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As each school year begins, there is a certain buzz in the air that focuses on the tradition of high school football. Cooler temperatures and stadium lights frame that imagery around the game, but …
As each school year begins, there is a certain buzz in the air that focuses on the tradition of high school football. Cooler temperatures and stadium lights frame that imagery around the game, but there is something to be said for the magic of hometown football in the American Southeast.
In McKenzie, there are two important factors to a successful season; beating Huntingdon and making the playoffs. Every Friday night, from the coin toss to the sounding of the horn tests the fortitude of a champion.
Since 1996, Wade Comer has led the charge as a coach for the McKenzie Rebels and has held the position of head coach since the 2000 season. Comer’s career, like any coach, is normally measured by wins and losses. His love and passion for the game along with his numerous wins have put him in his twentieth season as the head coach, the longest head coaching tenure in the annals of the McKenzie High School football program.
Born December 10, 1968, in Parsons, Tennessee, Comer, like most boys in the area, grew up focused on sports and the outdoors. Recounting on his childhood in a 2003 interview,” We played football or baseball about every day. We hunted and fished or just about anything outdoors; we did it all.
“Each community had its own little ball team and we just played each other. Five and six-year-olds played with 16 and 17-year-olds; you had to be a little tough to survive.”
His love for football began with his relationship with his late father, David. For many years, his dad served as the booster club president and kept the football team’s statistics. Like most households, weekend television was tuned into a slate of college and professional football games. In the time of Comer’s youth, two of the most successful teams were the Alabama Crimson Tide lead by Bear Bryant and Terry Bradshaw’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I fell in love with the Steelers when I was a little boy and the same thing with Alabama.”
He continued playing football and baseball in high school for the Riverside Panthers. The team earned bragging rights in the 1986 season when they beat Lexington for the first time in 25 years. They fell one game short of making the playoffs, Comer reflected, “Back then, only two teams went to the playoffs. We got knocked out of our last game with Jackson Southside. We got beat seven to six in overtime; we went for two and failed to get it.”
After graduating high school in 1987, Comer had the opportunity to continue his football playing career at Lambuth University, but his love for a local girl outweighed his love for the game.
“After high school, I had a chance to play football at Lambuth, but Amy and I had already been dating a year or two and I had decided I was going to marry her, so I decided to go to work instead,” said Comer.
He went to work at Vulcan Material rock quarry where he worked between 70 to 80 hours a week. The couple married in November 1987, and “worked together” for about a year when he learned his wife had ambitions to become a nurse.
“She decided she wanted to go to nursing school. We made a pact that I would put her through nursing school, and when she got out, she would put me through to become a coach.”
After Amy became a registered nurse, he began taking night classes at Jackson State. When Comer completed the first 32 hours of coursework, he enrolled at Union University. While at Union he served as a volunteer assistant coach under Jerry Hayes, his former head coach at Riverside and his current assistant coach.
After graduating in 1996, Comer was offered a position at McKenzie as an assistant under then-head coach Randy Thomas, helping with linebackers and tight ends.
The following season Bill Koen was brought in to lead the Rebels, and Comer was promoted to defensive coordinator. He says, “He (Koen) helped me a lot; Coach Thomas helped me out tremendously.”
When Koen retired at the end of the 1999 season, Comer applied for and received the head coaching job. In his inaugural season, the Rebels were 11-2. The following season, 2001, saw the team finishing the regular season undefeated, region champions, a semi-final playoff appearance and a victory over the Huntingdon Mustangs. The win over Huntingdon was the first victory against the cross-county rival since 1973.
During his tenure, Comer’s Rebels have won numerous District and Region Championships. In 2007, the Rebels made it to the Blue Cross Bowl to play in the TSSAA State Championship against South Pittsburg.
After the 2019 season, Comer has the most wins with a 159-76 record. His 66.82% winning percentage is second behind Jerry Escue (71.4%) who led the Rebels from 1967-1970.
Comer is humble about his successful coaching career. He states he is only a part of the winning combination.
“What we’ve accomplished has very little to do with me and has a whole lot to do with what the kids have done. The players were willing to put forth all the time and work; the coaches put in all the long hours and work; the community gets behind us and backs us, providing the funds to purchase equipment and to be there along with the student body on Fridays to cheer us on. It’s a reflection of the sacrifice they’ve all made and the work they’ve done because it takes a collection of everybody to make the success we’ve had. They had a lot more to do with this than me.”
Comer doesn’t claim the wins are the end all be all to his career. It’s about his players.
“Watching the kids grow up, accomplishing goals they set for themselves, grow and mature and get to be young, that’s the fun part for me. They come in as freshmen, acting silly, then you watch them grow up and develop into seniors...You get attached to all the kids in school, but when you spend as much time with them as we do, you can really get attached to them and hate to see them go, they became like extended family, so to speak.”
Coaching has taken much of his time, but he has always made time for family. Amy and Wade have three children together, Laken, Bryant and Anna. All three spent time with their father on the sidelines through various facilities; manager, ball boy/girl and player.
The looming threat of COVID-19 made preparing for the 2020 season a nightmare for any coach. Yet, the Rebels opened the season with a prized 31-22 victory over Huntingdon. With eight weeks to go and a cancelled week-two game against West Carroll only time will tell how the season plays out.