In the first half of Red Bank’s second 2011 game, junior quarterback Hagen Wilkey dropped back on a third-and-long and threw into double coverage. The pass was intercepted, ending the Lions’ drive.
It was the last snap Wilkey got at quarterback last year. Considered a college prospect, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder filled in at other positions, including tight end and defensive end. He bounced to spots where coaches felt he was needed after they handed the quarterback duties to Niquia McDuffie.
“He handled it better than I would have,” offensive coordinator Kraig Campbell said. “Was he happy about it? No, but he knew the direction we were going was what we thought was best for the team. He was very mature about it. He could’ve come in and griped and complained, but he didn’t, and you knew when he went out on that field, whether he was playing tight end or defensive end or linebacker, that he was going to do it 100 percent. That’s the big thing about him. We don’t have to worry about him. He’s a character kid.”
Wilkey almost single-handedly lifted Red Bank to a season-opening win over Soddy-Daisy, completing 12 of 15 passes for 185 yards and averaging 10 yards on seven carries. Combined with his first-half stats from the next week, he finished the year 15-of-19 with two interceptions, 250 yards, three passing TDs and two rushing scores.
The senior, who has been corresponding with Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, UTC, Navy, Air Force, Bethel, Lindsey Wilson and Stetson, has put last year behind him following a leadership dinner for seniors just before two-a-day practices began.
“It was a time to let your thoughts and feelings out. Apologies were given and accepted,” he said. “I have put it in the past and I’m concentrating on this year’s team.”
His voice surged with enthusiasm, and the Lions quarterback is ready to make the most of this chance.
“Coach [E.K.] Slaughter talks to us about loving your brother and coaching your brother up,” he said. “I want to help the younger guys. When they mess up, it’s on me. I’m taking it day by day and taking the coaching and learning. I want to show what I can do, but it’s team first and me second.
“We have some great offensive linemen returning. Our receivers are athletic — they can go up and get it — and if you get it close they’re usually going to catch it. We have guys that can run the ball. Coach Slaughter says the defense is going to be the strength of the team — and I take a little offense to that — but that’s the way he is, and the defense should be pretty good.”
Wilkey, who has maintained a 3.8 GPA, believes there is a light at the end of what has been a personal long tunnel.
“It has been a whole lot different than past years. This year as a whole has been totally different,” he said. “In the past we either had talent or leadership. This year we have both, and the way things are rolling right now we’re a pretty good team. Everybody is underrating us, but if we keep doing what we’re doing and stay together we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Campbell said he was more at ease with the quarterback situation.
“He’s been through a lot as far as adversity goes — starting at quarterback, not starting at quarterback, getting moved around position-wise,” he said. “I’m more comfortable than I have been in three or four years. I know on a third-and-8 that I can count on him. ”
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...