Derek Hunt has discussed his situation ad nauseam since being tabbed as the person to replace George Quarles at Maryville High School back in December.
He has been handed one of the premier programs in Tennessee and everybody wants to know how he plans to keep it at the top.
Hunt understands all the questions and talk — he is replacing one of the greatest coaches in Tennessee high school football history after all — but he is also ready to move past it.
“I’ve probably said this 20 times over the past week, but I’m so tired of talking what is going to be different,” Hunt said with a laugh. “They are fair questions because Coach Quarles is the best — that’s the only way you can describe him — but I am thrilled to just go out there and play football.
“Once we get into a routine, people will start talking about the game instead of me. Enough about me, I’m ready to talk about the Rebels.”
The topic of conversation will switch to the Rebels on Friday at 7:30 p.m. when they host Catholic on the newly-renovated turf of Jim Renfro Field to begin the 2017 season.
The Quarles connection will always be there, and Hunt is aware of that. He has spent too much time around the program for it to be any different.
Growing into a coach
The absence of Quarles on the Maryville sideline may take some time to get used to for most, but offensive line coach Dave Ellis will not be caught off guard.
Something told him awhile back that Hunt would eventually be the one leading the Rebels.
“Derek has been getting ready for this job since he was 11-years-old,” Ellis said. “His passion, his energy, his leadership, his humility — you can pick a bunch of words and they would describe Derek.”
That 11-year-old kid grew up to be a quarterback that never suffered a loss during his Maryville career, winning four state championships — two of which he started — in the midst of the program’s 74-game winning streak.
“A lot of quarterbacks have come through here with the ability to call plays after they got out because they have listened to George and all the other guys who are coaching and they know how to read a defense and what plays to use against this and that,” Ellis said. “When Derek was playing, he soaked in everything. He could have been a play-caller on the field.”
Hunt’s leap from high school to college took nothing more than a hop, skip and a jump as he continued his career at Maryville College.
Injuries derailed his career, but during his time there he continued his progression toward where he is now.
“I remember being at Maryville College and making my own playbook — taking stuff that we did at Maryville High School and stuff we did at Maryville College and piecing my own playbook together,” Hunt said. “I still have that binder. It’s funny because when I got back here to Maryville, there are some things that I remember bringing with me.”
That collection of plays and offensive strategies found their way to Maryville when Quarles hired Hunt as an in assistant in 2010 shortly after his playing career ended.
“You just knew he understood everything we were trying to do,” Quarles said. “It mattered to him — not that we didn’t have guys that it mattered to before, but with Derek it was different. Those are the guys that end up being good coaches, and when the opportunity came to hire him (as an assistant), it was the easiest hire ever.”
Coaching at Maryville was something that Hunt was always interested in.
The thought of being the head coach had crossed his mind a time or two, but he was more than content to be an assistant for the foreseeable future.
Then came the call on Dec. 20 that changed everything. Quarles, an 11-time TSSAA state champion with 250 wins in his 18-year tenure, was leaving Maryville to become the tight ends coach and associate head coach at his alma mater, Furman.
“At first, I was thinking, ‘Who in the world would want this job,’” Hunt said. “I went home that night and talked to my dad and my wife and people who knew me really well, and I realized that this was a dream job for me. It’s something that I’ve thought about since I was a kid, so it just made sense for me to want to do it.”
Quarles recommended Hunt, as did the rest of Maryville’s assistants. There was no hesitation from the school, and on Dec. 27 they promoted him to head coach.
“He doesn’t have a bigger fan in the world than me,” Quarles said. “I tell him to do some things different, don’t just do it like we did it when I was there. I want him to put his stamp on it and I can’t wait to see what those things are.
“I hope he takes it to a new level. He’s that guy that you pull for and want to be really successful and I really believe that he will.”
The Rebels are known for winning state championships, with the reminder of the program’s 16 titles hang above the field during each of Maryville’s practices.
At times, Hunt puts pressure on himself to maintain the success that he has witnessed throughout his journey. The support that he has received from accepting the position, though, makes it easier to deal with the task at hand.
“It’s been humbling,” Hunt said. “All the ‘good luck’ text messages I get and the people who have told me they have my back no matter what, that means a lot. It gives me the confidence to go out there and do the best I can and whatever happens, happens. I have to be content with myself knowing that this the best I can do, win, lose or draw.”
With that said, the aspirations are still high.
The best way to shift the conversation back to the Rebels is simple: win.
“That’s still our goal,” Hunt said. “I certainly don’t want those expectations to lower just because there is a new coach. Maryville has high expectations, but it should because it has great support from the community, administration and school board.
“At the same time, we just have to look at it one game at a time. … We’re not playing Catholic for a state championship, but they are a step in the right direction.”