FOOTBALL: Alcoa's Ahmaudd Sankey vs Pigeon Forge

Alcoa’s Ahmaudd Sankey (15) gets behind the Pigeon Forge defense for the first score of the game in the Tornadoes’ win at Pigeon Forge.

Game preview interviews are often full of coach-speak. Coaches claim, regardless of reality or records, that the opponent has supernatural talent and that his own team has no luck if not for bad luck.

Another trite coach-speak line insists “this week’s game is the most important. We aren’t looking past the Little Sisters of the Poor, at all.”

Gary Rankin doesn’t always take that tack. The veteran Alcoa coach hardly seemed aware of what this week’s road foe, Kingston might do or who would do it.

“I don’t really know that,” Rankin said, when asked for the key players or powers of the Yellow Jackets. “We want to take care of ourselves first, and that’s what we always tell our kids. We want to play to the best of our ability no matter who we are playing, whether it’s a state championship game or a scrimmage. We’re always striving to get a little bit better each day and each game.”

Rankin emphasized that Alcoa (7-0, 3-0 Region 2-3A) is by no means overlooking Kingston, whose 2-5 (1-2) record is deceptive. The Yellow Jackets lost on a last-second field goal to Stone Mountain, a top-10 Class 4A team, and have two other one-possession losses.

In its losses, Kingston has hurt itself with turnovers and penalties.

“(Kingston) has struggled a bit this year for whatever reasons, but any time we go down there, it seems like they play us pretty tough,” Rankin said.

The Yellow Jackets run mostly out of a wing-T formation. Quarterback Trey Schultz has some good passing options including wide receiver Elijah Reeder. Brad Keithley leads the running game.

Awaiting Kingston will be a rested and ready Alcoa squad. Rankin said that after a bye last Friday and fall break this week, the Tornadoes are primed for action.

“Our kids seem to have some spring back in their legs, and we’ve had a good week of practice so far,” Rankin said.

With more than 400 victories, including his last 10 state championship appearances, Rankin values consistency. A key to that and his phenomenal record of success is his strong staff.

“I’ll put our coaches up against any staff in the state of Tennessee at any school,” Rankin said, mentioning that a key is holding on to great coaches that could have moved elsewhere.

Rankin praised the school system for helping retention, saying that elsewhere, coaching positions may be enticing but the regular day-to-day teaching posts may not be as good.

“You coach maybe four to six (o’clock), but you always have to think about the eight to three that goes with it,” Rankin said, “and Alcoa is a great place to teach.”

Defensive coordinator Brian Nix has been at Alcoa since before Rankin joined 13 years ago. Nix’s fiery personality and clever schemes have created a defense giving up eight points per game, and even that number is misleading. The Tornadoes yielded 59 points against schools from Class 4A and 6A. Against schools in Class 3A, the Tornadoes have recorded four shutouts.

Other long-tenured coaches include defensive line coach Richard Gamble (“as good a defensive line coach as there is,” Rankin said), offensive line coach Brian Gossett (“been doing a great job for about 10 years now”) and offensive coordinator David Sweetland.

“(Sweetland) calls about 90-something percent of the plays, I call the ones that don’t work,” Rankin joked.

Sweetland played for rival Maryville, but Rankin laughed and said “we’ve gotten all that out of him now, though.”

The Tornadoes will travel to Kingston for today’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff with high expectations.

“Right now, we’re in about as good a shape as we could be,” Rankin said. “We’re undefeated. We’re playing well. Everybody’s happy and healthy. That could change. Somebody could get injured, but we prepare for that stuff as well. We’re fortunate as we can be right now.”

This account is used by The Daily Times freelance sports writers and for staff reports.

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