J. Todd Ross hands out jerseys Saturday afternoon to his VHS alumni football teammates for a team photo. The Falcons will host their cross-county rival Cherokee High School Chiefs in an alumni football game next Saturday night. (photos by Jeff Bobo)
(Scroll down for video interviews from both teams, a highlight video from the 2012 game, and a photo gallery from Sunday's Volunteer alumni team practice.)
CHURCH HILL — Michael Godsey’s Cherokee High School football team lost to Volunteer during his junior and senior years — defeats that sting to this day.
Last year the 2008 CHS graduate was poised to get his revenge in the inaugural Cherokee/Volunteer alumni football game.
He missed his chance, however, after being diagnosed with testicular cancer a week before the 2012 game. His surgery was the day before the game.
One day out of surgery, Godsey did make it to the second half of last year’s game in time to see his teammates overcome a three touchdown deficit to win 40-34 in overtime.
Godsey’s treatments are over now, and he’s completely healed. Saturday evening when the two Hawkins County alumni teams meet for their 2013 full contact round two rematch, Godsey will be playing on both sides of the ball — as a running back on offense and a cornerback on defense.
Godsey said his goal is to make it two wins in a row for the alumni Chiefs Saturday night.
“I’ve waited a year, and I’ve wanted to come back, and I’ve wanted to play, so I’m ready for it and I can’t wait to get back on the field,” Godsey said. “I’ve got a really good buddy who’s actually in my family now — Jordan Sandidge — took two in a row from me my junior and senior year, so I’ll be looking to get back out there and take two in a row from Volunteer.”
On the other side of the Hawkins County rivalry, Volunteer High School 2010 graduate Skylar Manis said he has something to prove Saturday night as well. Manis was starting quarterback his senior year when the Falcons went 0-10. And he was the alumni quarterback last year when the team blew a three touchdown lead in the second half. Manis said the whole team is fired up for this game.
“We lost every game my senior year, and I want to come back and actually win one, especially against Cherokee,” Manis said. “I grew up in Surgoinsville and played rec league with all them (Rogersville) boys for as long as I can remember, and I still hang out with them. It’s a real big game for me.”
On both teams, the player age range is about 30 years. Both teams have 2011 graduates, and both teams have a player 50 or older.
At 51 years old, Roy Boggs was one year too old to play for Volunteer. He was in the last graduating class at Surgoinsville High School in 1980.
“I wanted to go to Volunteer, and I didn’t get a chance to go,” Boggs said. “This is going to be my opportunity to come out here and show my pride for Volunteer.”
Boggs, who will play offensive guard and fullback, said it doesn’t bother him when teammates identify him as the oldest player on the field.
“I’m very blessed to be in shape enough to come out and play a game like this,” he said. “A lot of people don’t always get a second chance to do things they want to do. This is what I wanted, right here. We wanted to play the game in Hawkins County, but from my vantage point, I always wanted to play here at Volunteer. That’s what’s going to make it special for me, to be able to play here at Volunteer — especially if we can take out a win.”
Cherokee’s 50-year-old tackle, Ketron Bailey, graduated in 1981. He said being able to step on the field and play with the younger guys has helped him recapture some of his youth.
“These guys (at Volunteer) used to be enemies a long time ago, and now I look at them as friends too,” Bailey said.
Last year the game was played on neutral territory in Kingsport. This year the game is on enemy territory for the Chiefs, but Bailey said Cherokee isn’t intimidated.
“Any time Cherokee walks on the field they’re planning on taking the trophy back home with them,” Bailey added.
Pre-game festivities for the Hawkins County High School Alumni Football Game are scheduled to begin at about 5 p.m. at the VHS stadium. It’s expected to be a festival atmosphere with inflatables and attractions for children and other entertainment. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Various school organizations at both Cherokee and Volunteer are currently selling tickets for $10. Half of the proceeds for all of the advance tickets sold by school organizations will go to the organization.
“Most of the (VHS) sports teams are selling, band, choir, cheerleaders, NJROTC and others,” said Volunteer receiver and linebacker J. Todd Ross. “It’s a fundraising opportunity that’s available throughout the community.
The other half of advanced ticket sales and all of game-day gate ticket sales goes to “Alumni Football” — the Johnson City based company that organizes alumni football games across the region.
Ross, a 1989 VHS graduate, is one of two county judges in the game. Ross is the Hawkins County sessions judge, while Cherokee player Daniel Boyd is the Hawkins County juvenile judge.
Volunteer coach Doug Sawyer admits that his team gave the game away through mistakes in the second half of last year’s game. Some of the members of the 2013 squad have been practicing for several months, and they might have a few tricks up their sleeve.
“Last year we played at Lynn Garden, enjoyed playing, but it wasn’t anything like it’s going to be to play at home,” said Sawyer, a 1984 VHS graduate. “I had great talent on the team last year, but this year the talent has grown much more. If the guys will give me 100 to 110 percent — we’ve got some good weapons.”
Sawyer was in Volunteer’s first freshman class, and the very last football game he played his senior year was a 25-0 defeat at the hands of Cherokee. He very badly wants to beat the Chiefs.
Sawyer added, “Last year we were doing so well, but to be truthful, (we made) some mistakes, a couple of turnovers. To be honest, at one point it’s 28-7 and we thought we had the game won and it came back to bite us. We’re not going to let that happen this year.”
Ross said he feels his team has extra motivation this year.
“I hope we come out on top this year, but at least we’ll have a good game for the fans,” Ross said. “Last year we had to play at Lynn Garden, and this year we’re on our home field. There’s a big trophy coming. It’s going to be a truly great thing for this community and this county. Hopefully this game will continue for many years to come, and the trophy will be passed back and forth to the winning team each year.”