Legendary C-N head coach opens season with 294 wins; Aiming to become 12th to reach 300
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – When Carson-Newman takes the field on Thursday night to open its 2011 season, it will mark the beginning of what could be a historic season for Eagle head coach Ken Sparks and the Carson-Newman program.
C-N kicks off against Glenville State (W.Va.) in Glenville, W.Va. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. in Morris Stadium.
Sparks opens his 32nd season at Mossy Creek with the opportunity to become only the 12th coach in college football history to reach the 300-win plateau.
However, Sparks isn't buying into the hype of his potential landmark win, pointing out his team needs to focus on becoming a better football team, and maybe restore the Carson-Newman "mystique" that served it so well in his first 30 seasons, but not in a disappointing 7-4 campaign in 2010.
"I don't want the attention to be on 300 (wins)," Sparks said. "All it means is I've been coaching a long time. This isn't about me. Expectations for us from people outside this program are that we're not the program we used to be. We're not in the polls, we're not picked to win anything. I hope we come out with our hair on fire and ready to play like Carson-Newman."
If camp has been any indication, Sparks can be excited about the season ahead, especially the intangibles that he believes are so important, like leadership and work ethic.
"Our preparation has been good," Sparks said. "This group has accepted the challenge and knows (last year) won't do. This group has a good foundation, good leaders and a strong will. I think we'll become a good football team, but we're not there yet."
Much of the attention in fall camp has been paid to the Eagle quarterback race. Sparks has made a decision as to who will start Thursday night's opener, but he isn't sure what he'll do past the game's first few possessions.
"Jason Brown will start this ballgame, Sparks said. "We'll take it from there. He has earned the right to start and we're hoping he can execute and take care of the football. We've got three guys (Johnny Foster and Brandon Haywood), and probably all three of them will play in this ballgame.
Brown has shown play-making ability in running the Eagle offense, but he also gives the C-N a threat in the passing game when one of his teammates is under center. He was the Eagles leading receiver a season ago with 18 catches.
Glenville State finished last season 5-6 after a 3-1 start, but returns 19 starters from a team that closed the season with a road upset of then-No. 3 Shepherd University. The Pioneers have impressed Sparks since he first started looked at their film.
"They're a talented football team," Sparks added. "We've watched them beat Shepherd, who's only other loss was in the national semifinals. They do a lot of things well, and it'll be a hyped up atmosphere. We'll have our hands full."
The Pioneers run a spread offense and will rely on the playmaking of junior quarterback Darold Hughes, and wide receivers Jordan Griffin and Antwan Stewart, who combined for 96 receptions and nearly 1,300 yards last season. Hughes is a Florida International transfer that played in seven games last season before missing the final four of the season. The Pioneers were 4-3 with him in the lineup.
While both teams have their share of experienced veterans, coaching experience is on the Eagles, to the tune of 294 career wins. The game will mark the debut for Glenville State head coach David Hutchison, who took over at the program at the end of 2010. Hutchison had spent seven seasons with the program, most recently as the offensive coordinator, before being named head coach.
Radio Information: Two local stations will carry Thursday night's broadcast from Glenville, W.Va. The game can be heard on the flagship station for Carson-Newman Football, WRJZ-AM 620 (Knoxville) and on ESPN Radio WPFT-FM 106.3 (Sevierville). Eagle Radio Network coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. Zeke Beam (play-by-play) and Jeremy Ball (color) will have the call. A live audio stream is also available at www.cneagles.com.
Sparks in Openers: Ken Sparks is 24-6-1 in his 31 openers at C-N, but is trying to turn that record back in the winning direction after losses to open each of the last two seasons. Winona State (Minn.) beat the Eagles in their last two openers, including 24-21 last year, in which CN lost the turnover battle 3-0 and missed two field goals. C-N's last opening win came in 2008, when the Eagles drubbed Concord (W.Va.), 77-14.
Up Next: Carson-Newman will host Fayetteville State (N.C.) a week from Thursday night (Sept. 8) p.m. in their 2011 home opener. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. in Burke-Tarr Stadium. Glenville State (N.C.) will travel to Florence, Ala. to face the University of North Alabama.