two-year scheduling cycle to University School of Jackson (118 miles), Trinity Christian (119) and Jackson Christian (115), as well as Fayette Academy in Somerville (161) and Tipton-Rosemark in Millington (182). 

The region also includes Clarksville Academy, Davidson Academy, Nashville Christian and Zion Christian, although Zion did not play a region schedule in 2019 and is not expected to this season.

Under the three-region configuration, CA would play in the Middle Region with holdovers Clarksville Academy, Davidson and Nashville Christian, along with Donelson Christian and Franklin’s Grace Christian, both of which are currently in the East Region.

The grouping would provide relief for the Bulldogs, and most of the DII-A programs, in terms of travel distances and scheduling flexibility.

“We should be able to play some closer games, some ‘rivalry’ games,” CA athletics director Pernell Knox said. “Some (officials at other schools) like the travel change, but they don’t necessarily like the makeup of the regions. It doesn’t necessarily cut down on travel for everybody.

“Some coaches don’t know if they can schedule four or five (non-region) games.”

Across the board in Division II-A, travel would be reduced for 14 of the 18 programs – by more than half in the majority of those cases.

“We haven’t gotten any feedback (on the proposal),” CA coach Charlie Lansdell said. “We met with the coaches at the region meeting. The only negative seems to be trying to find non-region games, the difficulty of finding non-region games.”

Last fall, facing a schedule with eight games in league play, Columbia Academy opened against Class 4A power Marshall County and followed with a trip to Class 5A stalwart Shelbyville.

“We don’t mind playing them, but it’s going to take a whole lot of good for us to be able to win games like that,” Lansdell said. “We do want to try to get good non-region competition – good competition, good gates. We’re looking forward to seeing if we can make it happen. From a travel perspective, it would really help us out.”

The proposal allows for a five-team West Region (Fayette Academy, Jackson Christian, Tipton-Rosemark, Trinity Christian and University School of Jackson) and a six-team East Region (Friendship Christian, Chattanooga Grace, Middle Tennessee Christian, Mt. Juliet Christian, The King’s Academy and Webb-Bell Buckle).

“We’ve sent it out to a few coaches,” Knox said. “We want to send it out to some more coaches and ADs and let them review it before we submit it to the TSSAA.”