Dixie Jones, the former Trigg County skipper who led the Wildcats to 97 wins between 1979-98, was coming off a 10-3 season at Madisonville, his first head coaching job since leaving Trigg County.
Jones and his Madisonville squad were supposed to face his former team – Trigg County in the opener.
However, Jones took the coaching job at Hopkinsville, where he was an assistant coach for two years before taking the top spot at Madisonville.
So instead of a feel-good, reunion game with Trigg County, his Tigers will face Tennessee 2A state champion Alcoa in Friday’s Integra Bank Bowl nightcap.
Alcoa graduated just two players from last year’s 14-1 team, whose only loss was to Tennessee 4A state champ Maryville. The feel-good part of the story may no longer apply.
“Mentally, it would have been tougher to return and play Trigg County,” Jones said of his return to Perdue Field as a head coach. “Physically, we’re playing the best team of the four, and that makes it even tougher.”
The Tornadoes feature several players with Division-I talent and are the heavy favorites to repeat as state champions – adding to their list of five other championships won since 1977.
Alcoa already has two players who have committed to major college programs and two others could make their college announcements known soon.
Brandon Warren is a 6-2, 220-pound defensive end that committed to Florida State last month.
Warren had 75 tackles, including 24 for loss and 20 sacks. He ranked as a top-five defensive end by several recruiting web sites.
Warren also plays tight end on offense after catching 43 passes for 783 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.
The Tornadoes also feature one of the best running backs in the Volunteer State in Dustin Lindsey, who rushed for 2,337 yards and 43 touchdowns last year.
Lindsey, a 6-1, 215-pound senior, has committed to the University of Tennessee.
Both Warren and Lindsey are expected to be favorites for Mr. Football in Tennessee 2A this year.
The Tornadoes got an added boost to their backfield when senior Chris Shiverdecker, who rushed for 1,726 yards at Jefferson County, transferred to Alcoa over the summer.
Shiverdecker’s mother had a series of back injuries that required several surgeries that have required in-home care. As a result, the mother and son moved in with her sister in Alcoa, giving the Tornadoes another offensive weapon.
Quarterback Joei Fiegler, who lists North Carolina State, Louisville, Southern Miss, and Indiana as his top four destinations, is expected to make his college choice soon.
Fiegler (6-3, 185, Sr.) threw for 2,418 yards and 28 touchdowns last year as part of an Alcoa offense that averaged 41 points with the starters only playing one half most of the season. In the state title game, Fiegler threw for 379 yards and three scores.
Alcoa features a couple of underclassmen at receiver, including speedster Kyrus Lanxter, a 6-2, 175-pound junior who had 702 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns last year. Louisville, South Carolina, and Wake Forest have all shown interest in Lanxter.
Sophomore Brian Sommer caught 22 passes last year, including three touchdowns.
The Tornadoes return all five starters from their offensive line, which averages 240 pounds across.
After watching Alcoa at a recent scrimmage, Jones said their offense looks familiar to what Trigg County ran in 1989 when Jones coached the Wildcats to the Class A state title game.
“They run a lot of blasts and sweeps with the tailback and run the waggle pass out of the pro-I formation,” Jones said, adding Alcoa has a few more athletes than when Trigg ran the offense.
“They are the best offensive team I have ever seen. If they’re not the best, then they are in the top three.”
All but one players returns for Alcoa in Reid’s 4-3 defense, which gave up eight points a game in the regular season last year.
Making a nice bookend for Warren on the defensive side is Rae Sykes, a 6-4, 240-pound junior, who has already been offered scholarship by LSU.
Senior tackle Martin White (6-3, 325) will make it tough for Hopkinsville to run up the middle, with the big guy already having scholarship offers from Wake Forest and Vanderbilt.
While Alcoa will be bringing one of the most talented teams ever into Perdue Field, don’t expect Hopkinsville to just roll over.
Jones’ first chore has been to replace Mr. Football Curtis Pulley, who threw for over 2,500 yards and ran for 1,200 more last year, in addition to returning two interceptions for touchdowns on defense.
Junior Chris Thomas has appeared to have won Pulley’s old job at quarterback, while junior transfer Emmanuel Taylor and Mario Brasher (5-9, 170, Sr.) will start for Jones in the backfield.
Taylor has looked good in Hoptown’s two preseason scrimmages, including rushing for a pair of touchdowns against Trigg County two weeks ago.
Speedy receiver Josh Ladson (6-2, 175, Sr.) caught 44 passes for 751 yards and five touchdowns last year and should be Thomas’ primary target this year.
Up front, the Tigers return some experienced linemen, including tackles Forrest Pittman, Will Beville, and Curtis Hancock.
“Our offense was much better in last week’s scrimmage (against Warren Central),” Jones said. “We are where we thought we would be, but not where we need to be against a team that returns as much as Alcoa does.”
Defensively, Lavar Weston (5-10, 235, Sr.) returns as one of the strongest players in the state. He will anchor the defense on the line along with Pittman and Spencer Warren.
Many of Hopkinsville’s skill people will also see double duty on defense, but Jones thinks the Tigers may have an advantage in the depth department.
“Both of us will play several people both ways, but I like who we rotate into the game and would like to get Alcoa tired and get into their rotation some,” he said. “I think we’re deeper, but they have more athletes at the top end.”
It will mark the third time in five Integra Bank Bowl appearances that Hopkinsville will face a defending state champion in the season opener, joining Male (2001) and Memphis Ridgeway (2003).