A football team that hasn't experienced defeat since 2010 deserves plenty of accolades. But the team (and their coach) who beats that winning team deserves even more praise.
The Whitehaven Tigers beat the Maryville Rebels earlier this month, ending the Rebels' 43-game winning streak. Now Tigers' head coach Rodney Saulsberry is getting his due.
Saulsberry was recently selected to receive the high school football "Coach of the Year" award by the Tennessee Titans Foundation for his role in the Tigers' undefeated season (15-0).
"I was a little surprised to win the award," Saulsberry said. "We realized that [out of] all the coaches of the week that they had awarded throughout the season, [none was] from West Tennessee. So it was a little surprising but gratifying nonetheless. We're just proud to make history and to shine a light on Memphis City Schools, on the city of Memphis, on Whitehaven [High] and the Whitehaven community."
The award came on the heels of the Tigers' win against the Rebels in the 2012 Division I, Class 6A BlueCross Bowl Championship. That win earned the Tigers team its first state title.
Saulsberry is the first Memphis coach, and one of three coaches within West Tennessee, to receive the prestigious award since the Titans Foundation launched the program in 1999. All 32 National Football League teams have foundations that award "Coach of the Week" and "Coach of the Year" awards. A sports media panel votes on award recipients.
"To go up there and beat Maryville and end a 43-game winning streak, you've had one incredible season," said Bob Hyde, vice president of community relations for the Titans Foundation. "I salute him for winning this award. We look forward to honoring him."
Saulsberry will be presented a framed "Coach of the Year" certificate Sunday, December 30th at 10:45 a.m., prior to the Titans-Jaguars game in Nashville. In addition to the award, Tennessee Titans owner K.S. "Bud" Adams is donating $2,000 to Whitehaven's football program.
Tigers running back Mark Dodson helped secure the victory over Maryville with an overtime touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion. Dodson said his experience being coached by Saulsberry has been great.
"He's always been there to lead me and guide me in the right direction," said Dodson, who recently committed to Ole Miss. "I feel that he deserves [the "Coach of the Year" Award]. He puts in just as much hard work as we do."
Dodson said the best thing about being coached by Saulsberry is his requirement that players keep their grades up to par.
"If you don't get your grades together, you will not be playing on his team. Grades come first," said Dodson, who has a 3.8 GPA.
Aside from coaching, Saulsberry is a math teacher at Whitehaven. He's balanced both roles since 1998.
"It's definitely challenging to balance both," Saulsberry said. "I'm a mathematics instructor, so I'm not as typical as coaches who may be teaching social studies or lifetime wellness in the gym. It's a lot different but it's gratifying nonetheless, because I consider myself a scholar. It's tough, but at the same time, it's work well done."