Pioneer head football coach Matt Turner spoke to the Rotary Club of McMinnville at Central Church of Christ on Thursday. Turner touched on several topics ranging from his plan to play as many games as possible this season to the possibility of COVID not permitting the football team to play varsity games at all this year.
Turner explained why he decided to postpone football operations for 10 days, but surprised some of the Rotary members with a plan to play an extra game this season. Turner said, “I have talked to White County’s coach, Mark Frasier about the possibility of meeting in a revived Nurseryman’s Bowl if neither of us make it to the playoffs.”
Turner talked about how historic last year’s team was, and the challenges this year’s young team faces. Turner said, “There is no way to describe last year’s season. I think a lot of those seniors who graduated will be successful inside and outside of football. I hate to use the term rebuilding, but 90% of our starters are juniors. This will be year three of running our system on offense and defense, and that will help. It is tough to replace someone like C.J. Taylor who could make a bad call by a coach look good. At least these juniors were around to see what the team did last season to win.”
The number of players on the roster was another topic Turner discussed. Turner said, “We have 72 players on the team, 9-12 grades. We need 110 to 120 kids on the team for a school our size to compete with 6A teams like Oakland and Blackman. We have divided the team into 36 players on varsity and 36 on the JV.”
Turner praised the middle school coach, Ben Matheney who has enough players this year to field both JV and varsity teams. Turner pointed out Justin Tanner, who was present for helping with the PFL, the youth flag-football league the Pioneers started this past spring. Approximately 200 kids were involved from the ages of 5 to 11 years old. Turner said exposing these young kids to football in a safe fashion will be positive for the development of the Pioneer football program.
COVID was a major topic of interest that Turner addressed. Turner said, “We had 19.5% of the team affected by COVID before the DeKalb County game. By the following Tuesday, we had 40% of the team affected. I called coach Trapp in Smithville and told him that we made the right decision. We would have infected his team if we had played.”
Turner explained how difficult it was to shut down football. Turner said, “Last year we didn’t miss any games or practices because of COVID. We had stronger protocols last year. This past weekend a kid in Memphis passed away from COVID. He had asthma, but we have kids who have asthma too. I am just a football coach, and I made the decision that I thought was best for our kids. If everybody took this seriously for two weeks, everything I have read states that we could knock this thing out. Our kids want to play football. The coaches and I want to play football. We want to play Mt. Juliet and start our season, but I have told our kids that there is a possibility that we will not play a varsity game this year. I have encouraged them to do everything they can to avoid getting COVID, and to talk to their parents about what they can do as a family to not get COVID.”