Two former Fairmont West and East high school rivals – at least in spirit – united this college football season at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. What a ride that has been.
It was on Brady Hoke, a 1977 East graduate, to salvage an unprecedented Volunteers season. Already an assistant head coach who also coached the defensive line, Hoke was named interim head coach with two games remaining after Butch Jones was fired following a 50-17 blowout loss at Missouri.
Announcing that switch on the Vol Radio Network was 1972 Fairmont West grad Bob Kesling. Both were high school football standouts, although neither played against each other while attending the Kettering schools. They instantly bonded over their similar Dayton-area and Western Ohio League roots.
East and West high schools merged in 1983 for the second version of Fairmont High School.
This season wouldn’t end well for Hoke. Tennessee lost 30-10 to LSU and 42-24 to Vanderbilt, both home games. It was the first time since 1964 that Tennessee (4-8) lost to Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the same season. The Vols also were winless in the SEC, something that had never before happened to the charter member (1932). The eight losses also were a program high and UT has been playing football since 1891.
Then the setbacks mounted. Hoke, previously the head coach at Ball State (2003-08), San Diego State (2009-10) and Michigan (2011-14), was out. Vols former AD John Currie was turned down by at least three and possibly more coaches as the new coach. And that doesn’t include Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Shiano. His hiring was undone following a nasty social media reaction by Tennessee fans who linked Shiano to the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal.
That cost Currie his job and former Vols football coach Phillip Fulmer was the new AD. His first move was to lure Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as the new Vols’ football coach. Hoke, to no surprise, wasn’t retained on the coaching staff.
Announcing all that during four eventful weeks was Kesling, first on the weekly Big Orange Hotline, a coaches’ radio call-in show, then with a flurry of Knoxville and SEC-related media. Kesling also has extensive TV play-by-play and sports director experience at Knoxville stations and was inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. He’s been the main play-by-play radio announcer for Tennessee football and basketball since 1999.
Former teammates will remember Kesling as a blocking fullback for then-West coach Dick Hoppe. Those Firebirds teams also featured classmate and future College Football Hall of Famer Chet Moeller, who excelled as a DB at Navy. Kesling was a walk-on at Tennessee as a freshman fullback and has been entrenched with Vols’ athletics ever since.
Two former area players – Minster’s Wolf brothers – played a final season together at Tennessee in 2017. Ethan, a four-year starter at tight end, had 24 catches for 246 yards and three TDs as a senior this season. He had 91 career catches for 998 yards and seven TDs.
At 6-6 and 245 pounds, Ethan Wolf is projected to be taken in the later rounds of next April’s NFL draft and if not will be a sought-after free agent.
Eli Wolf, 6-4, will be a redshirt-junior TE next season. He had three catches this season but started the season-opening defeat of Georgia Tech.