Talk about bloodlines.
Three seniors at East Hamilton have been blessed with solid role models – their fathers – throughout their life on and off the football field.
The dads of Cordell Sands, Bailey Lenoir and Austin Gatewood had outstanding football careers themselves and one spent seven years in the NFL.
If the youngsters needed any gridiron or life experience advice, it was as close as the kitchen table. These fathers really do know best when it comes to handling the hard knocks and bright lights of football:
Terdell Sands played at Howard High and was a three-time all-city and all-state selection, played at UT-Chattanooga one year (1999) and spent seven years from 2003-09 in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots.
Patrick Lenoir played offensive tackle and lettered all four years at the University of Tennessee from 1988-91, helping the Vols go 34-12-2 overall and 18-8-1 in the Southeastern Conference with league titles in 1989-90. In Lenoir’s final three years, Tennessee was 29-6-2 under coach Johnny Majors.
Lenoir’s brother, John Robinson “Rob” Lenoir, a former defensive tackle at Duke, was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. He was a vice president at Sandler O’Neill & Partners, an investment banking firm, working on the 104th floor of the South Tower when one of two hijacked airliners crashed into the building.
It took two years to identify a bone fragment found in the rubble as that of Lenoir’s 38-year-old brother.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary – Sept. 10, 2011 – of the attacks, Patrick carried an American flag while running through the “T” at Neyland Stadium before the Vols’ game against Cincinnati to honor his fallen brother. Tennessee won, 45-23.
Ted Gatewood played at Red Bank High and lettered at Memphis State from 1985-87, earning All-Metro Conference honors the last two years and was selected All-America honorable mention in 1986. Gatewood earned his postseason recognition despite the Tigers going 8-22-3 while he was there.
Gatewood now has the pleasure of coaching the three progenies, all of whom have been named to the Murphy Fair Tennessee High School Football preseason Class 5A All-State team.
“That’s a great honor for those kids and our program,” said Gatewood, who has a 60-61 record heading into his fifth season at East Hamilton where he’s 20-24 overall and 15-13 in district play, but 17-7 and 13-1 the past two seasons.
“It says a lot about how hard our kids have worked,” Gatewood said.
The honors started rolling in after the 2012 season after the Hurricanes plowed three games deep into the state playoffs before losing to finalist Columbia Central.
Austin Gatewood was the District 6-AA Linebacker of the Year.
Bailey Lenoir earned a spot on the All-District 6-AA team.
Cordell Sands has joined the honorees with his preseason all-state selection.
Of 305 schools playing Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Division I football, only eight had either three or four players make Fair’s squads.
East Hamilton, Christ Presbyterian Academy, Trinity Christian, Adamsville and Huntingdon all had three picks apiece. Oakland, Fulton and Alcoa each landed four players on the preseason teams.
In Class 5A, only the Hurricanes had three players selected. Cleveland placed two players – quarterback Austin Herink and offensive lineman Koran Kennedy – on the team. Ooltewah running back Desmond Pittman earned a spot as well.
Of the 24 combined picks on offense and defense, District 5 had six selections, all but Gatewood on offense.
With plenty of talent returning from the Hurricanes’ run to a second straight District 6-AA title and quarterfinal berth in the 2012 state playoffs, it came as no big surprise when they were voted the favorite to win a regular-season championship in their first year in District 5-AAA.
East Hamilton received its lofty preseason votes despite having the district’s smallest enrollment of 1,107, which is based on 2011-12 figures.
The other schools line up this way, one through six: Bradley Central (1,664), Walker Valley (1,565), McMinn County (1,472), Ooltewah (1,404), Cleveland (1,357) and Soddy-Daisy (1,341).
How is Ted Gatewood handling the preseason hype?
“We tell our kids they can’t listen to the noise outside our locker room, practice field and meetings rooms,” he said. “We have to focus on the task at hand, and that’s to get better on each play on every day.”
While the coaches don’t talk about the preseason hype that much, there is no hiding the potential distractions from social-media savvy players.
“Our kids know about it,” Gatewood said. “In this day and with all the technology, the information is out there all over the place. We do talk to the kids about the most important thing and that’s if people are going to tout us and our potential, right now all they’re talking about potential because it hasn’t happened.
“It’s based on last year and you can’t live in the past. If you’re living in the past, you’re not doing anything about the future.”
Cordell Sands says making the preseason all-state team is one of his football dreams while following in the big footsteps of his 33-year-old father, who was a seventh-round pick by Kansas City in the 2001 draft and played in 77 NFL games as a 6-foot-7-inch, 337-pound defensive tackle.
The Hurricanes’ stalwart was a mainstay in the offensive line at tackle a year ago and played sparingly on defense – in four games he had 11 tackles, including seven solo stops. Offensively, Sands helped the Hurricanes pile up 5,127 yards of total offense, a 394.4-yard per-game average.
“When I was little – I wasn’t very tall – I looked up to my dad because he made it to the NFL and he is my role model,” Cordell said. “I wanted to be just like him. He tells me stories about how he did in high school and I’d like to do better than that.”
The 6-3, 320-pound senior says he and his father still talk football a lot and calls “it cool” when the two sit down and watch old game films.
“I’ve learn a lot from him,” Cordell said.
Cordell’s exposure to his dad’s considerable knowledge of the game seems to be paying off.
Middle Tennessee State is seriously recruiting him, as are Cincinnati, UT-Chattanooga and “a few others.”
Cordell said he plays the same positions – left offensive tackle and nose guard – that his father played.
Cordell agrees with coach Gatewood’s calling the preseason all-state selections a collective honor and doesn’t believe the players will be distracted by the “noise” of having a bigger target on their backs when the season begins on Aug. 23 at Signal Mountain.
If opponents use the “bigger target” theory in preparing for the Hurricanes, Cordell said it would have no effect on him.
“Bring it on,” he said. “We can take anything.”
Bailey Lenoir, a 6-3, 235-pound tight end, is taking his all-state selection in stride, choosing to focus on team goals for the 2013 season after a disappointing 22-16 quarterfinal loss to Giles County to end last year’s playoff run.
Lenoir was the Hurricanes’ sixth-leading receiver last season, but three of his 12 receptions for 143 yards resulted in touchdowns, tying him with Cody Knox and Tony Francois for the team lead. He averaged 11.9 yards per catch.
With Tennessee Sports Writers Association All-State running back Logan Jackson now a preferred walk-on at UTC, coach Gatewood envisions a more balanced attack this season and that means more passes coming from quarterback Hunter Moore.
“It would be great to get a few more passes,” Lenoir said, “but I will do whatever the team needs me to do, whether that’s blocking, catching passes or anything else.
“I have pretty good hands, but I need to improve my speed (4.95 in the 40-yard dash) and run better routes.”
Lenoir believes the Hurricanes’ younger players will take their cues from the examples set by the veterans being recognized for their work in the program’s first four seasons.
“I’m not about to get cocky over the all-state honors,” said Lenoir, whose father is in pharmaceutical sales. “I will say it has motivated me to have a really good senior year. We came up 9 yards short against Columbia in the quarterfinals. We want to make sure we finish everything this year.”
Lenoir has always thought about what it would be like to play at Tennessee, but he’s realistic about whether that opportunity will be there for him.
“They were recruiting me but already have a couple of big-time tight end commitments, so I don’t think it’s very realistic for me to get there,” he said. “I’m looking at other places.”
Lenoir said he’s being recruited primarily by Cincinnati, Memphis, UT-Chattanooga, Furman, Wofford.
Austin Gatewood literally grew up on the sidelines with his dad.
“It was fun,” he said. “I was the water boy, had a shirt and everything and traveled with the team. I’m really blessed to have a dad who’s also a coach.”
Austin said his father didn’t force him into playing football, but got his unabashed support when he decided to take the sport seriously.
“I come to him if I have a football question,” Austin said. “We have a room in our house with a projector where we can watch film. But at home he’s just a dad most of the time. I’m sure he expects a lot from me since he’s the coach and I’m one of the players. If I were a dad, that’s how I would treat my son.”
Austin caught passes in nine of East Hamilton’s 13 games last season, totaling 12 receptions for 188 yards and a 15.7-yard per-catch average. Defensively, he made a team-leading 57 tackles – 38 solo stops – from his outside linebacker slot, one more than Francisco Rodriguez.
Austin and four teammates were two of five Hurricanes named to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association All-State team in 2012.
The younger Gatewood seems to be handling the hype of being the coach’s son well.
“It has made me stay humble,” he said. “My dad will always keep me that way. I’ll never get the big head.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)