Blount Press Row

‘The Dirty Thirty’

Legacy of team that sacrificed producing tangible results
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Former Heritage quarterback Jake Olvey looks to the sideline for the signal in this 2012 photo. Photo by Brandon Shinn

By McKenzie Sherman
Blount Press Row

In the spring of 2012, Tim Hammontree came to Heritage High School to take over as head football coach.

Former Mountaineer Dylan Harris makes the catch against Lenoir City. Photo by Brandon Shinn

Former Mountaineer Dylan Harris makes the catch against Lenoir City. Photo by Brandon Shinn

He immediately began a rebuild of a program in need of a turnaround. Just how severe the revamp would be came to light that fall with a roster of just 34 players, a group history later nicknamed “the Dirty Thirty.”

One of Hammontree’s first decisions at Heritage was to make freshmen ineligible for varsity play. Only a handful of sophomores made the cut.

With so small a roster and Heritage competing in the state’s largest classification for football, “the Dirty Thirty” faced adversity few teams will know. They lost all 10 games, often by lopsided margins.

Last Friday night, several members of the Dirty Thirty team returned to check on the legacy of their sacrifice, to see if the Mountaineers that followed them remembered.

Heritage fell, 49-30, to the Farragut Admirals at Jack Renfro Stadium as they watched. Fumbles and interceptions killed the Mountaineers, even after opening with a 7-0 lead on an Orlando Bledsoe touchdown run. Had it been the same ball game as two years ago, Bledsoe would have been the only Mountaineer to score.

It wasn’t the same game, nor was it the same outcome.

The final score was 52-7 Farragut two years ago, the biggest difference between then and now not only the 30 points the Mountaineers rolled up.

Two years ago, the seven Heritage points came to represent a team that would not go quietly. They would battle to the final horn.

Friday, Heritage struck first, and looked good doing it.

“Yes I remember that game,” former Mountaineer Dylan Harris said. “I was mad. The game ended up being horrible.”

It was a tough year for the Mountaineers, lots of work and little to show for it. The Dirty Thirty knew the best was yet to come. They also knew it would be others to follow who would reap the benefits.

“I never went into a game expecting to lose, especially not that bad,” Jake Olvey said. “It was still hard after every game though. I always asked myself why and what we could do better.”

Ty Clark (50) played both ways for the Mountaineers in 2012, going the distance with an injured shoulder. Photo by Brandon Shinn

Ty Clark (50) played both ways for the Mountaineers in 2012, going the distance with an injured shoulder. Photo by Brandon Shinn

Olvey was the quarterback that year, and, along with Harris and former offensive/defensive player Ty Clark, were key in holding things together. Depth was the hardest obstacle to overcome.

“We knew most of us had to play on both sides of the ball, the whole game without any breaks or rest,” Clark said. “There, more than likely, was not anybody else that could come in and relieve us. We were it.”

Players like current Mountaineer quarterback Dustin Richardson, a junior and preseason All-Blount County selection, were not on the roster. Sixteen seniors, nine juniors and nine sophomores — that, as Clark said, was it.

“I think it was good for (for the freshmen),” Olvey said. “They could play together and learn and get to the point that they are at now.”

Comparing past and present, it is evident gains have been made and Hammontree’s program is coming around.

“Many players have stepped up, ones that were on that team with me, and I am proud,” Olvey said. “They still have a ways to go but it takes time.”

The Dirty Thirty enabled the foundation to be laid for a Heritage team that has become the district’s third-highest scoring offense at 33.7 points per game. Only second-place West (42.9 points) and frontrunner Maryville (34.9) are better.

By comparison, the Dirty Thirty managed 5.5 points per game against much the same schedule.

Junior quarterback Dustin Richardson has the Mountaineers on a record pace this season.

Junior quarterback Dustin Richardson has the Mountaineers on a record pace this season.

Heritage was shut out three times in 2012, scoring in double figures twice. With 18 points over their final three games, the 2014 Mountaineers will finish with the highest regular-season scoring average in school history.

While the wins aren’t coming in bunches just yet, no one is taking the Mountaineers lightly anymore.

“There’s lots of improvement,” Harris said. “My brother is a senior this year and I really feel that they are headed in the right direction.”

The Dirty Thirty left Heritage winless that season, but the life lessons they took with them from the struggle have been far-reaching, Clark said.

Harris now works at Denso Manufacturing. Clark is currently employed at Ruby Tuesday and leaves for the Marine Corps in January. Olvey is a sophomore at the University of Tennessee majoring in business administration.

“He (Hammontree) never gave up on us and that is carrying over now,” Clark said. “He still believes and is still rebuilding.”

Looks like things are coming along nicely, for all concerned.

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