SIDE VIEW: A look at the first 7 years of Mountaineer football teams
The open nominations for the Mitchell Mountaineer Football “Hall of Fame” and “Teams of the Decades” are underway and continuing. So far, things are off to a great start. I have personally had some nice conversations about some of the great teams of the past and the players on those teams. As the process moves forward and the nominations are completed, I look forward to seeing how things work out.
Over the next several weeks we will be highlighting some of the senior members of each of the past 40 Mountaineer football teams. I will only be able to mention a few from each team. Every young man that has been a part of the rich tradition of Mountaineer football should be commended for his contributions and is part of the history of the program. It would be next to impossible to mention every player. The names mentioned in “Side View” is a short list, so I continue to encourage readers and listeners to submit nominees.
Mitchell Mountaineer football took the field for the first time in 1976 under head coach Doug Greene. Greene had been at Harris High School for more than 15 years and had put together several great teams there. Bowman High School had a good football tradition as well and had been near or at the top of their conference standings for several years. As I mentioned this past week, current Mountaineer players, coaches and fans owe a debt of gratitude for the groundwork put in place by that Mountaineer team 41 years ago.
The 1976 team finished the year 3-6-1. Steve Wilson, one of the members of that team, still has the all-time record with 13 interceptions (unofficially), which is still season and career records. The 1977 team finished the season 3-7. Going into that season, there was optimism that would be an improved team. Unfortunately their quarterback, Bob Skillen, suffered a broken collar bone early in the season and missed the entire year. Some of the bright spots for this team were running backs James Acuff and Jeff Byrd, and linemen Brent Hall, Paul Buchanan and Ricky Lichtenhahn. In addition to these young men, there were several other contributors that neither time nor space will permit me to mention.
In the fall of 1978, students moved into the new Mitchell High School and the football team could then be in one place on a permanent basis. Greene had put in many long hours not only consolidating the football team, but also working to bring all of the sports programs under one roof. The 1978 team finished the year with a 3-7 record, but were again ravaged by injuries. Two men that made major contributions to the ‘78 team were Alan Silver and Timm Phillips. If memories are correct, Timm Phillips was the first player to get a college scholarship to continue his football career.
Following the 1978 campaign, Greene resigned his position as head coach to go into school administration. His replacement was Doug Brooks. Brooks came from Tuscola High School in Waynesville where he had served as an assistant coach. Brooks guided the 1979 Mountaineer football team to its first winning record, a 5-5 campaign. A couple of seniors that made significant contributions to this team were Mark Hollifield and Mark McKinney. After the 1979 season, many people felt Mountaineer football was on the map and on the move. To his surprise, Brooks was offered and accepted the head football coaching position back at Tuscola High School and he returned there and led the team to many great years of football.
Mitchell County native Dennis Hefner was named head coach prior to the 1980 season. Hefner guided the 1980 team to a 4-6 record. This team had several senior players that had made a major affect on the teams for two years. Running backs Van Hollifield and Ronnie Rathbone made a dynamic duo and linemen Tee Dover and Ronnie Hughes paved the way for their running game. Following the 1980 season, Hefner resigned to go to Tuscola as the defensive coordinator.
Rusty Coggins became the fourth head coach for Mountaineer football in 1981. Coggins played collegiately at N.C. State for former coach Lou Holtz. He guided his first team to a 4-6 record. Two men that helped build the program in 1981 for Coggins were running back Tim Queen and lineman Tony Glenn. These men bought into Coggins’ system and set the tone for the 1982 season. The 1982 team finished the year 6-4. There were several milestones for the ‘82 team as Danny Jarrett became the first running back to gain 1,000 yards – he actually gained 1,000 yards in 1981 and 1982. James Phillips and John Phillips both received Division I scholarships; James at Wake Forest and John at Clemson. Other young men that helped to make this team successful were linebacker Joey Ollis, quarterback Mike Buchanan and receiver Richard Baker.
Again, this is just a brief review of the first seven years of Mountaineer football and the names and players that comprised those teams. Take some time to think back to the early days of Mountaineer football and its past.
Then, submit your open nominations and see what happens. We look forward to hearing from the Mountaineer football family soon.
Chris Pitman gains his views from nearly 40 years of involvement with Mitchell High School Athletics.