For the past 16 years, the WCHS football season has kicked off with the rivalry between Warren County and DeKalb County. Both coaches will say that it is a not a region game, but nonetheless, it creates much excitement for both schools. Smithville is the perpetual underdog because it is the smaller school, yet the record is fairly even, 9-6 in the Pioneers favor. Given the decimation COVID-19 has hit the Pioneers with recently, local prognosticators are making DeKalb County a slight favorite.
How severely has COVID-19 impacted the Pioneer football team? On Wednesday night, there had been 14 Pioneer football players and one assistant coach who have tested positive in the past 10 days. The Pioneers are starting a freshman at center again this week, and the projected starting lineup may be changed daily with more positive COVID-19 tests.
The Pioneer coaching staff has faced incredible distractions since the season was supposed to begin Aug. 20. One major proactive step head coach Matt Turner and his staff have taken to combat COVID-19 that is not visible to the public has been the practice of washing practice clothing in addition to game uniforms on a regular basis. Turner has washed game and practice uniforms until the early morning hours past midnight at a local laundry mat, Clearners Express, because the high school does not have adequate washing machines.
Local dry cleaning/laundry mat owner Matt Hash recently agreed to help when he saw coach Turner in his laundry mat at such late hours on a regular basis. Hash said, “I saw Matt working so late, and I asked him why he was doing this -- he is the head coach. He was washing things the normal way, and I offered to help with some industrial detergent. I have much stronger detergent and equipment that he has access to. I am donating the detergent. Our equipment and detergent will save him a lot of time. We can work together on this and help him tremendously.” An industrial washing machine runs in the neighborhood of $28,000 according to Hash, which is one reason the football team probably doesn’t have one.
The battle against COVID-19 requires a lot of extra work, especially when the number of positive cases on the Pioneer has reached 14 in the past two weeks. That leaves a lot of holes to fill. The Pioneers will be starting four sophomores on defense and three sophomores on offense, in addition to a freshman.
The Pioneers started the season with only one returning starter on offense. That starter, junior Dayton Jernigan is having ACL surgery later this month. All but one position on the offensive line has changed because of Jernigan’s injury and COVID-19. The changes are very similar on the defensive line.
Next man up is a meaningful term on the Pioneer team this week. As Turner has told his team this week, tough times create tough people. It may be fall break for Warren County Schools, but the Pioneer football team has been busy. Friday night will feel like the first game of the season in many respects, which is ironic because this game was supposed to be the first game of the season.
These are strange and painful times for many people. An assistant football coach at Smyrna, Garry Mooney, died this week of COVID-19 and double pneumonia.
DeKalb County (4-2 overall, 2-1 region) is virtually a lock to return to the playoffs this season. They have a major region game next week against Upperman that will affect their playoff seeding. The Tiger starting roster has only one change from the original projected starting lineup on Aug. 20. The only change in the roster is at linebacker, junior Josh May will be starting.
The Tigers have six games under their belt with their other 23 starters, and the playmaker for DeKalb County on offense is No. 5, Issac Knowles. Knowles has speed at wide receiver and can line up at other positions, including behind center. Sophomore quarterback Briz Trapp is head coach Steve Trapp’s cousin, and is developing well according to his head coach. Briz is also coached by his dad, offensive coordinator Brad Trapp.
Head coach Steve Trapp put the rivalry and this game into perspective stating, “It is a fun week because of the close proximity -- a lot of the people know each other. A true rivalry has close games. I think it is really good for both programs. I want to give our guys the opportunity to play, and also the guys over there (Warren County). There have been a lot of schools who have lost games over the past two years with the way things have been. These guys sign up to play 10 games, and we want to give everyone the opportunity here to do that.”
Warren County (1-3 overall, 1-1 region) is playing during fall break, which is always a challenge for high school football teams. Students and their families want to go on vacations, and the normal school and practice routine changes. Coaches like consistency and staying on schedules. This is a bye week for both Warren and DeKalb therefore, the game was able to be rescheduled this Friday night. Consequently, Warren County will lose only two games (White County and Ridgeway) to the COVID-19 shutdown.
The benefit of playing this game for Warren County is that the young players will get game experience. Overcoming the learning curve for assignments will be accelerated for young players. A major goal of the Pioneers is to reach the playoffs and extend their season. As it stands now, Warren County will only be able to play eight games this season. The playoffs would obviously extend that number.
Turner discussed the objectives for this game. “I have watched it (the rivalry) evolve. It is good for the communities and programs. I am glad we are getting it in. It is next man up. We are trying to get everyone to learn their positions. I am going to steal a verse from coach Trapp, 'if these kids are complaining about getting the opportunity to play football, then they are in the wrong state of mind, the wrong locker room.' We are going to keep shuffling kids around as long as we have kids to shuffle.”
Turner continued, “There are not going to be any new faces. It is unfortunate that the guys who have been missing will not be allowed to return until next week (because of TSSAA COVID-19 protocols). Xander McCormick did as well as could be expected of him as a freshman getting his first varsity start last week. Brian Currey is getting an opportunity, and Seth Cruse will be getting an opportunity on the defensive line. Zach Luck will continue to have the opportunity to get better, and that is the silver lining ... these guys are getting valuable, valuable, valuable playing time that will help us next season.”
The McCormick brothers are starting on the offensive line. Junior Chandler McCormick has moved from center to tackle, and his brother, freshman Xander has stepped in at center. Xander McCormick said, “I feel better than I did before because I was nervous. I have the feel for it now, and I am ready. I am 6-foot 2, and 260 lbs. I get to step on the field as a freshman ... that is exciting.”
The older McCormick brother, Chandler said, “I will be playing tackle again this week, and I have to step up and be a leader for the O-line. We have to come out Friday and execute, get the win. It is not much different playing tackle. I played tackle before this year. I am used to it; I’ve played it for a long time. I just need to do my job and execute. I will be studying film. I am there to help my brother, and he is smart. No, he cannot knock me backwards if we lined up against each other.”
Coach Turner has ordered a Code Blue, asking all fans to wear blue to the game. The team will be wearing blue uniforms. Tickets will not be available at the gate and must be purchased at gofan.co. Search for Warren County on the website to purchase tickets.