My career covering high school football for The Post-Intelligencer got off to a roaring start in 1985 with a season that seemed doomed from the start but wound up being one of the finest in the Henry County Patriots’ history.
The ink had barely dried on the paper that we print the Midfield preview section on when the call came in that the fieldhouse at HCHS was on fire in the week that the season was supposed to begin with a game at Waverly. By the next morning, it was obvious there wouldn’t be a Friday night football game because the fieldhouse had burned to the ground.
It had taken with it everything the team needed to play. All the footballs, uniforms, helmets, pads, shoes, workout equipment, trophies and old game films were all gone.
The Patriots had the look of a team that was ready to win after having endured a 4-5 campaign in 1984 under first-year head coach James Counce. Counce had brought in Chuck Adams and Jeff Morris as assistant coaches to join with him and holdover assistant coach Lawrence Hurst.
The wishbone offense had been installed and the Patriots had the runners to run it. There was size at the line of scrimmage and they had a quarterback who could make the blind pitch that is required in the wishbone. The defense had active linebackers and a hard-hitting secondary. It was strong up front and there was an All-State caliber kicker to boot.
But the team had no equipment and apparently no way to get on the field. Then the Henry County community showed up that fateful Friday with checkbooks in hands and left their trucks running in anticipation of going to pick up equipment from somewhere.
Players met in the school gymnasium. Sizes were taken down for shirts, pants, pads and shoes. Orders were placed and people took off to purchase the needed equipment. The equipment arrived before the day was over and it was announced the Patriots’ season would get underway a day late on Saturday at Waverly.
Of course, the Patriots had an uneven performance in the game at Waverly but they battled. They stayed close and mounted a classic game-winning drive through a blinding fog to get in position for quarterback Steve Summers to pass to a diving halfback Barry Glisson in the front corner of the end zone on the right side for a game-winning touchdown.
It was the first of 11 straight wins for the Patriots in 1985. Henry County beat Waverly 34-27 followed by a 34-15 victory over Clarksville Northeast and a 21-0 shutout of longtime nemesis Jackson Central-Merry. There was a 21-3 win over Cheatham County and a 24-7 victory over Lexington before blanking arch-rival Dickson County 42-0 to improve to 6-0.
They completed the regular season with a 19-0 shutout of Dyersburg, a 38-8 win over Clarksville Northwest, a 49-7 victory over Covington and a 28-0 win over Clarksville. The Patriot defense allowed just 67 points in 10 games that season which is still a school record for fewest points allowed during a regular season.
The playoffs began with a 32-10 win over Franklin before the season came to a sudden halt in a 14-0 loss at Whites Creek in Nashville. The game was entirely frustrating. The Patriots seemed in control from start to finish but couldn’t score.
Whites Creek scored on a disputed punt return that was sprung by a blatant block in the back that was not called. I watched the film after the game several times. It was plain as day and it was not called. Trailing 7-0 late in the fourth quarter, the Patriots mounted a drive that included four fourth-down conversions and completed a pass that got the ball to the goal line but a fumble ended their scoring chance. The Cobras broke free for a long touchdown run while the Patriots tried to steal the ball back at the end of the game.
The playoff loss did nothing to dull the shine on that season. The Patriots have twice finished undefeated for the entire season during the 2011 and 2013 runs to win the Class 5A state championships. Back in 1985, there were just three classes and all the private schools were in those classifications, too.
Let’s take a look at the starters on a team that set 22 program records.
On offense, Summers and Glisson were joined in the backfield by Ron Harrison and Gerald Teague. Harrison ran for a team-high 884 yards while Glisson led the team in scoring with 90 points. Teague was the fullback who got some carries up the gut but did great work as a blocker. Summers connected on 54 of 108 passes for 725 yards with nine touchdown passes.
His favorite target was split end Chris Hudgins, who caught 28 passes for 378 yards and tied a school record with five touchdown receptions. Summers has told me on more than one occasion that Hudgins was open on every play he ever looked at him.
Summers played in college at Troy State while Glisson played at Murray State. Harrison played baseball at Tennessee-Martin and Hudgins played baseball at Lambuth.
The offensive line was headed by All-State performer John Hudson at right tackle. Hudson went on to be an All-SEC performer at Auburn and played as a long snapper for a decade in the NFL. He was a member of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens team that won the Super Bowl.
Lining up beside Hudson at right guard was Richard Kinley, who played at Middle Tennessee State University. Andy Patterson played center and he went on to play at MTSU. David Crawford played left guard with Joby Bullen filling the left tackle spot. Bullen played at Murray State in college.
The tight end was Anthony Dickson.
Hudson, Kinley and Crawford filled three spots on the defensive line. Donnie Webb joined them at right tackle on defense and Hudgins played right end.
The linebackers on the defense were Eddie Sanders and Paul Kellogg. In the secondary, Mark Elkins and Kenny Smith played cornerback with Glisson and Donald Bomar playing safety.
Webb played in college at MTSU with Bomar playing football at Lambuth. Elkins played baseball at Lincoln Memorial.
Some other players would be later contributors for the Patriots, like Derrick Allen, Scott Coleman, Steven Harrison, Charlie Lee, Roger Veazey, Andrew Norman, Terry Tharpe and Ricky Watson.
Sanders led the defense with 83 tackles while Kellogg had 54.
Ron Harrison left the school as the program’s leading rusher and had the most punt return yardage. Hudgins set records for the most extra points kicked, field goals made, passes caught and reception yardage. Summers held marks for completion percentage and touchdown passes.
All their marks have been tied or beaten now but these are the kind of guys that Jim Farmer is talking about when he opens games with a speech about the torch bearers of tradition. They are Patriot Pride Personified.
Go Big Red!
TOMMY PRIDDY is a Paris native who has been sports editor at The Post-Intelligencer since 1985. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.