KINGSPORT — Over the past five decades, many standout players have pulled maroon-and-gray jerseys over their shoulder pads to play football at Dobyns-Bennett.
It’s a tradition that dates to the humble beginnings of the 1921 season when the Indians went 2-7-1. Over the decades, D-B grew into the juggernaut program that will seek win No. 800 this fall.
The Indians won six state championships before the playoff era and have made the postseason 35 times since their first appearance in 1974.
Along the way, the players have benefited from more aggressive approaches on both sides of the football. Three coaches led the Indians from 1972-2017, and each of them — Fred Walton, Ted Wilson and Graham Clark — left his stamp on the program. Current coach Joey Christian is coming off a 10-win season and a Class 6A quarterfinal appearance.
After revealing the All-Decade teams from the 1970s through the 2010s, it is time to honor the 11 best players of the last half-century.
D-B fans might wonder what it would have been like to have all 11 of these standout players on the same team.
Eleven Standing Tall
OL — Aaron Ferguson
LB — Andrew Foerster
WR — Malik Foreman
DB — Teddy Gaines
RB — Adonis Johnson
OL — Daniel Kilgore
QB — Sean Seabolt
RB — Chris Sensabaugh
DB — Coty Sensabaugh
DL — Preston Sensabaugh
WR — Lamon Williams
After leaving Kingsport to become a standout college football player at Marshall, Ferguson found a home in West Virginia.
He currently lives in Huntington, selling implants for orthopedic surgery. He and his wife, Heather, have three kids, Cameron (20), Evan (17) and Avery (9).
Ferguson said assistant coach Darrell Watson had a big influence on his playing career.
“He coached us very hard and had high expectations of us,” Ferguson said. “I think it was his teaching and coaching that helped me the most to prepare for college football.”
To this day, Ferguson hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“I try to remain close with former teammates and try to send them messages through social media,” he said.
Foerster, who lives in Kingsport with his wife and three kids, is the operations director for JTH Industrial.
“My wife, Christy, and I are avid UTV riders,” he said. “We spend a lot of our free time in the mountains.”
Foerster said he had his eyes on playing at D-B when he was growing up.
“I knew I wanted to be a Dobyns-Bennett Indian back when I played football at Indian Springs,” he said. “The camaraderie, pride and love that my coaches and teammates had for each other and for the game was something I’ll never be able to put into words.”
As a freshman, Foerster had an experience that stayed with him.
“They had students come for orientation before school started to get the layout of the campus,” he said. “Coach Clark had all the soon-to-be freshmen come down to the theater where we learned the school song. That was the first time I felt school pride and I will never forget it.”
Foerster said his teammates and coaches were fierce.
“Those were the toughest, meanest and most dedicated coaches and players I’ve ever gotten to walk out on a field with in my life,” he said. “I’ll always be a Dobyns-Bennett Indian.”
The Indians had a special talent in Foreman, who these days works as a sports business development manager in Chattanooga.
“The thing about Malik, his speed was amazing,” Clark said. “He was maybe the fastest guy I ever coached. He could run by a defender. He had good hands, too. When we had Malik at receiver and Chris Cook at quarterback, people had to defend the whole field.”
At quarterback, Malik was a tremendous problem for opposing defenses when the Indians ran the option.
“He did great things for us at quarterback,” Clark said. “I remember saying if Malik gets to the next level, I don’t think the safety can tackle him.”
These days Gaines is paying back the place that started his track toward the NFL. He is an assistant football coach for the Indians.
Gaines said his best memories include his playing days at D-B.
“My fondest memories are being with my buddies and playing with the guys I grew up with in Kingsport,” he said.
Becoming a coach made him appreciate his former head coach.
“Coach Clark is one of the best,” Gaines said. “Since I’ve gotten into coaching, I see how hard a worker he was and I appreciate that. He had a lot of good coaches around him. We all remember Coach (Darrell) Watson.”
It was evident before he became a standout that Johnson would be something special.
At the end of a 1998 playoff game against Science Hill his sophomore season, Johnson turned a couple of late-game, run-out-the-clock plays into touchdowns.
“I remember that,” Clark said. “And then in the state semifinal game against Oakland, he scored our only touchdown.”
Clark said Johnson had one attribute that made him special.
“He had amazing balance,” he said. “I can remember against Jefferson County down on the goal line, he got hit pretty good but the guy didn’t wrap up. Adonis got knocked backwards, but he spun out and scored.
“He ran extremely hard and played very hard, period.”
Back home in Kingsport, Kilgore is a free agent waiting to see if he gets a call for a 10th NFL season.
He said D-B provided a strong starting point for his gridiron success.
“Growing up in Kingsport and those Friday nights at J. Fred set the foundation for my future,” Kilgore said. “Being part of that winning culture and being around great coaches was huge for me. It’s where I first had the love of the game, willing to go out and compete every day.
“Coach Clark, he’s so competitive. He wants to go catch the biggest fish in the pond. He loves coaching ball and loves so much being a part of the game. I learned how to be a competitor and work hard. Joey Christian came to D-B my sophomore year, and I had him as an offensive line coach for three years. The same coaching style he had then is the same he has now and it’s paying off.
“The whole Dobyns-Bennett family set the foundation for my future. It’s great coaches, great teachers, great teammates and friends, which allowed me to go on to Appalachian State and play in the NFL.”
A resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, and a die-hard Carolina Panthers fan, Seabolt works for Wells Fargo Advisors.
He said he has fond memories of playing at D-B.
“My best memory was walking out of the locker room with all my best friends shoulder to shoulder beside me before kickoff and pounding on the gate before we ran out on the field in front of hundreds of fans with the greatest band in Tennessee playing,” Seabolt said. “Continuing the win streaks against Science Hill and Sullivan South at home were two of the sweetest victories. Our triple-option offense with some of the best athletes in Tennessee at the time could not have been stopped.”
Sensabaugh is living in Kingsport.
“I guess you can say I have a normal life, working and trying to survive this 2020 craziness,” he said.
Sensabaugh said home games were at the top of his best-memories list.
“There’s no better feeling than having the support of your hometown, everybody cheering you on and hoping for the best,” he said. “I can’t think of anything else other than maybe the pregame walk. That was probably the most hype thing at Dobyns-Bennett.”
When a player is good enough to reach the NFL, an inner drive toward success is part of the equation. Sensabaugh certainly fits that standard, and his desire to win started at J. Fred Johnson Stadium under the competitive shadow of Clark.
“I'm all about winning and that's what I enjoyed about Coach Clark,” said Sensabaugh, currently a free agent after finishing the 2019 NFL season with Washington. “He taught us to compete and he was always funny. The whole experience of being around him was great.”
Clark said Sensabaugh is a high- character person.
“That’s one reason (NFL) teams keep taking a chance on him,” Clark said. “You can count on Coty Sensabaugh. If he tells you an elephant is going to lay an egg, you better go get the biggest frying pan you can find.”
Sensabaugh died in 2014, but he left a lasting impact on his high school teammates.
“Along with great coaching, teammates Preston Sensabaugh and Stephen Meade taught me how to play football,” Ferguson said. “They were two incredibly good high school football players.
“Preston wore me out every single day at practice. He was an incredible athlete. He was not a real tall guy, but he was so quick and had great hands. He had an incredible motor and never quit. It was an honor to play with him and learn from him.”
Ferguson also went head to head in college against his former teammate when Sensabaugh played at Middle Tennessee State.
Nephew Chris Sensabaugh said, “I didn’t get to see much of my uncle’s film, but I would have loved to see it. The one thing his brothers always said from people who played against him was he was mean and probably the strongest person they came against. Being his nephew and being around him outside of football, and seeing how big he was, it was kind of crazy. I believe every word they said.”
Kilgore played two seasons with Williams, who left a lasting impression.
“He was a year ahead but we grew up playing football and basketball toget
her,” Kilgore said. “Lamon was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He did things nobody in the state could do. Not a single defender could stop him and most of the time the only reason he was stopped or penalized was because it was borderline assault with how he treated other teams. Zero sympathy with his style of play.”
Kilgore compared Williams to NFL-level receivers.
“With his size and ability to go up and grab the ball, it was Randy Moss-like,” Kilgore said. “He was a mold of Calvin Johnson with his ability. Still to this day, he was one of the most talented teammates I have ever had. Out of all the players who wore the maroon and gray, there has never been another player with more potential.”