There were ups and downs, but one thing was for sure this football season – Warren County found its football coach.
Matt Turner debuted with a 4-6 season, the most victories the program has seen in a season since 2014. More than his wins, including exciting one-point victories at home over Rockvale and Siegel, it was how Turner had his team perform against the powerhouses that gives hope for the future.
Warren County stood toe-to-toe at home with Blackman, trailing just 14-7 in an early-season matchup. Even more impressive, the Pioneers – winless on the road this season – went to Oakland in the season finale and smacked the state’s best team in the face.
Behind a physical line and the hard running of CJ Taylor, the Pioneers were locked in a 14-14 tie with the Patriots before they exploded for 35 unanswered points. The final scores in losses to Blackman (41-7), Riverdale (42-0) and Oakland (49-14) don’t do justice to the improvement the Pioneers showed.
Since I started at the Standard in 2010, I’ve had a friend who went to Pioneer home games. His catchphrase when things went bad – and they usually did – was, “there’s a lot of quit in those boys.”
I didn’t hear that once this year.
The Pioneers followed their coach’s vision and always were ready to go.
“I didn’t pamper them. (Our seniors) learned life is full of adversity. You have to step up to the challenge and get back up when you’re knocked down,” said Turner.
They may not have always liked him, but they always respected him. And for the ones who will move on after Friday’s loss, they’ll miss him.
“I hate that I’m a senior with coach Turner coming in,” said lineman Dillon Haley. “I wish he was here all my years. I think we can do big things with this program in a few years.”
Fellow senior Noah Martin added, “It’s been a whole different mood. It’s changing for the better. I loved this year more than anything.”
Turner’s not one to mince words. He always tells his team, “I will never lie to you.” He’s honest – sometimes brutally honest.
Everybody catches his wrath from time-to-time. During one home win, he was in defensive back Eli Buchanan’s grill, letting the senior know he expected more.
Buchanan gave it to him, helping the Pioneers defend home field.
Now Buchanan will have to watch to see how the legacy of his class shifts the program.
“We have heart and we’re trying to build a program that can compete at this level,” Buchanan said after Friday’s loss. “Our whole mindset and culture changed this season. We were more scared about messing up for our teammates than we were taking big hits or laying our bodies on the line.
“I’ll always be able to say I was with coach Turner his first year and I was part of turning it.”
There’s always going to be critics of a program – those who want to know how the Pioneers lost to Cannon County or why they abandoned the run at Cookeville. It’s just what fans do.
All I can say is look at the whole and realize Turner is doing things right. And if you don’t believe me, just ask his players.