How long does it take to build a program? In most cases it takes years to get a program to a level of sustained success. It takes time to implement a system, bring in talent, garner the support of the administration and build a winning culture. Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic High School is proving that it doesn't fall in the category of "most cases".
When head coach Mark Pemberton arrived at Knoxville Catholic, there were 40 players on the roster. Just six years later. The Fighting Irish have 106 players on the team in a school of 600 students. Even more impressive is the amount of talent that has emerged within the past few years from that growing roster.
"That speaks volumes for Coach Pemberton that there's been 7 division-I players in the 74 year history at Knoxville Catholic and five of them have been in the last three or four years with him at the top as head coach," said Catholic's defensive coordinator and strength coach Kevin Smith.
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The players that have come out of late have been high quality prospects as well, the headliner being 2007 prospect Harrison Smith. As a four-star prospect Smith signed to play at Notre Dame where he redshirted as a freshman.
"He'll be looking to battle for the starting position and is definitely in the two-deep this year," said Coach Smith.
If Smith is able to crack the starting lineup he may not be alone from the Knoxville Catholic 2007 class. T.J. Franklin flew under the radar in high school but is already making an impact at Cincinnati.
"Franklin is a kid that I still don't know how he didn't get more pub," Said Smith. "He left Catholic at about 6-5 260 and now he's about 6-5 285 or 290 and is fighting for a starting center position as a redshirt freshman this spring."
The 2008 class continued the tradition with Dustin Tait signing with Buffalo and Conner Irwin heading to Duke on scholarship. Teammate Jeff Farris will also be a Blue Devil as a walk-on and Knox Catholic boasts players heading to Gardner Webb and West Georgia as well.
The trend has already continued into 2009. Knoxville Catholic has three players that could be prospects to watch and one has already picked up some major offers.
Daniel Hood, a 6-foot-5 prospect with the ability to play defensive end, offensive tackle and tight end has recently picked up offers from Auburn and Tennessee to open things up for him and with his upside, many more offers could be coming his way.
"Daniel is a kid that played one year of football and that was last year," Coach Smith said. "We just tried to teach him last year and he came on during the season. I'm expecting a big year out of him this year. He's a basketball player who's an all-district and all-region player. We played him at offensive tackle last year but he's got unbelievable hands and we're going to give him the ball a little bit more this year at tight end."
The 6-5, 255 pounder is being recruited primarily at the defensive side of the ball as a defensive end with a chance to bulk up and move inside. However his motor and versatility make him a valuable prospect to any team looking for help at several positions.
Also in the 2009 class is Zach Vann, an athlete who excels with the ball in his hands and could be recruited on either side of the ball.
"I like to look at him as a Brandon James type guy from Florida who can return kicks," Smith explained. "He's a little jitter-bug guy. We're gonna put him at DB this year. We haven't played him at DB but I think he's going to turn some heads in the defensive backfield for us at cornerback."
The third prospect ready to emerge in the 2009 class is Will Coulter, a 6-foot-2, 245 pound interior offensive line prospect with great explosiveness. Only 16 years old, Coulter should grow into another stalwart on the Catholic defensive line.
The 2010 class already has a big name in it as well. Zak Tait formerly a member of the Rivals100 To Watch list for the class of 2009 has been reclassified as a 2010 prospect following an injury and should be another highly recruited player in a year.
The program looks as though it's going nowhere but up as Principal Dickie Sompayrac has approved some new growth in the athletic department. There will be 7000 square feet added on to the 8000 square foot football facility this spring, giving the Fighting Irish a 15,000 square foot facility dedicated to football.
"We've got some great 2010 and 2011 kids that I'm really excited about," Smith said. "I'm excited about the future because there's so many good looking prospects coming up here."