Stacy Carter enjoys passing the football, and passing up the opportunity to coach at Science Hill might have left him feeling incomplete.
Carter saw another mountain to climb three years ago, and the competitor in him wouldn’t have been at peace without starting up it. So after going 73-15 at Sullivan South in six seasons, including eight playoff victories during the final three, he made the difficult decision to leave his alma mater following the 2009 season.
“As far as me making the move at that time,” Carter said, “I mean, the bottom line is I thought that’s where God was leading me to go. … That’s why I went through it. It wasn’t the football aspirations. It was the place that I thought God needed me to be.
“I’ll love and respect South always. Went to school there and have total respect in the time I had there as a player and a coach. Great people. But it was time for me to move.”
Carter played quarterback at South (class of ’90) and played baseball for Roger Jackson at Walters State and Ken Campbell at East Tennessee State. After four years in the Army, he got into coaching at South in ’99 and moved to Sullivan East in 2002 to assist Ralph Nelson’s football program and be the head baseball coach.
“I got lucky at East,” Carter said. “I went into a team with Nick Hill as a pitcher. For my first head-coaching job I was around some phenomenal kids, just good people. We ended up winning the district tournament and going to the state tournament. We won one and lost two down there, but we won, I think, the most games in a season there at East. It was an amazing year.”
In football, Carter began studying the spread offense while at East. He went to Byrnes High School (S.C.), where former Science Hill head coach Mike Martin was then the defensive coordinator for Bobby Bentley, and studied Bentley’s pass-happy scheme.
“Nobody really ran it (spread) around here,” Carter said. “I went to Byrnes a couple of times and saw what they did. At that time they had Trey Elder and all those guys that went to App State and they were winning state championships. … They were doing the no-huddle type stuff.”
Carterhad an ace in football at South in quarterback Curt Phillips. The Wisconsin signee led the Rebels to the state semifinals as a senior in 2007, and ran for two touchdowns as the team hung with Maryville into the second half (trailing 21-14) before becoming its 59th straight victim in a 48-21 loss.
Carter has compared Phillips to Science Hill senior Reed Hayes, who hadn’t played quarterback since he was a freshman before this season. And Carter was making those comparisons when Hayes was playing baseball in Georgia this summer for the East Cobb Yankees — before he’d ever played quarterback for Carter. Hayes, who has committed to Tennessee in baseball and also started on last season’s state semifinal basketball team, joined the football team in the fourth game last season and became the go-to receiver.
Carter had to replace three-year starter Justin Snyder, the most prolific passer in Hilltoppers history. But the athletic, strong-armed Hayes has engineered the fast-break philosophy at a record-setting pace. The Hilltoppers scored a school-record 76 points last week against Tennessee High; they’re averaging 49.6 points per game.
Hayes is 95 of 150 passing for 1,878 yards, 27 TDs and five interceptions. He’s also rushed 82 times for 548 yards and eight TDs.
Carter has taken in everything from Maryville to Oregon, and conversed with former ETSU quarterback Greg Ryan, who led ETSU to the playoff quarterfinals in 1996 when Carter’s coaching buddy, Sullivan South coach Sam Haynie, played left tackle.
“We had Greg Ryan come talk to us and … Greg Ryan’s a genius about football,” Carter said.
Carter counts Haynie on a list of influences that includes his father, former South baseball coach Mike Cline and football coaches John Allen Compton and Mark Smith, assistant Mark Wooten and Science Hill assistants Jerry Weston and Ralph and Scott Nelson.
“Sam Haynie’s big in my life,” Carter said. “He’s just like Scott and Ralph, even though he’s the head coach of another school. A lot of our success was due to him. …
“He kind of held down everything, you know, as far as our line and everything there. As far as offense, Sam had as much to do with that as I did.”
Football is family for Carter, and it’s dealt him life-and-death lessons. Jake Logue died of cardiac arrest during South’s season opener at Knox West in 2009, and Carter believes Logue was such a great young man that he was still a co-captain from heaven the following week.
“The win I can most remember is the week after Jacob passed away we beat Greeneville,” Carter said. “That was probably the most emotional win that I’ve ever been a part of. We won right at the last minute. The week was full of grief and everything. And the kids, how they pulled through all of that and still were able to muster up a win — I mean, to me, that might be the biggest win that I can remember. It sticks in my mind. … He was a great kid.”
Science Hill senior linebacker/offensive lineman Tate Isbell was quick to commend Carter’s care shortly after suffering what was thought to be a season-ending knee injury. Isbell tore his ACL against Daniel Boone on Oct. 5, but intends to play with it torn — at least an appearance — on Friday at undefeated Dobyns-Bennett.
Science Hill is 9-0 for the first time since 1979. Carter’s 23-9 at Science Hill, a program that produced a 31-32 record during his six seasons at South.
Carter’s predecessor, Scott Smith, who won a state title at Ezell-Harding, went 14-17 at Science Hill. Smith came in after John Bowles went 39-46 (1999-06).
“I never played personally for coach Bowles or coach Smith,” Isbell said, “but he (Carter) definitely knows what he’s doing and he came to this school with a plan. And I mean, it’s working. He’s turned the program around. He’s picked up all the stuff the other coaches have left behind and he’s ran with it.
“He really is a great coach and he really is a great guy just in general.”
Carter always anticipated becoming a coach, even while he was excelling during four years in the Army, and impacting young men at a pivotal point in life is the primary reason.
“I went in the military as an officer for a while,” he said. “I did the infantry stuff and Ranger stuff, but coaching is something I always wanted to do. We want to win. We want to be successful. But we’re here to help these kids. That’s why we’re doing it. And the good Lord’s blessed me to be around some good kids.”