By Curtis Carden
Unicoi County High School senior Hunter Hensley won’t have to go far to continue his football career.
Hensley made his “Leap Year” memorable on Monday, Feb. 29, as he signed with Tusculum College’s football team for the 2016 season during a ceremony hosted at the high school’s commons area.
“They always say it just takes one school to look at you and give you a chance,” Hensley said on Monday. “I’m more than blessed to have the opportunity to play at Tusculum.”
The Blue Devil signal caller put a successful stamp on his final year at Gentry Stadium, passing for more than 1,000 yard and seven touchdowns. On the ground, Hensley proved to be a bruiser, taking part in a three-headed rushing attack and finished the year with 550 yards and eight scores.
Hensley earned Mountain Eight All-Conference honors at the conclusion of the season and added all-academic team honors for the conference by excelling in the classroom.
“The 2014 season made me into a better leader,” Hensley said. “I definitely didn’t want to lose again. After going 0-10, you want to go 10-0 … I just hate losing. Everyday hearing people doubting the team drove me to want to be a better leader and player for the team. I wouldn’t be here without their support, whether it’s someone blocking for me, catching passes, the coaches that gave me a chance to play or just someone in the stands supporting the team.”
Hensley’s gridiron career saw its fair share of ups and downs. Throughout his four years, the senior went through three different coaching changes and a winless campaign in 2014. The fire burned bright last season for the quarterback and his teammates and it showed on the field. UCHS turned in a 5-5 record in the regular season, a first since 2012, and made the playoffs for the first time since 2013, under the direction of head coach Glenn White.
White, who completed his first full year as head coach in 2015 after stepping in midway through the 2014 season, had nothing but praise for Hensley on Monday afternoon.
“Hunter was a great football player for us,” White said. “He was one of the main reasons why we were successful this season. He did a great job at the quarterback position. Anybody that knows about football knows that’s a very tough position to play. He did very well and coach (Doug) Cooper did a great job with him.
“He’s just an outstanding kid. He was always a ‘yes sir’ or ‘no sir’ kind of player. He was never disrespectful in anyway,” White continued. “Tusculum is getting a very fine player who will give them 100 percent everyday. It’s good for our program, too, to see that a player from Unicoi County can get a scholarship. We plan on going down to watch him play and we wish him godspeed for the rest of his career.”
Hensley will take part in a new era of Tusculum football in 2016 with first year head coach Jerry Odom leading the Pioneers. Odom, a 25-year coaching veteran with stops in the AFL, East Carolina University and the University of Florida, was named the 17th head coach on Dec. 14, 2015, and brings a high pedigree of football knowledge to Greene County.
Odom joins the Pioneers after serving six seasons as an associate head coach with NCAA FCS powerhouse Jacksonville University. Odom wrapped up his tenure with JU with a 47-19 record over six seasons in Florida, including a pair of 9-2 seasons in his last two years with the program.
“They’re a very stable program,” White said. “Their facilities, for a school that size, are second to none. Another thing I like about coach Odom is that he’s recruiting locally. I think this is a move in the right direction for Tusculum with coach Odom and a move in the right direction for schools locally.”
Hensley also said he liked what he’s seen out of the staff at Tusculum.
“Coach (Nick) Navarro is a great guy,” he said. “He’s the quarterbacks’ coach and I’ve been in contact with him more than coach Odom. You can look at coach Odom’s track record as it speaks for itself.”
The quarterback also left parting words from underclassmen looking to continue their careers at the next level.
“Every single day, you have a chance to get better,” Hensley said. “ … you have to push yourself because there’s someone that’s out there working harder. People might tell you that you can’t do it, so you might as well just try your best.”