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You can come home again.
At least that’s the case for Brian Pankey, as last Thursday the longtime Cherokee head coach and Kingston assistant was named the head coach at Roane County High School after one season as head coach at Austin-East High School.
“It feels good to come back home,” Pankey said after leading his Jackets in their first offseason conditioning workout on Monday. “This is my community and it’s good to be around familiar faces. It was tough to leave Austin-East though. We had just finished spring practice there and they’re going to have a good year. I spent a year there and built a lot of great relationships with the coaches and players. The toughest thing was to leave those kids.”
When Pankey left the Jackets for Austin-East last spring, a lot of people were upset because they felt he should have been given the Kingston job after Vic King retired. Pankey, however, says his one year away from Kingston has made him better all the way around.
“Looking back it was probably the best thing for me,” he said. “Going to a place where the kids aren’t as fortunate as the kids here humbled me and made me thankful for everything I have. The experience has made me not only a better coach, but a better person.”
One experience at Austin-East that will help Pankey at Kingston is preparing for the upcoming season without the benefit of spring practice. He learned that anytime there is a coaching change that you have to work hard to get players out. He’ll need that experience as Kingston had less than 25 players out for spring practice this year.
“One thing I found out is that you get help and relief in numbers,” he said. “The first thing I did there and will do here is meeting with the community and its leaders to get the word out. I want everyone to know that it’s going to be a welcoming environment for the players and we’re going to be approachable as a staff.”
Getting that word out is already paying off. Pankey has been on the job less than a week and Monday the Jackets had 45 players out for summer conditioning. He said that’s where being a lifelong Jacket has paid off.
“It’s a big help already knowing these kids,” he said. “Most of these kids played for me at Cherokee. I went to school with a lot of their parents and I go to church in this community. That’s made me extremely comfortable coming back.”
While Pankey knows all about Kingston great tradition in football, he says there will be changes. The change Jacket fans will notice the most will be on offense. While the formation will change, the team’s attitude or approach to the game according to Pankey.
“We won’t be running the traditional Wing-T that everyone is used to,” he said. “We’ll be running a pistol spread offense, but you’re still going to see old-fashioned Kingston football. We’re going to be physical, we’re going to play hard, and we’re going to give it 100 percent at all times.”
Pankey is excited to take over his alma mater, but he also knows the Jackets have their work cut out for them in 2013. Kingston lost most of their starters from a year ago on both sides of the ball, including their quarterback, leading rusher and leading receivers. Kingston also plays in the toughest Class AA district in the state with Alcoa, Christian Academy of Knoxville and their newest member, Knoxville Catholic, leading the way.
“We’ve got some great kids in this program, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a tough schedule and we’re going to be a young team with only eight seniors,” he said. “But we’re going to stay positive and keep moving forward. We’re going to work hard and it’ll be great if that transfers into some wins this season.”