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Keeping Sgt. York at home
Everything else aside, one of the biggest goals for the Tennessee Tech football team is to win the Sergeant York Trophy. Last season, in the trophy’s third season, the Golden Eagles were able to make that dream a reality.
Now, the biggest goal is to keep the visage of Pall Mall native Alvin C. York nice and cozy in the TTU Football offices underneath Tucker Stadium.
The Golden Eagles will start that quest on Thursday as they host UT Martin, the teams’ first contest in the Ohio Valley Conference’s in-state round-robin.
“I see the trophy in there every day,” said senior wide receiver Henry Sailes. “We all think we’re going to win it again this year, and, after I leave, I think we’ll keep winning it. By winning it last year, I think we accomplished a huge goal.”
The York Trophy is only the first step in the goals Tech coach Watson Brown has set for his team.
“We’ve got all kinds of goals,” Brown said. “The top one is to win the national championship. The mindset that I want our players to have and our fans to have is, from here on, that’s the goal every year. It’s not ‘this year’s team is going to be the one able to do that.’ It’s every year. We’re good enough to think like that now. That’s what we do. But there’s a whole lot of goals built into that – winning all the home games, winning the York Trophy, having a winning record. They’re all stepping stones. We now step into two of them, and really three – the winning record, hang in there in the OVC battle and we start the state championship battle. If I’m here for 10 more years and you’re here for 10 more years, you’re going to hear me say this 10 years from now. It’s what we’re going to be, and, hopefully, we’ve won a couple in there.
“That’s what it is. It’s another step. It’s an important step.”
As a player, the trophy means pride.
“It means a lot to me because it means a lot to my teammates,” said Sailes. “I put my teammates before myself, so if I feel like I’m not doing my part to help the team, we can’t bring home the trophy, so I didn’t do my job.”
As a coach, the trophy means a lot more.
“It means everything,” Brown said. “To me, it’s the No. 1 goal. I want that every year. It’s the in-state thing, it’s the pride of the in-state schools. I’ll tell you this – you don’t win the OVC championship without the Sergeant York Trophy. If you don’t win it, I promise you, you can’t win the OVC championship. It’s very important to me and I think it’s very important to our kids. They’ve enjoyed having that trophy here for the six months we’ve had it and they would love to keep it. But there’s three other schools that are getting hungrier to get it away from us. We’ve become the hunted, and it’s a different world. We were the hunter a year ago, and now we’re the hunted. We’ll have to take that challenge.”
Austin Peay currently has a one-game lead, as the Governors defeated Tennessee State two weeks ago in the lone game played in the season-long tournament.
The Golden Eagles opened the in-state battle at home last year, beating APSU 31-23.
“It was a really good Austin Peay team that we had to beat at home,” Brown said. “We won the game. Here we sit again. With UT Martin, it’s a team that’s already beaten Eastern Illinois. They’re a good team. We’re going to have to play really well to win the game.”
Last year, a week after defeating the Governors, Tech downed UT Martin 35-28. And the Golden Eagles claimed the trophy in dramatic fashion with the 20-13 Homecoming victory over Tennessee State.
“That was an accomplishment,” Sailes said. “That was an objective we set before the season started. We were excited to do it and we knew it meant a lot to the community and to Coach Brown since he’s from here.”
After Tennessee State had tied the game midway through the fourth quarter, TTU quarterback Lee Sweeney fired to Tim Benford in double-coverage. The defenders brought Benford down, but as the Tech receiver emerged from the pile, he raised the ball high to show he had made the catch.
“It was a very exciting moment,” Brown said. “That TSU team was one that hadn’t lost a state game yet. They came in here with every belief that they were going to come in here, win that one, then win the rest to keep the trophy. We had to play them at their toughest, when they were still positive about everything. When we beat them, it was over. I think we’re going to catch Martin the same way. They’re going to come in here and play their best game wanting to beat us.”
But the trophy is also a big thing for the other Tennessee teams in the OVC. Even departed TSU coach James Webster noted it last year following the loss that ripped the trophy from the two-time winners and into the grasp of the Golden Eagles.
“I can tell you how special it is to Tennessee Tech – after the game was over, the announcer didn’t say Tech had won the game, they won the Sergeant York Trophy,” Webster said. “He said it four times very loudly. That was big and they should be excited about it. I’m not sure if everybody knows what it means to win that trophy. Our football team does, our coaches do. If you don’t win the Sergeant York Trophy, it’s very hard to win the conference. That’s the first thing we tell our players. It’s a big deal, and it’s a big deal for us to give up.”
By Thomas Corhern, Herald Citizen