Owen junior varsity football head coach Curt Presley could have said any number of things following his team’s 30-16 loss at home to Mountain Heritage, Oct. 24. The Warhorses entered the game against the previously unbeaten Cougars with a 7-0 record of their own, and had aspirations of winning a Western Highlands Conference title.
“I told them I was proud of them, win or lose,” said the former player and longtime coach at the school. “I told them I would always rather lose with Owen than win with the other team.”
Presley began his coaching career at Owen in 2002, coaching under longtime junior varsity head coach Tim Raines, who retired in 2017. He is a member of the varsity coaching staff and worked with the junior varsity squad that finished the 2018 season 5-5.
“I had about a three-year period where wasn’t working with the team,” he said. “But during that time I was coaching with the Warhorse Youth Football League.”
His experience coaching youth football made him familiar with many of the players on the 2019 Owen junior varsity roster, but he didn’t know what to expect when he took over the program.
“I knew we were a little thin up front on our defensive and offensive lines,” he said of his expectations coming into the season. “But I knew we had gritty kids that would compete.”
The Warhorses opened the season, Aug. 22, with a 26-8 win over East Henderson, setting up a Week 2 match-up against Reynolds.
“When they beat Reynolds I knew that we were capable of beating anyone,” Presley said. “A big part of how we judge our season is based on our performance against Reynolds and Mountain Heritage.”
Owen pulled out a 20-16 victory over the Rockets and slipped past Smoky Mountain, 14-13, to open the season 3-0.
“One of the things that made a big difference with this team is that I started installing what we do on the varsity level, at least the language, when they were 10 or 11 years old,” Presley said. “So we have kids coming in as freshmen, like our quarterback Hunter Inabinett, who have five or six years of this offense under their belt already.”
That experience continued to pay off for the junior varsity squad, which entered its first conference match-up against Mitchell, Oct. 10, with a 5-0 mark.
“We do this thing where we hit the sleds hard after practice on Mondays,” Presley said. “And on Tuesdays we go over to the hill behind the baseball field and run it as many times as we possibly can. That feels like the difference for our players, they feel like their opponents aren’t out running the hills and doing what they’re doing to get ready.”
Preparing his players to play at the varsity level is about more than football, according to Presley. Instilling the work ethic necessary to be successful on and off the field was a priority for him and his staff throughout the season.
“We teach these kids a lot of life lessons,” he said. “They learn to get up, go to work, be on time, be there every day and they really bought into that. I had some kids on my team find a wallet with no identification and $60 inside and they gave it to me to find the owner. We have a lot of good young men playing for this JV team.”
While the players were disappointed in the loss to Mountain Heritage, it serves as another valuable lesson for the young Warhorses, the coach said.
“Mountain Heritage is an awesome team,” he said. “They were big, strong and disciplined, and I don’t want to take anything away from them. But our guys fought hard, they fought a good fight and that experience will keep them hungry as they go forward.”