Knoxville (WATE) – As Hardin Valley Academy prepared to embark on their tenth season (ninth varsity) as a football team this week, head coach Wes Jones stood planted on a practice field that wasn’t there all that long ago.
“Sometimes, you watch practice and you step back and look and you say, ‘I remember when we didn’t have time to step back and look.'”
Those first years weren’t easy.
“We won our opener at Carter,” recalls Lee Warren, a defensive end on that first varsity team in 2009. “And we lost the rest of the nine. We were everybody’s homecoming.”
How things can change.
Last fall, Hardin Valley played their first ever home playoff game, and then their second, beating Riverdale in the second round before losing to Oakland in the state Quarterfinals in their deepest playoff run in team history.
As the years stretch on and the success builds, things are starting to come full circle for the Hawks. Last off-season, Jones hired Warren as the team’s defensive ends and strength and conditioning coach, before adding former wide receiver and defensive back Ben Barnett to his staff before the start of the year.
Barnett, who also began teaching world history at the school this year, chuckles when asked about being hired as an assistant coach.
“It was a very quick interview, which was pretty cool.”
Warren and Barnett look around at the team around them these days, and joke back to when the program first started. They remember the hikes from Academy gym to elementary school front yard before the team had a practice field. They remember that first equipment, too.
“We had these crappy helments,” Warren says, half-joking. “I’d have a swollen forehead after every practice. You’d spend fifteen minutes walking there and back.”
“The first set of shoulder pads I had were too big for me to get my arms all the way up,” Barnett says as he lifts his arms to simulate. “I had a lot of difficulty catching balls above my head.”
But perhaps most importantly, they remember that first season full of losing. And now that the Hawks are doing a lot more winning than losing, they’re excited to be back with the program that they were there for when it launched.
“I feel that it’s part of my job to help carry on that legacy that we started,” says Barnett.
Asked if hiring his first players makes him feel a bit older, Jones laughs it off.
“Makes me feel a lot older, knowing that I used to yell at those guys. Well.. I still yell at those guys. But it makes me proud also, knowing those guys went through our program, have grown up, and are now giving back to the community. That’s special.”