published Friday, October 18th, 2013

Rhea County's Eagles having golden season

The Golden Eagles want new music.

Not the band in the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame -- whose members are in their golden era -- but the Rhea County football Golden Eagles, who have been practicing with the same soundtrack at every practice since the first day of preseason camp.

"Every time I hear the 'Final Countdown,' it reminds me of 5 in the morning," quarterback Austin Dotson said. "Every time we hear these songs on the radio, we have to change the station. Every player out here knows the words to every song."

The playlist includes a little rap, some 3 Doors Down, a little country music and some classic rock.

"We all have got a little old school in us," coach Mark Pemberton said. "We're a little bit of a throwback to the old days. But like the music, we try to change with the times. It's a process to get to this point.

And that point is a 6-1 overall record, a growing fan base that filled the visiting stands at Soddy-Daisy last week and a very good shot at playing in the postseason in Pemberton's first season as head coach in Evensville.

It's a very different point from one year ago when the Eagles won two games, had no shot at the playoffs and plenty of good seats available for even the homecoming game at Bill Horton Field.

"The coaches have brought a lot of fire," said Skip Bice, whose brother played in the 1980s and whose nephew is on the team now. "We expect to compete in every game. There's a significant difference.

"There's room for a few more people in the stands, but they'll come."

Rhea won one game in 2011.

"The losing was hard for us a team," senior Taylor Jenkins said. "Not everybody was getting along. There would be random fights and arguments."

The change has been orchestrated by Pemberton, who spent two seasons at Rhea County as an offensive coordinator. His resume includes 169 wins and a state championship in 2008 while head coach at Knoxville Catholic.

He revamped the Golden Eagle's offense and added a few twists of his own -- including the music -- while retaining four assistant coaches.

"I didn't come in to change a whole lot other than to put my system in," Pemberton said. "I knew this place had a great tradition and it's a unique place to be. Once the kids bought in, we got rolling, and we've been improving ever since."

The blending of several option systems has resulted in the Golden Eagles outscoring their opponents 295-80, including a 24-17 loss at Walker Valley. They likely have secured a spot in the playoffs and can increase those odds Friday with a win at Warren County. Pemberton said he'd like to host a playoff game.

"Playoffs are something I wanted them to experience," he said. "The seniors have been through some hard times. These seniors deserve to play in a big ballgame like that."

They've already had more success this year than in the past two seasons combined. They feel different out in the community at places like Taco Bell where an employee thanked players for winning and making the community proud. And they're willing to wear their pride around town and down the halls.

"You make it something to wake up, put on your Rhea County football stuff and go out and let everybody know you're on the team, because there's something behind the name," senior Chad Arnold said. "You're not just playing a sport, you're on a 6-1 squad and having a good season.

"You make it a priority to wear your Rhea County stuff."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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