By Tim Chambers
Head coach Don Kerley didn’t have to look far to find a successful football coach to take over the defensive line duties. Matt Bray joined the staff as an assistant coach and is wearing many hats at the present.
Winning has never been an issue for Bray. He’s been a head coach in some capacity for nine seasons up until this year. He won three junior high championships and had one team go undefeated. In his six years as head coach he never lost to Hampton.
“That’s something that I always took pride in because they’re always so dang good,” said Bray. “They always played us tough. It’s one of those rival games you love to be a part of. It was something that I always looked forward to.”
Bray was the head golf coach last year after taking time off from football due to an illness. He said it was hard not to be a part of the sport which he loved.
“I kind of felt out of place and a little bit lost,” said Bray. “Football had become my identity. I didn’t really know what to do.”
The staff at JCHS did. They turned to their native son who was a standout player for them on the gridiron. All of them have close ties.
“Many of the coaches on this staff helped me. Don and Tom coached me for a year. Tom helped me with my first team and so did Coach Gary Horne. I played with Chris Dunn and I’ve known the other coaches for a long time. We all have a good relationship and work well together. I’ve picked up a lot of things from them.”
This year’s senior class is a special one for Bray. Many of them were on his middle school championship team.
“I love to win, but I’ve been blessed with some good athletes. I had a kid go to the state in cross country, one in track and one almost made it in golf. I’m hoping that our football team can do the same. Maybe I can do something that can help us be able to achieve that.”
Bray coached at the middle school for six seasons winning the league title three times. He was also an assistant coach for three seasons prior to his middle school stint.
“We’ve all crossed paths as players and coaches. You see these guys again and it’s like they never left. These players are special because they all played for me. There is a good chemistry among coaches and players.”
Bray agreed he’s excited about the new conference alignment. He said that close-by rival games and a new conference would make things much better for the fans.
“Some people didn’t realize the level of teams that we played. The travel was difficult and so were playing Elizabethton and Pigeon Forge. We’ve dropped down a bit but we still play a tough schedule. Hampton, Happy Valley and Cloudland are always tough non-conference games. The fans enjoy seeing those too.”
Bray will have a new look in 2017. He lost 60 pounds in an effort to get back doing what he loves best.
“I prayed about this and if I should come back. But I sort of stacked the cards in my favor. I lost all that weight and I feel great. I can now do this with a good conscience. I’m happy, my wife’s happy and so is my little boy.”
Bray is looking forward to August 17 when the Horns open up with Sullivan East. He knows the feeling when the lights come on near game time.
It’s special to smell the fresh cut grass, see the kids in uniform and the lights burning brightly. That’s home for me when all that takes place.”
The Horns are glad that Bray is back on staff. They’re hoping for another championship “payday” with Bray.