A decade of McChurch football ends
Barring a longshot invitation to the NAIA playoffs or a bowl game, Cumberland's football season will end with today's game at Lindsey Wilson.
It will mark the end of an era - the McChurch Era.
I first heard of the McChurch family back in the 1990s when brothers Tyler, Mitchell and Connor were playing youth football in Lebanon.
Eventually, Tyler became a tailback at Friendship Christian and then a linebacker at Cumberland. Meantime, Mitchell [shortened to Mitch by this time] and Connor were in the Wilson Central cluster where the family's relationship with Dewayne Alexander began.
Mitch McChurch was a sophomore when Alexander arrived at Wilson Central in 2003 and the pair spent the rest of their time with the Wildcats together, with Connor joining them in '05.
When Alexander moved to Cumberland in '06, Tyler was waiting for his fifth-year senior season. At the same time, Alexander signed Mitch to join the Bulldogs.
No sooner had Mitch graduated than Connor transferred to CU from Tennessee Tech.
That's 10 seasons - a full decade - that Alexander has coached a McChurch since the coach arrived in Wilson County.
Football players tend to be identified by their positions. John Doe is a quarterback. Richard Roe is a lineman, Joe Blow is a kicker.
The McChurch brothers are FOOTBALL players. Name any position outside the interior line and chances are at least one of the brothers has played it. Connor has punted and was even penciled in as the preseason quarterback for Cumberland, a position he played at Central. They've played running back, receiver, linebacker and defensive back.
"They love to play football," Alexander said in the understatement of the interview. "They just love to choose up sides and play football. They all are very coachable.
"[Being able to play multi positions] goes back to having a younger brother. People who grow up with two or three brothers in the household close to the same age, they get out in the yard and they play. They throw a lot of football, they snap to each other, they hold. In high school, my brother was a long snapper and I was a punter because we did it in the yard from the time we were 5- or 6-years old."
To Alexander, the brothers are throwbacks to a bygone era.
"They're really old school," their coach said. "They were probably born 20 years too late. They could have played back on the old Vince Lombardi teams. They are the old-school, Dick Butkus-type. They just love to play football.
"They are a breath of fresh air for this modern era of football."
And they are already successful away from the sport they love. Tyler is a businessman, Mitch is a Marine and Connor is already in grad school.
"As good as they have been on the field, they are even better off the field," Alexander said. "The whole family has been an absolute pleasure to work with."
As for the future, Tyler has a son. Whether Alexander can coach a second-generation McChurch remains to be seen.
"At Senior Day [for Connor last Saturday], I told Mr. and Mrs. McChurch 'I don't know if I can hang in there long enough to coach that one. That would be 15-16 years down the road. I hoping to make it that long. But there'd have to be some good things to fall into place for me to coach another McChurch'.
"It'd be an awesome thing if I could do that."
Maybe Alexander can drop down to coach on the junior-pro level in seven or eight years.
Legendary receiver to appear on Lebanon radio show
If the McChurch brothers remind Alexander of old-school players, a real legend of the game will be in Lebanon first thing Monday morning and can be heard throughout Wilson County.
Raymond Berry, the legendary Baltimore Colts receiver who caught passes from the immortal Johnny Unitas, will appear on Coleman Walker's Coleman and Company on WANT FM 98.9 beginning at 7 a.m.
I met Berry at the beginning of the summer thanks to Pierce Dodson, who teaches at the Wilson County Adult Learning Center. His boss' husband, interestingly named Larry Byrd, knows the Hall of Fame receiver, who lives in Murfreesboro, and arranged a breakfast meeting at a Cracker Barrel in the 'Boro where No. 82 eats a couple of times each week.
I didn't have time to get a real football, so I brought a foam football I received from BlueCross/BlueShield which commemorate the BlueCross Bowl.
Mr. Berry signed it and Pierce even threw a couple of passes which the 79-year-old, with two of the most gnarled hands I have ever seen, caught with ease. Those hands caught a then-record 631 passes in a 13-year career.
According to statistics I found on the Web, he fumbled only twice [on other sites it claims he fumbled just once].
He told me that day a reason he rarely fumbled in the pros is because a fumble he committed in college, where he rarely touched the ball during the run-heavy era, cost his SMU team a trip to the Cotton Bowl.
But in the pros, he was money [or what there was of it in those days]. He and Unitas came of age in the game's first sudden-death contest, the 1958 championship game against the New York Giants when he caught a then-record 12 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. Several of the receptions came on the game-tying drive in regulation and a couple of more in the overtime drive to the win.
He beat defenses geared to stop him with hours of practice in which he developed countless moves and precise routes, specializing in the difficult catch.
If Pierce wants to work on approaching Unitas' passing marks to Berry, the football is on my desk.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952, ext. 17; or by email at email@example.com