Blount Press Row

Will They Remember?

Thirty-four Mountaineers pay the price so program can grow

Jose Hernandez takes the handoff from quarterback Jake Olvey. Photos by Brandon Shinn

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

There were 300 Spartans.

Jesse Huff had back-to-back catches to launch a Heritage scoring drive on Friday.

There are 34 Mountaineers.

Will history remember them?

Farragut won going away Friday night at Heritage, routing the Mountaineers, 52-7, in a game that was over by halftime.

It’s not our intention, dear reader, to offer a game recap here. There are lots of places to find that.

We want to tell you about those seven points. We want to tell you about the team, down 45-0 at the time, that went and got them. We want to tell you about 34 guys, who so care for their school and the teams to follow, they’re willing to pay a dear price.

Farragut was bigger, faster and much deeper, and it’s depth, specifically, so little of it, that’s a big part of the story behind the 2012 Mountaineers. There’s a reason.

It’s no secret the Mountaineers have seen tough times the last decade. First-year coach Tim Hammontree felt drastic measures were necessary to change things, so he made freshmen ineligible for varsity play.

Schuyler LaRue carries the mail for the Mountaineers.

Freshmen would be kept together on the freshman team. They’d be given time to get bigger, faster and learn the way the coaching staff wanted things done. They’d win a few games.

When they took over in a year or two, they’d be much farther along.

It worked at Maryville, a program Hammontree brought screaming back to prominence in the mid 1990s. It can work at Heritage too, but, as with Maryville, there’s a price: the upperclassmen.

If they aren’t willing to carry the load and sacrifice for those freshmen, the whole thing comes apart. Sixteen seniors, nine juniors and nine sophomores stepped forward.

It’s the seniors for whom the price is most steep. Jake Olvey knows he’ll never throw another pass for Heritage after this season. Jesse Huff knows he’ll never catch another touchdown pass. Je’Rell Bledsoe, whose younger brother, Orlando, is one of the few sophomores on the varsity roster, knows he’ll never return another kick.

Dylan Harris and Jose Hernandez know they’ll go offense/defense in every game, and little rest is coming. Offensive lineman/linebacker Ty Clark has played with an injured shoulder all season.

Dylan Harris makes a diving tackle for the Mountaineers.

For fellow seniors Chris Neubert, Randall Welch, Jole Payne, Eric Wilson, Josh Lovell, Jake Malone, Matthew Burkett, Cody Jiminez, Walker White and Warren Smith, there is no next year.

Which brings us to those seven points.

“When you’re down like that, your only goal is to score points,” Olvey said.

Heritage games have turned predictably this season. Players going full-time both ways don’t have a lot left in the second half. Winless through six games and down 45 points on Friday, Olvey, Huff, Bledsoe, Harris and the rest found just a little bit more. The fact it was against Admiral reserves matters not at all.

“We’ve been coached to never give up and only work hard for the team,” Huff said.

“We’re family,” Clark said. “We work together and we’ve been taught to give our all until the very last whistle.”

The drive opened at the Heritage 13, so there was a long way to go. Olvey fired twice to Huff, then once to Harris, moving the Mountaineers to third-and-1 at the Admiral 41. Bledsoe bashed the Farragut defense off right tackle a play later in a display that said it all.

Je'Rell Bledsoe, pictured here taking the handoff from quarterback Jake Olvey in the Maryville game, uncorked a memorable third-down run on Friday.

The senior running back/defensive back/kick returner carried several Admirals the last 5 yards of a 24-yard run. He was never brought down, the play simply blown dead at the Farragut 17.

Juniors Zach Whaley and Schuyler LaRue moved the ball to the Admiral 1 on successive carries. On first-and-goal, Bledsoe got in.

The 300 were overrun at Thermopylae. There were too many Persians, not enough Spartans and no relief was coming.

We remember them for a reason.

Persian king Xerxes sent messengers to the Greek camp before the battle, offering to spare the Spartans if they surrendered their weapons. Leonidas was all over that.

“Molon Labe,” he sent word back. “Come and take them!”

Xerxes did. He wiped them all out, but it bought the Greek city-states precious time to get ready. When Xerxes later tried to take the whole peninsula, the Greeks rocked his world.

There were 300 Spartans.

There are 34 Mountaineers.

Will history remember them?


  1. Marty Ruels

    October 5, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    This is the best football story I have read all season. Stefan is such a valuable resource to our community. No one does it better and I am proud to call him my friend.

  2. John Knight

    October 4, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Mr. Cooper, you have shown that journalism in Blount County can be impartial. You have also shown that not every “bad news” story is indeed bad news. The insight that you provided is profound. It gives every non-athlete and every parent that is considering sending their athletic children to a HS that would charge them tuition a different perspective of HHS football. There is more to HHS football than losing. You have opened a window for others to see that there is purpose and a vision. Not just a vision for winning (which is very important) but a vision to teach young men how to be good men, how to be good fathers, and good husbands some day. One of my best friends played for coach Hammontree at MHS and to this day, he would jump out a window for the coach. Is it because of military style loyalty? No! It is because this coach taught him life lessons. He taught him how to be a winner even while losing. I was fortunate enough to play on two playoff teams at HHS. Earl McMahan was head coach then and now he is the principal at HHS. I couldn’t be happier sending my daughters to a school thas has an administration that wants to teach young people how to be good people.

    For me, your article helps the community to see into the beating heart of the HHS football team. I know I’m sharing this link with my friends and I encourage others to do the same.

  3. McKenzie Sherman

    October 3, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Stefan you’ve done it again!! You truly don’t understand how much it means to us student athletes at Heritage to have articles like this written, and to have them so well written. This is possibly one of the best articles I have ever read, and thank you for having so much interest in Heritage athletics. To us, it feels good to have somebody who is actually paying attention and noticing us. On the other hand, I have grown up with most of these boys, and I am so proud of every one of them. For the people that really matter, they will remember this team, The Dirty Thirty, and they will recognize and commend them for all the hardwork, and all the sacrifices they have made. I can truly say that I am proud to be a Heritage Mountaineer, and I am proud to be apart of this program. Thank you!

  4. Melissa Neubert

    October 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Thank you Stefan for writing this article. I am the proud aunt of one of the young men who is a part of this awesome team “The Dirty Thirty,” Chris Neubert #78. It has been so wonderful to see how far this team has already come in just this short period of time. It may not show on the scoreboard at the end of each game, but as a spectator, I have seen many GREAT improvements in this team on the field and off the field. The “Never Quit” attitude that each of the players has displayed speaks volumes to their dedication and willingness to be coached and of the pride that each of them have for their team, coaches and school. This past Friday, I watched Chris play his heart out along with his fellow teammates, but for him it was his last game of his high school career, but not in his heart as he will always be a Heritage Mountaineer! They Will Remember!!!

  5. Benalee Hutsell

    October 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    My knowledge of football is close to zero but my three children plus two grandsons, and numerous nieces, nephews and friends have graduated from this wonderful school. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this uplifting, encouraging battle cry and it will resonate for years to come. Thank you senior Mountaineers for being a marvelous example to those to come after you! THEY WILL REMEMBER! Thank you to Bridget who posted this remarkable article.

  6. Tyler Hartley

    October 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    My name is Tyler Hartley. I was a ’11 graduate and I played football for Heritage and I got to experience high times and also low times. I have 2 brothers on this “Dirty 30” team but it’s articles and stories like this that make the game of football so awesome and entertaining to people. With that said I know that coach Hammontree has his kids believing in him and you can see that by watching these young kids play in freshman and jv games. Even though the seniors aren’t winning games they are however sacrificing a lot but only to build something awesome and I hope these guys understand how big it really is. To wrap it up this story is awesome and it makes me proud to be a Mountaineer!!!

  7. Sharon Kintzele

    October 3, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    This is an awesome article and just goes to show that it is not necessarily the school you go to that matters, it is the students in that school that matter. All three of our children graduated from Heritage High School, and I am always looking at the score on the bottom of the tv screen on Friday night to see how they did. The scores may be different each week, but the hearts of those involved in those games will always be the same. They are truly dedicated to their team and their school. God Bless each and every one involved in HHS sports, as well as the teachers and administrators who mold these students every day!

  8. Randall Welch

    October 3, 2012 at 11:55 am

    My name is Randall Welch. I also play at Heritage. I am one of those seniors (#70 D line and O line). All I have to say is I love my team more than anything. We will fight every game no matter what happens. Ty is like my brother and for him and the other senors I will fight. I love this team and I am proud to say I am a part of the Dirty Thirty. I love the coaches. Week in and week out no matter what the game before was like we will be coached hard, and I say thank you to do coaches and good luck to the underclassmen. Work hard. It’s a great start for them. WE ARE HERITAGE!

  9. Tammy Weakley

    October 3, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I want the HHS Football team to know how proud I am of them! You all show determination, pride and you ALL have courageous attitudes! My daughter is one of the cheerleaders and she and the other girls love cheering on the Mountaineers!!! Keep your heads held high and great things will come! Go Mountaineers!

  10. Dexter Watson

    October 2, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    My name is Dexter Watson #72 (center and inside linebacker). I am a freshman and I want to say thank you to my upperclassmen for paving the way for me and and the freshman team. Without them we have no shoes to fill, no numbers to live up to. I am glad to be a Mountaineer. I am glad to go to Heritage. Our teams get hit hard but we keep moving forward. Thank you for working hard for us. In return I’m going to work twice as hard for you and make sure Heritage will make history.

  11. Bradshaw

    October 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    I stumbled across this by a link from my cousin’s facebook page. I must say, this article is so well written and actually gave me goosebumps. I had the pleasure of playing for Coach Hammontree (who also happens to be my uncle) at Maryville High. I just have to say I am proud of him, and I know if anyone can turn Heritage’s football program around, it’s him. But, it also takes dedication from the players. The quotes in the article from some of them reminded me so well of how things were at Maryville when Coach Hammontree was there. We were a family then too! I am truly excited to see what will happen with the Mountaineers. It may take some time, but it seems everyone can see you guys are on the right track! ps…even though it is my Alma Mater, I look forward to the day you guys beat Maryville. =)

  12. Scott Amspaugh

    October 2, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I had the GREAT opportunity to Coach at Heritage under Coach Rewis, then at Heritage Middle school, and now at Eagleton. I LOVE your story on this team, It fits them well! I can say that I have seen “behind” the curtain ,what goes on in practice and in the locker room and the coaches office. Over the years you can’t find a harder working bunch of kids…. what they lack in size strength and talent, they try to make it up in hard work!
    I LOVE these boys, I love to watch them grow up and become great young men! They play for THEIR school and they want to see it become something special, and I WILL REMEMBER THEM!!

  13. Becky Kirby Wilson

    October 2, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    HHS class of ’79, Tim ’80. Tim was captain and #88, tight end. They “Will Remember” and because of you and this story, everybody else will too. We Do.

  14. Gil York

    October 2, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    I played at Heritage. Graduated in 05. Just to leave a Lil thought with the boys. Don’t take a single down for granted. Football will go. But the fact that you know you didn’t leave it all on the field will haunt you forever. I know if I had given it everything I could’ve I would’ve slept a Lil better every night. Proud to have always been a Mountaineer. Don’t play one down with nothing less than everything. Hope this is the turning point for us. Keep making us proud.

  15. pat nelson

    October 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    I am the Heritage High School Cheerleaders coach and I would like to say that the cheerleaders and I are very dedicated to the football team. Being a coach’s wife of Jim Nelson, who coaches the Middle School and a former Heritage High school coach we know that Coach Hammontree is one of the best things that has happened to HHS. Jim and I know how it feels to see young men who are dedicated and play with all of their heart. I truly hope that this team will remember all of their hard work, sacrifices and struggles. . I hope that they believe in themselves always and even though the scoreboard at the end of the game might say one thing, we at Heritage High School are very proud of our Mountaineers!!!

    Pat Nelson

  16. Becky Prugh

    October 2, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Beautifully written Stefan. Will they remember? I think they’ll remember. They’ll remember the work, the time, the tears, the joys and they’ll remember the men who helped them become better at dealing with life. I’ve enjoyed being able to watch them this year.

  17. Becky Prugh

    October 2, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Beautifully written, Stefan…and now I’m in tears. Thank you!

  18. Kim Knight

    October 2, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Excellent article!!!

  19. Angie Whaley

    October 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Oh my goodness! This is so well said. I am the football Booster President @ Heritage. I have been apart of the Heritage program since the Seniors were in 8th grade and Juniors were in 7th grade. This is the best article I have seen about these guys! I love this Dirty Thirty team and respect what they do on a daily basis. Thank you for this article.

  20. Sara Berry

    October 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    I am truly touched by this article and the response by this young man. I had 2 children graduate from HHS years ago.

    I love football, but also understand the lows and highs it brings. I commend this coach and this team for their efforts. Sometimes it is years down the road before the real payback comes. Hang in there!

  21. Ty Clark

    October 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    My name is Ty Clark. I am a senior at Heritage High School and I am on this great football team (#50 offensive lineman/middle linebacker). This is the best article I have ever seen. Will people remember? That is the real question. Every dynasty has to begin somewhere and the 34 of us Mountaineers are willing to fight every single down of every single game to make this dynasty become a legend. We will give it our all for Heritage everyday. We get out and practice just the way all other schools do and play just as hard as other schools do. We will get there one day, but you have to start somewhere, right? Coach Hammontree will teach these boys the right way to do things. I believe in him and the future to come of our team. I am so thankful for my team, my coaches, and my school. We will never give up on ourselves or our team! Go Heritage!

    • Stefan Cooper

      Stefan Cooper

      October 1, 2012 at 9:10 pm

      Ty, you wouldn’t be interested in a career in sports journalism, would you? That was Tebow-strong. Loved it. Go Mountaineers!

      • Ty Clark

        October 2, 2012 at 11:32 am

        Absolutely! I would be very interested in sports journalism. Thank you Stefan.

        • E Brown

          October 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm

          Very proud of you Ty, and your teammates. A great man once told me that “There is not a tree in heaven higher than the tree of patience.” I remember when the Mountaineers were truly “mighty.” With a little belief, little hard work, a lot of trust, they can be again. Nothing is ever worth having, if it’s easy. Keep setting the example.

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