Success is no stranger to Gary Rankin. In his coaching career he has won six state championships including championships in both 5A and 2A. Rankin has made it to the state championship game eleven times in his career. He built a dynasty in middle Tennessee football with his success at Riverdale and hopes to keep the run of success at Alcoa.
Alcoa High School has been a dominate force the last five years in 2A high school football in Tennessee. The Tornadoes have won four consecutive state championships and have had impressive seasons along the way. We recently caught up with legendary Tennessee high school football coach Gary Rankin to talk about his tornadoes and their drive for a fifth straight title. Here is what Coach Ranking had to say.
How was spring practice?
"It went pretty good. It's just a little different at a small school like ours. We have kids in other sports, so we were missing 16 – 18 players in the spring. We didn't have a lot of our skill players out there. It gives us a chance to work with younger kids and find more players. You just have to adjust with your situation."
What are some of your strengths?
"We tailored it to our linemen and we were trying to find some more linemen. We think we've got 10 – 12 linemen who are pretty decent and can play. That's probably a little bit more than we've had in the past."
What are some the areas you need to improve?
"We had a key loss at quarterback with Randall Cobb, and a key loss at tailback with Troy Hodge. Those are two positions we feel like are going to be key. At tailback we've got two or three kids we can get what we want out of that position. The quarterback position we feel is something that is going to be important to us."
Who are some of the players you feel you can rely on this season? "Jaron Toney our tailback and Darryl Warren our other tailback and we've got both of our fullbacks, De Herbet, and Taharin Tyson, he was a freshman for us that ended starting for us the last three or four games. Sam Thompson has been a key player for a couple of years. Tyler Robinson at tight end is a pretty big key for us. Upfront we've got quite a few linemen that are going to be competitive up there."
Who stepped up this spring? "Linemen wise, John Birchfield, came through for us and showed he can be a player. Caleb Mangum came through, and Derrick Evans, who is going to be a sophomore, really had a great spring. Jeff Hickman, who is a returning lineman, had a good spring."
What is your biggest challenge this season? "I think the challenge is to stay on top of the mountain a little bit. We've won four championships in a row and the challenge is to stay at that level. It puts a big target on you. When you've been as good as Alcoa has been it's just a challenge of keeping it going. I think the kids are hungry and have a pride of keeping it going. Our kids take a lot of pride in it."
Do you have any college prospects? "We probably don't have as many as we've had in the past. Sam Thompson is certainly one that is getting looked at a little bit. Jeff Hickman is really getting looked at by some colleges. The rest of them are primarily sophomores and juniors."
How important is your fan base and community? "I think it's real important. Football is important to the city of Alcoa, to the school, and to the community. You hear the term a ‘football town' and Alcoa is definitely a ‘football town'. Our fans take ownership in our program and it's a great place to be as far as the backing. Our fan base is real important."
What is your philosophy on offense? "We are going to adjust to our players. We have our system and our schemes and what we would like to do. In high school especially the small school you have to adjust a little bit and it starts with the quarterback. We've got our basic principles and ideas and we fan out from that based on the ability of our quarterback. We'll always make sure we can run the football"
What is your philosophy on defense? "Defensively we are going to make sure we can stop the run. I think that's true at many levels. I think you have to be able to stop the run."