It’s a bit of Tennessee high school football lore that, well, potentially could be lost to the sands of time.
After all, in addition to the novelty of it being the program’s first-ever foray into the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association state playoffs in 1972, Trousdale County – formerly Hartsville – found itself playing not only on its opponent’s home field but in a scene more fit for a sandcastle than a gridiron.
Torrential rains leading into the Class AA championship bout caused locations to be shifted, and Kingston ended up as the host. To get the field ready, players recalled, Kingston officials trucked in sand.
“Oh lord, it looked like Daytona Beach from the hashmarks to the middle of the field from about one 30-yard line to the other 30,” said Danny Joe Gregory, quarterback of that first-ever title team. “It was solid white, like we were playing in a sandbox.”
Gregory recalled that his teammates left plenty of skin on the field that night in a game that proved that a football title-match certainly was no day at the beach.
“We had skinned spots all over us from rolling around in that sand all night,” Gregory said. “Just luckily, we had a good group of guys and a good coaching staff. A lot of my friends from that team now are gone, but it was just special to be a part of that.”
Dr. Clint Satterfield, now the school district superintendent, was a middle school ball boy for his father, iconic Trousdale coach Jim Satterfield, during that title march as a precursor to his own playing career. He remembered what a unique time it was – that Trousdale had initially resisted the creation of the playoffs, as had many programs during during the 1960s, in order to preserve the traditional postseason bowl games.
“That was the first year that Trousdale, we went by Hartsville at that time, participated in the playoffs because the bowl games were really big in Tennessee,” Dr. Satterfield said. “My dad and a lot of other people thought the playoff thing was just a fad or wouldn’t stick or I guess old habits sometimes are just hard to break.
“My dad was playing Lebanon and Gallatin and Portland and wanted to keep those rivals. So they went three years and didn’t even play the TSSAA district or region schedule.”
Once the program acquiesced to the changing tides, it emphatically served notice to the rest of the Volunteer State – not that the Yellow Jackets had not already carved a reputation of taking on any program, any time and any place.
“I remember, we were a Single A team playing Double A ball and beating Triple A ball clubs,” Gregory recalled of the three-class football postseason structure. “Coach Satterfield could take an average ballplayer and make a great ball player out of you.
“We were just country boys, worked in tobacco fields and hauled hay during the days. Coach Satterfield said, ‘Through the week you won’t like me, but on Friday night boys, it’s going to be a breeze.’ And we were 13-0.”
The Yellow Jackets of Trousdale County swarmed foes that season, holding eight of their 13 victims to single-digit scoring. They won their three playoff games by 12, nine and 12 points.
And they did so without benefit of depth; almost every starter played both ways for a team that dressed just 25 players. The Yellow Jackets deployed wide splits along their offensive front, and if Gregory got a spaced-out look from the defense, he simply rode the wave of his interior offensive line for huge chunks of real estate.
“All the praise goes to the linemen, they did all the work,” said Gregory, who also noted the rugged running of O.J. Warner and Mike Whittaker as bedrocks of the offense. “We all loved each other, there wasn’t any black or white. We were all one family, and if you were black, white, green, red or whatever it didn’t matter.”
As Trousdale marched along this dream run, the community continued to rally behind the program. Finally, as the group prepared for its team meal the night before the title clash at Kingston, a local football legend and restauranteur made a vow.
“The whole community was ecstatic about it, and I remember vividly that they had a guy, Rodney Thomas, who had played NFL football and had a restaurant there in town. He fed the team dinner the night before the state championship,” Satterfield said. “He told them, ‘If y’all win this thing, I’m going to get a big color picture and put it up in my restaurant and I will make sure everybody has a championship blazer.”
He backed up his word after the 12-0 title-triumph; each player received a customized gold blazer in the motif of today’s iconic Pro Football Hall of Fame blazers after the community helped raise funds. The picture remained in the restaurant until it closed and has since been on display at the school.
The jackets had a 1972 Class 2A Hartsville State Champions patch and each player’s name was embroidered on the pocket.
Five decades later, the Trousdale foundation remains in place.
“The thing about Hartsville, it’s a football town,” Gregory said. “We still go on Friday nights to watch games on the creek bank, and a lot of us still go to the away games when we can.”