It wasn’t looking good for Fairview.
In an early season showdown with defending Midgets champion Maryville on Tuesday at Everett Recreation Center, the Raiders were facing fourth-and-15 from just over midfield with less than a minute remaining. The Rebs held a 7-6 lead, with Fairview having spent its final timeout as Raider coach Rick Young strode out to midfield to talk with his team.
“The first thing I said to them was, ‘Boys, isn’t this fun?” the veteran Fairview skipper said. “I didn’t want them to get caught up in the negative of the moment. I wanted them to enjoy the moment.”
Oh, they would be enjoying it a whole lot a few seconds later.
On fourth down, Fairview quarterback Austin Ensley let fly with a heart-stopping, deep spiral toward the Maryville goal line. Raider receiver Chase Nuchols outfought a pair of Rebs defenders to come down with the grab at the 4-yard line, a facemask penalty on the play moving the ball 2 yards closer.
“I saw him down there, so I just threw it to him,” Ensley said.
Two plays later, Ensley wedged his way through a mass of bodies into the end zone, Jaylen Nickerson’s following extra point capping a stunning, 14-7, come-from-behind win for the Raiders.
To get a sense of the magnitude of the Raider victory, the loss was only the second for the Rebs and youth football coaching icon Don Sentell in Maryville’s last 60 games, a run encompassing the last five seasons unbeaten.
Young, who’s been at the helm of the Fairview program since 1979, said his players deserve the credit for the pass that set up the winning score.
“I felt like that play had been there all night,” he said. “I really did. They had their secondary the way I wanted it. I can call the play, but they (the Raiders) have to execute it. They made a super play.”
Many would say the same thing about Young, who’s raised Fairview’s Grasshopper, Pee Wee and Midget teams to the level of a powerhouse the last 31 years. Like the parents of many of his players, he’s a former Raider himself.
Young played for one of Fairview’s earliest teams back in 1969, long before the team took on the name Raiders. He credited former youth coaches Mike Talley and Charlie Headrick, who’d founded the program five years earlier, for giving the team its start.
“Some daddies got together and decided to form a community team,” Young said.
The Fairview team that took the field Tuesday looked a sharp, well-drilled outfit in all respects, with uniforms styled along the lines of Maryville High School teams of the 1970s. It’s a tribute to his brother, Randy, Fairview’s defensive coordinator, who played for the school back in the ‘80s, Young said. Forty-six years ago, Fairview teams weren’t quite so nattily clad, Young said.
“They played that year in helmets, shoulder pads and blue jeans,” the William Blount High School teacher said.
Fairview won the Super Bowl that first year, fielding a team of only 17 players. Tuesday, 32 Raiders took the field for the game with the Rebs. Combined with Fairview’s Grasshopper and Pee Wee teams, Young oversees a program that instructs 99 players, ages 7- to 12-years old.
It’s a lot to keep track of, and the only way it works, Young said, is to give Grasshopper coach Jimmy Parsley and Pee Wee coach Gary Myrick complete autonomy to run their teams.
“The way we do it, I tell Gary the Pee Wee program is his,” Young said, “and I’ll help if asked.”
That vote of confidence isn’t lost on Myrick. Fairview’s Pee Wee Raiders were Blount Today Super Bowl champions a year ago.
“He lets Jimmy coach his team, and he lets me coach mine,” Myrick said. “He doesn’t get involved unless you ask him. I like the organization and what it stands for, from top to bottom. For me, what it stands for is family.
“I like Rick’s mentality; it’s teaching the kids more than football. If a kid leaves my program and all he’s learned its football, I’ve failed.”
Young, whose Raiders improved to 3-0 on the season with Tuesday’s win, said staying in youth football for any other reason simply isn’t worth the time expenditures involved.
“I really enjoy football,” he said, “and I’ll do it until the day I die. I love working with 11- and 12-year-old boys. I’ve had teams down here that won two or three games, and I wouldn’t swap them for any other team because it was fun to watch them grow up.”
Young’s two sons have followed him into teaching and coaching, with Jon an assistant coach with the William Blount football team, Justin a newly-hired assistant with the baseball Governors.
Jon and Justin, who both played for their father, went on to standout careers during their high school days at William Blount, but they’re far from the norm. For many players, the Blount County Parks & Recreation leagues are their last stop with football. It can be enough if done right, Young said.
“If you go back and check, the majority of kids don’t (go on to) play high school football,” he said, “so this is their chance to be the hero.”
Nuchols fit that bill Tuesday, and it wasn’t necessarily on his game-saving catch.
Fairview trailed late after Nickerson’s point-after try in the opening half spun out of an insecure hold and sailed wide right. Rather than run the ball across after the Ensley score, Young elected to kick again. Only 28 seconds remained, but the Fairview mentor was taking no chances with a Maryville rally.
“I was nervous,” Nickerson said. “I felt like all the pressure was on me. I just prayed to God before I kicked it, and He helped me.”
So, too, did Nickerson’s new holder, Nuchols, who told his teammate not to sweat it.
“I said, ‘There’s nothing to worry about. If you miss, we just have to stop them again,’” Nuchols said.
At the snap, Nickerson split the uprights dead center.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Tuesday’s clash was the complexity of the offenses of both teams. Young said he’ll work in seven to eight formations during a given season, depending on the team. From those plays, the Raiders can work up to as many as 80 or 90 plays.
“The game at this level has evolved,” Young said. “It’s a lot different than it was 30 years ago. You can teach them more. I’ll build during the season. I have more plays at the end of the season than I do at the beginning.”
That kind of instruction is a big reason why Young’s and Sentell’s teams have won so consistently through the years, Recreation & Parks executive director Joe Huff said.
“When you look at the time they put in, that’s kind of what makes the teams in this league so successful,” he said. “People like Rick Young and Don Sentell, that’s what makes these teams so good.”
Young took a philosophical approach to Tuesday’s big win. There’s still much of the season to go, and the Raiders are likely to see the Rebs again come playoff time. If and when that happens, he’ll approach it no different with his team than he did Tuesday, Young said.
“See those houses across the street,” he said. “They don’t care who’s playing. They don’t care who wins. It’s just a game.”