By Steve Williams
Are these Fulton Falcons the greatest Knoxville high school football team of all time?
Answer: Yes, if.
To earn such a great distinction, Fulton must win the state championship. One slip-up, and the Falcons’ argument for “best ever” wouldn’t hold up against five former Knoxville teams that finished undefeated with a state crown.
Before we go any further, I’m going to change best of all time to the best since the TSSAA’s playoff era began in 1969. I’m making this change for multiple reasons. For one, the playoff system provides us with an additional measuring stick. It gives us that list of teams that went unbeaten and captured state titles.
I’m also old enough to have seen a lot of high school football in this area since ‘69, but I’ve only heard and read about many great teams from the earlier years, when the Knoxville High Trojans, old Central High Bobcats and the Young Yellowjackets topped the prep football scene. Not many folks who could compare those teams of yesterday with today’s teams are still with us.
We often hear that today’s football players are bigger and stronger and faster because nutrition and training methods are much more advanced for athletes and society as a whole in this day and age. That advantage is offset a little by the fact that many post-World War II high school teams had older, more mature players on them, as many young men came back to finish high school after serving in the military.
I did a little research before tackling today’s topic. Knoxville has had 17 state champions since 1969. That’s really not a whole lot considering how many different classifications and divisions we have and how many seasons it’s been since 1969.
Knoxville didn’t produce its first state champion until 1981. Webb School, coached by Ron Gratz, won it, a 7-6 decision over Memphis Prep. The Class A title game was played at Webb. At that time, the TSSAA had three classifications and public schools and private schools were still competing against each other.
Over the years, Webb has totaled six state titles in football, followed by Fulton with four, Austin-East three, CAK two, Catholic one and Halls one.
If there’s a leader in the clubhouse for best of Knoxville since ‘69 I would have to say it’s Austin-East’s 1986 team. That outstanding Roadrunners squad was coached by Sam Anderson and led by running back Leroy Thompson, one of the most highly recruited prep football players Knoxville has ever produced. He went on to play at Penn State and in the NFL.
The ‘86 Roadrunners outscored their 10 regular season opponents 375 to 49. They defeated Brentwood Academy 28-20 for the Class AA state title and finished 15-0. Von Reeves, who went on to play tight end at Tennessee, also was on that team.
Knoxville’s other four undefeated state champion teams to date include Webb (13-0, Division II-A) in 2010, Austin-East (14-0, Class AA) in 1983, Catholic (15-0, Class 3A) in 2008 and Halls (15-0, Class AAA) in 1986.
These Fulton Falcons are on track to become recognized by many as Knoxville’s greatest high school team. Some will say since 1969. Some will say for all time.
Bob Black, who started playing at Fulton as a freshman in 1956 and has been on the Falcons’ coaching staff since 1965, has already proclaimed these Falcons as Fulton’s best team ever.
It would be hard to argue against that.
Since Fulton posted that jaw-dropping 46-0 win at Powell on the opening night of the season, the Falcons have been putting up big numbers on the scoreboard. In their 10 regular season games, they won by an “average football score” of 60-6, officially outscoring their opposition by 612 to 57. They started the Class 4A playoffs with a 74-0 win over Unicoi County.
Many times this season I’ve stated that Fulton has been the most dominating team in Knoxville high school football I’ve ever seen.
“This team, with what they have with the size and the speed and the aggressiveness and athleticism, I think it’s by far the best team we’ve had at Fulton High School,” said Black.
Is it the best team in Knoxville since 1969, too?
“I think it is,” answered Black. “I don’t think any other can match what we have on this squad.”
Still, these Falcons have to finish what they started. Rob Black, head coach and Bob’s son, will surely, if he hasn’t already, remind his squad of two previous Fulton teams that went undefeated in the regular season but lost in the state finals. That happened in 1974 and 2002.
I would also tell these Falcons they are playing for more than a state championship.