By Alex Norman

Sixteen years ago, long time Powell head football coach Clark Duncan made the move to South-Doyle High School, where he took the athletics director role.   He fully believed that his coaching days were done as he was moving into an administrator’s role.

But that wasn’t what fate had in store.  Instead, he returned to the sidelines 10 years ago, and attempt to build up a program that had seen better days.

In his first season the Cherokees didn’t win a game.  But that would not be the norm.  Today, South-Doyle is a perennial playoff contender in the always challenging Class 5A.  Yes, it took some time, but that rebuild has been one of the best in East Tennessee in recent memory.

“I think it is hard work and gaining that trust and it is all about relationships,” said Duncan before a recent spring practice session.  “We have great relationships amongst our coaching staff and our players, and players to coaches. That is the number one thing.  Once you gain that trust and belief in each other and believe what you are doing and you work hard, then great things can happen.”

In 2018 the Cherokees got off to a good start, winning seven of their first eight games.  But they hit a rough patch at the worst time, ending the regular season with losses to eventual state champion Central and Powell.  In the playoffs, South-Doyle was eliminated with a 24-17 loss at Tennessee High.

But this upcoming season is shaping up to what could be a very special one for the Cherokees.

“Expectations are high and they should be,” said Duncan. “We’ve got a lot of players coming back with a lot of experience.   We’re just excited about the comradery in the weight room.  The off season that we have had… we have really grown a lot.  We’re really excited about getting this thing started.”

One luxury for the Cherokees is the return of senior Mason Brang at quarterback.  This will be his third year as South-Doyle’s starting quarterback.

“I think that experience is everything and on top of that if you are athletic it is even better,” said Duncan. “Mason is very athletic and very knowledgeable and he is a great student of the game.  He brings a lot to us and allows us to be multiple offensively.  We have some great people around him. We are big and strong up front, so it is exciting.”

Ton’Quez Ball is graduating and taking his talents to Tulane, but the Cherokees are not bereft of talent at the skill positions.  The most well known in that group is four-star athlete Elijah Young.  247 Sports has Young listed as the ninth-best prospect in the state of Tennessee for the Class of 2020.

Young has scholarship offers from Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State and yes, Tennessee.

“Elijah has started since he was a freshman,” said Duncan. “His athleticism is through the roof.  He’s a sprint guy and is tough.  He sees the field and he is a great team player.  He believes in his teammates and his teammates love him. So to have him and Mason (Brang) together is pretty explosive.”

Young is splitting time this spring between the track team and the football squad, but come fall he will be totally centered on the gridiron.

Things continue to be looking up for South-Doyle football.