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Church Hill's Dykes piled up yards in the mid-1970s

Tanner Cook • Jun 24, 2020 at 1:00 PM

CHURCH HILL — Jim Dykes’ journey to football glory first at Church Hill High School and later East Tennessee State was a winding one.

“I played receiver my first couple of years and the coaches switched me to running back in my junior year,” Dykes said. “I had a lot of great coaches. Coach Bill Cassidy and Coach (Jay) Salley were some of the best around.”

Dykes played for the Panthers from 1971-74, during the last decade of the school’s existence before it consolidated with Surgoinsville to become Volunteer in the fall of 1980. He racked up 2,565 yards, mostly in his final two seasons.

“We ran that wishbone and we didn’t pass it a whole lot and it was a lot of fun playing back then,” he said.

Salley helmed the Panthers from 1955 to 1979 and compiled a record of 153-97-3, including 4-3 in bowls.

“Coach Salley was a genius when he could remember things,” Dykes said.

The Panthers didn’t have the best-looking win/loss column when Dykes played, but the wishbone triple-option offense put up numbers in a hurry. As the featured back, Dykes broke the all-time career rushing record for the old Upper Lakes Conference by over 100 yards, eclipsing Freddie Hicks’s 2,458-yard total at Ketron.

Dykes became the first back in ULC history to break the 1,000-yard barrier, reaching the milestone during his junior campaign. That year he compiled 1,248 yards and 16 touchdowns and was a Class AA second-team all-state pick for Church Hill (4-6), a feat that had not been accomplished in 13 years (Phil Branson, 1960).

Dykes followed that performance with 1,308 yards and 20 scores despite missing two of Church Hill’s games because of a leg injury. He averaged 163.5 yards per game. The Panthers went 9-1 that season but finished second to Lynn View (9-2) in the ULC. Dykes was an all-state first-teamer his senior season.

“It was against Daniel Boone when I got hurt,” Dykes said. “I can’t remember what happened exactly, but I know I got speared from behind in the calf well after the whistle. We ended up winning the game 52-0.”

College football recruiters came in droves to his games. The mild-mannered and quiet Dykes chose to stay close to home despite the best efforts of Tennessee and Vanderbilt recruiters of the day, such as the Vols’ Bill Battle and the Commodores’ Steve Sloan.

“I didn’t take a whole lot of visits because I knew I wasn’t going there,” Dykes said. “Bill Battle came to our house just about every weekend. I remember there was this one time that he came and we had just finished putting up hay bales.

“Coach Battle ran into my brother and asked if I was home. My brother never played sports, so he didn’t know who Bill Battle was. Battle told him who he was and he said, ‘Who in the world is Bill Battle?’ ”

Playing for ETSU turned out to be much like playing for the Panthers. Team success was hard to come by, but Dykes had his moments.

From 1975-78, the Bucs were a combined 12-30-1, three seasons under Roy Frazier and one under Jack Carlisle. Dykes led the team twice in rushing, going for 249 yards on 50 attempts in 1976 and 754 yards on 131 attempts in 1978.

“Playing for Coach Carlisle was probably one the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he said. “When I got to ETSU, everyone could play. We had some good athletes at Church Hill, but we just had no depth. There were maybe 15 of us that played regularly at Church Hill.”

Dykes ranks fourth at ETSU in all-time career rushing average, totaling 1,419 yards on 279 attempts for a 5.1 average per carry.

He has a place as one of the best running backs ever in Northeast Tennessee and as the best to come out of Church Hill.

“Football is the best game in the world and I wish I could remember more of it,” said Dykes, who also served as Volunteer’s principal from 2000-14. “If I could go back and do it all again, I’d do it the same way.”

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