David Riley: [00:00:00] This is David Riley with Marion county news coming to you from Whitwell, Tennessee. With the head coach of the Whitwell high school tigers, Rocky Stevenson. Wanna welcome you to the program again?
Rocky Stephenson: Hello.
David Riley: Obviously let's talk about you a little bit. You had your first year at the helm last year. Tell me a little bit about what that experience was like. Obviously you came in as an assistant and so it wasn't an unknown system to you, but what are some of the good and the bad?
Yeah, that's right. I come in no stranger to coaching, been coaching baseball. And I've been an assistant football coach for a while. But it was my first year as a head coach. And just it's a learning experience, when you change jobs, when you go to a promotion or anything else it's always a new [00:01:00] experience. So I learned some things. Overall, I thought it went well. We had a what I would call a good season. You always hope for more, but it, it was a good season and good learning experience.
I got you. Long as we're gonna dove tail off of last year you got some players coming back with you this year. Who are you? Who are you excited about? Who are you hoping will step up and take the leadership roles?
Rocky Stephenson: I'm uh, really excited about our team overall. I don't like to we do have some good players coming back, but I just I concentrate more on, on the team atmosphere, but last year we were a very young team, so I can't use that this year so we did get some experience. So hopefully we can learn from our mistakes that we made last year and move on. Have a better season this year.
David Riley: I got you. Talk to me about the culture. You had mentioned that you were really looking to come in and build a culture. How did that go? Kind [00:02:00] of team wide, obviously you got managers and assistant coaches and players, the. You had to have buy in from everybody. How do you looking back on that? How do you think that went?
Rocky Stephenson: I think you touched on it right there. The buy-in is just a family concept. It's cause it takes everybody. And I told the players right away, everybody was gonna be included and it was a team effort all the way. And that's how you change the culture and you kind of bond them together. Like one big family. And winning, try to win as much as you can, you're not gonna win every game. They gotta understand that, but just hard work and showing up every day.
David Riley: I got you. Now y'all just got back on on practice. We just got out of the dead time. Didn't we?
Rocky Stephenson: Yes, sir. We had two weeks off. A lot of players were able to go on vacation. All the coaches. So we're coming back. It was hot when we left and it's still hot now. So
David Riley: Tennessee of the summer just is not [00:03:00] gonna be kind
Rocky Stephenson: No, so it's it's time to get busy and start prepping for the upcoming season.
David Riley: Gotcha. Are you all doing the two a days? Are you, I know some teams are aiming to for the cooler part of the days, whatever that means.
Rocky Stephenson: Yeah. We've moved our practice back cause a lot of my coaches can't get here early. So I, I just moved it back. But I do allow a lot of the players to get their morning workouts in and then. then we do more of the conditioning and stuff in the evening and go over team stuff.
David Riley: I got you. Now as cause you, I apologize, you came out of defense or offense?
Rocky Stephenson: I was a defensive coordinator last year.
David Riley: Oh, okay.
Rocky Stephenson: I'll take over the defense again this year.
David Riley: I got you.
Rocky Stephenson: But I like to help on both sides a little bit. Just this year last year I had Bill Price a good coach as an offensive coordinator. And he decided he's in, retirement a little bit. He wanted to be a little bit closer to home, so
David Riley: I got you.
Rocky Stephenson: I [00:04:00] got you.
But anyway will frail was gonna take over as offensive coordinator. Oh, okay. So he was here with us and. 2018 and
David Riley: okay.
Rocky Stephenson: Help be out then. So he's been around and he knows the kids real well.
David Riley: I got you. Now from a defensive strategy, as you look at your schedule, how does the team match up and are you gonna see, are you gonna be able to put in place some core plays that you feel like they're gonna be competitive on? Or is this gonna be. A carousel of a plays?
Rocky Stephenson: Every week's different. You have to look at what the other, your opponent's offense is gonna be doing. And you change it a little bit, but overall we have our base and we of know what we want to do going in ahead of time. Every week we had to put little wrinkles in and stuff.
David Riley: Sure. Sure. Your defensive line obviously you haven't made the final decisions, but what do you liking the, you see thus far?
Rocky Stephenson: Yeah, we have a lot of players vying for different positions. We [00:05:00] have a little depth to share a little more depth defensively and offensively as. So I do like that. I have a, defensive lineman that, that I plan on rotating and plugging in and trying to keep those guys fresh as we can.
David Riley: I gotcha.
Rocky Stephenson: I, I do having a little more depth than what we had last year, so
David Riley: yeah. Yeah. Now you did have number of players play both sides last season. And obviously that they started feeling that and as the game got to the end how do you mention more depth? Is that something you're hoping to curb this year?
Rocky Stephenson: Yes. And I think it's just from players being able to get some experience last year at different positions. Single A ball you may have an injury or two, and you may have to plug in players here and there.
So what I try to teach my guys is to multiple po..... Positions. You don't really have a set position
David Riley: You need to know multiple positions that way. If we have injuries, we can plug 'em. And that helps with the death department. That [00:06:00] way
I got you. Listen, we're gonna take a break and go pay a bill or two, stay with us. We'll be right back with Whitwell tigers, head football coach, Rocky Stevenson.
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David Riley: And welcome back. We are still talking with Whitwell high school's head football coach, Rocky Stevenson coach let's talk a little bit, every team wrestles with injuries. Tell me your. As we're going through summer workouts, what do you do, trying to minimize that in conditioning and how hard you run 'em and, trying to get that game experience without getting that game injury.
Rocky Stephenson: Yeah, there's a, there's always a fine line sometimes. You can push athletes a little too hard. So you know you have hard days you might wanna slack off a day, and just adjust it that way. But a lot of conditioning that, that I do that I liked [00:08:00] injury prevention. I've had a lot of success with it in the past is uphill running.
David Riley: Oh, okay.
Rocky Stephenson: I, I like the players who do a lot of uphill running, just builds overall less leg strength. It's good for the ankles knees and all that.
David Riley: Your practice field helps you with that
oh yeah. now we have a big hill right by the practice field.
Rocky Stephenson: So that, that's a good thing.
David Riley: I'm sure that's what the school board had in mind when they made it. . Sure. Let's swing a little bit over to offense. You got a lot of your players that made some big performances for you. Coming back. How are you integrating the new players and those more tenured players? How is that integration going for you this summer?
Rocky Stephenson: Yes. I like to use players, especially we have a few seniors this year. They have some good experience and I'm always trying to get them involved. And work with the younger guys they [00:09:00] may have a certain strategy or something that works. We all share ideas.
David Riley: Yeah.
Rocky Stephenson: And I do my players to certain players to, to help the young guys out with stuff. And they'll listen to them sometimes. Where, coaches, they hear us all the time and it's always good to get some feedback or, some
David Riley: peer motivation.
Rocky Stephenson: Yes. There you go.
David Riley: Let's go ahead and run through your coaching staff. Who did you have? Was that your only coaching change bringing Brazzel in or...?
Rocky Stephenson: Yeah, pretty much. We have the same coaching staff that we had last year and I'll mention them. So I'll be running the defense and just over overseeing everything and then Will Frizzel that's the offensive coordinator. And then Troy Mosier is my defensive lineman coach Aaron Worley offensive line with Danny Hale and he come over from the middle school. So he's a big asset because he knows the young kids real well. And he gives me good guidance on those guys. [00:10:00] then defensive back coach jar, tha he's returning from last year and linebacker's coach Thunder Roberts.
David Riley: I gotcha. And I apologize for some reason, I thought I saw Hudson's name Hudson Petty it was he gonna, was he looking at trying to help or...?
Rocky Stephenson: Hudson is going to help. He's trying to finish up with his school. Sure. Right now. So he's gonna be in and out. I gotcha. He'll be a real big ass... Asset for us.
We all know he, he was a great player here.
David Riley: Sure.
Rocky Stephenson: And the kids they really enjoy being around him. So yeah. He'll be a huge job. That's asset.
David Riley: He brings good jewelry to the table too.
Rocky Stephenson: oh yeah.
David Riley: Talk about obviously football especially at the small, smaller schools These guys play pretty much year round, one sport or another. Are you finding that helps keeps the, keep them in, plug and play condition or does it take 'em a minute to lose their baseball [00:11:00] legs and get their football legs?
Rocky Stephenson: Yes. Here I've talked with other coaches the basketball coach, Ben Cartwright. He and I agree that. We want our athletes here to play multiple sports, not just concentrate on one sport just to have fun, try to play as many as you can. And then we always take in consideration the conditioning if they're getting too much, if they've been up doing basketball and then they're just coming outta basketball. And jumping into baseball and coming from baseball to football way, we always take that into consideration.
David Riley: I gotcha.
Rocky Stephenson: So I got so conditioning, we're always trying to adjust that and stuff, so
David Riley: I gotcha. Circling back around to your assistant coaches, how, because like you mentioned, you take all the blame and get none of the credit, but what. What do you expect your coaches to do as far as you talked about [00:12:00] making sure you foster that team atmosphere and, I obviously they got to work these positions, but how does that kind of coalesce with trying to make sure the team atmosphere is preeminent?
Rocky Stephenson: With this coaching staff and. I really like this coaching staff because we share ideas and I don't want to feel like I'm a dictator, if they have some good ideas and it's okay to disagree. Cause you're not always gonna agree. I have a wife and we don't always agree on things. we always compromise or come to an agreement as you were saying I'm gonna get the blame and no credit. And I'm okay with that. But ultimately I'll make the final decision, but this staff we share ideas and I think that's a good thing. And it kind of fosters into if certain coach wants to discipline a player's not listening or anything, we'll all have a group discussion and then come in and meet with a player and stuff. So just like family,
David Riley: [00:13:00] I got you. I got you. Let's use this opportunity for another break. We appreciate those that are helping us put these on and sit tight. We'll be back with Whitwell high school head football coach, Rocky Stevenson.
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David Riley: welcome back. And we're talking with Whitwell high school, head football coach, Rocky Stevenson coach. I want to ask you a little bit about what do you expect out of your players? Off the field. Obviously you can draw all the X's and O's, you want to foster, like you said, an atmosphere of that family. What is part of that? As far as the expectation off the field?
Rocky Stephenson: Yeah, the expectations off the field and I'll remind these guys every year we go up to the elementary school and we like to go up there and open the doors and just greet them as they come to school. And I let 'em know, Hey, these kids look up to you guys. So we need to be role [00:15:00] models. And that goes into the classroom. We need to be doing the right things in the school. Try to be doing the right things when no one's watching, just building character.
What kind of person, do you want to be? We're always talking about that and trying to improve that. Yeah, that's a big part of what we're trying to accomplish here. It's not all about winning. It can't be all about winning it's. It is growing as a person and as people.
David Riley: Yeah. Yeah. Do you ever have the moments where you remember being on the receiving end of what you're dishing out to a kid? Discipline wise. And you're like, I remember that I really didn't exactly where my feelings were. Do you ever have those moments?
Rocky Stephenson: I do the glory days, right? reliving the glory days
David Riley: back when you do it all
Rocky Stephenson: yes. I remember certain things that a coach would say and you you hear it, but, since you're a different person mindset, when you're younger and stuff, you hear it, but you [00:16:00] don't really fully understand it until you get a little bit older and then things occur. Tell you, yeah, my coach told me that and , that's really true,
David Riley: yeah.
Rocky Stephenson: Yeah. Yeah, those are the kinds of things that I remember. And then we all have. War stories, things that happened out on the football field and all the coaches we like to gather and talk about our war stories, certain things that happened in the game.
David Riley: Sure.
Rocky Stephenson: Stuff like that. But yeah, I just when I reflect back over that, I just remember certain things that coaches taught me and said to me and stuff like that.
David Riley: Long as we're in yesteryear your playing days. What was your most memorable moment? If I put you on the spot?
Rocky Stephenson: I have a few I just thinking since I'm on the spot when I think back, I just think about the, the relationships that I form with other players and and then I'll think about some things that happen. I always have a little chuckle to myself , but I, just bonding, with the fellas you form a bond and a [00:17:00] friendship. And I still have friendships today with the guys that I play football with
David Riley: oh, wow.
Rocky Stephenson: To me that's what really stands out.
David Riley: And I would assume that's part of why you want to build the culture that you want to build too. You want these guys to have lifelong bonds so that those benefits exceed the football field. So
Rocky Stephenson: that's correct.
David Riley: What if a player is coming on to your team we'll just say he moved here from Utah and Hey coach, I played there. I wanna play here. What is your first interaction speech look like?
Rocky Stephenson: Just trying to get to know them as a person foremost, that's what I do with any player or person. Just try to get them to know them on a personal level. And then as you go along, see what they can do just see if they're truthful. pretty much, with what they're telling you and just pretty much form a relationship. And
David Riley: I gotcha.
Rocky Stephenson: Just look as far as football, as far as things they can do on the field, you can just gauge to that and [00:18:00] watch how they do. So
David Riley: I gotcha. Right now, who's who have you seen that has put the most work in in the off season and you're starting to see fruits of that?
Rocky Stephenson: Okay. Yeah. I saw a lot of good things developing in the off season. Guys that, that weren't missing a day, they they didn't take any time off. Just looking on my list here, going down the list their hard work and dedication. Ben Barton comes to mind Kirk. Antal Ethan Hobbs. He works really hard. Sheldon Pierce is another player. He shows up every day and these are the guys that I'm talking about because they, they're gonna be here. And also I can't leave off the although they play basketball and I don't see them for during that time. But the Brittons the twins they're really dedicated. And then some of the younger guys that, that work really hard is dedicated. Brandon Easterly, [00:19:00] Wyatt Davis, really motivated self-motivated he wrestles and he's an intense guy. And then Garrett Miller. So pretty much and I don't wanna leave anyone off I can pretty much. This just about an entire team.
David Riley: Yeah.
Rocky Stephenson: They work really hard and they're dedicated to trying to improve and stay in shape and stuff. Bennett McDougal that I mentioned his name already?
David Riley: I was about to ask you about him more in that you were in your effort to play a lot of people you've got a lot of young guys that had that, they're battle tested now, Obviously that can only help you, but do you see the fruits of that effort last year? Across the landscape of the team, just being able to see a cohesive improvement, across the board.
Rocky Stephenson: I've seen improvement in the off season. The improvements and I expect to see a lot of improvement this year.
David Riley: I got you.
Rocky Stephenson: Now with that said we'll just have to see [00:20:00] it and we'll see what happens.
See if it manifests
. But but I do, I like their attitudes. They, and they work really hard. Obviously Brandon Easterly took the vast lion share of your snaps last year. Is that kind of where you're leaning to this year?
Yes, sir. He He'll probably be our starter, but we do have, we're going, we're vying for all positions. That's what, nothing I wanna sell yet. I don't want anyone to settle, thinking they've got it made or anything.
David Riley: I got you,
Rocky Stephenson: but yeah,
David Riley: it's his to lose?
Rocky Stephenson: Yeah. As of right now it's his to lose.
David Riley: Obviously he. He's a tall guy. He can get you a few steps, through the offensive line, still get a pass off and he's not afraid to run. I guess kind of two questions of that. Do you have plays in place to take advantage of his physique and does he scare you to death when he scrambles?
Rocky Stephenson: [00:21:00] Oh, no, he's definitely a running quarterback. I feel pretty comfortable when he takes off running with a ball and we were gonna utilize that a little more this year.
David Riley: I gotcha. And he, I don't, I can't remember top of my head, but didn't seem like he had one game that ball control was an issue but I think by and large, you can pretty well, is he's pretty good tucking that ball me, keeping it where it needs to be.
Rocky Stephenson: Yeah, I think a little bit last year when he had trouble handling the ball it was from the snap. And I think he was just trying to. Hurry a little bit and then at other times, trying a little bit too hard yeah. We'll just get him hopefully relax back there and just let him do his. I think he being young like that, and we knew that going in,
David Riley: yeah.
Rocky Stephenson: A bit, a little nervous at times and things like that.
David Riley: But he looked, from game one, he carried himself, like he was QB one whether the inside looked like that or not, the outside looked really good.
Rocky Stephenson: yeah. [00:22:00] And another thing, he's a real good leader and he stepped into that role as a freshman and that's hard for a freshman to do. Especially when you have seniors and juniors that are looking at you for leadership. And he comes in as a freshman and he did a really good job he's level headed and
David Riley: yeah, you weren't allowed to have butterflies really.
Rocky Stephenson: . Yeah.
David Riley: Obviously Chandler and Colton are seniors for you this year. You mentioned the Brittons earlier Do you see their roles similar this year? Or are they showing you something that
yeah, Chandler he rush for 800 yards last year. He almost got the thousand yard mark, which that should be a goal for him this year. So yeah, we're definitely, he's gonna be carrying the football force and Colton is right there with him. Unfortunately, Colton, he's had a couple of injuries.
I was gonna say
Rocky Stephenson: couple season that's kinda. Hurt him a little bit, but we keep the, these two guys healthy this year. I expect a big year out of them.
David Riley: Yeah. Bennett McDougal was a little [00:23:00] bit steakier but he had some big games for you last year you still see that same fire going uh, for him?
Rocky Stephenson: Yes, sir, Bennett he's a little bit bigger, a little bit faster this year, a little bit smarter like that. So I like those things and coupled, with the Brittons that's a good combination to have right there. So we're expecting him to to have good seasons offensively and defensively.
David Riley: I got you. I hear a lot about running and running quarterback. And is that gonna be the mainstay for. Tigers this year, we're going, we're gonna grind it out six, seven yards at a time. Or are we got some special plays.
Rocky Stephenson: I'm old fashioned since I'm an old man, a little bit five yards
David Riley: Happens to the best of us.
Rocky Stephenson: five yards in a cloud of dust. No I feel if you can run the ball there's no reason to pass. But I do realize that's not gonna happen all the time. , so you gotta mix the two in and everybody likes to throw the ball now, so we'll see what we need to do.
David Riley: Yeah. Gotta [00:24:00] occasionally stretch that defense before they get too complacent, staying with you.
Rocky Stephenson: that's right.
David Riley: But listen I know your time is valuable and especially as you're trying to. Lock in the roster and get some things done. What are you most excited about with the facilities this year? I know we've mentioned beforehand some of the the struggles, but what, is there something that you're doing different? Is there something that's moving around? Is there something that just sticks out to.
Rocky Stephenson: As far as the facilities we're just trying to get some things upgraded. And a lot of parents are chipping in getting involved wanting to make improvements. So we're making improvements as we go along. So the field's looking real good. I think we got everything in place. Once we get one part of the field house repaired. But I think going forward. It, it's looking pretty good
David Riley: Good deal. Again, Rocky Stevenson, the [00:25:00] head coach Whitwell Tigers we appreciate your time and we'll probably come back. See you as things get a little more heated towards the first game, I guess you, is it August 17?
Rocky Stephenson: That's correct.
David Riley: And you take a pretty big trip don't you? Are you on the road?
Rocky Stephenson: Our first game will be on the road Cumberland county.
David Riley: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that's not right down the road.
Rocky Stephenson: and then our second game will be at home with Huntland
David Riley: I got you. At least you didn't have to travel both of them. well, listen well, listen again, we appreciate your time. Wish tigers, good luck this year. And we'll come back. Talk to you. As the season gets under.
Rocky Stephenson: Okay, thanks.
David Riley: Thank you.