When you’ve only been alive 17 or 18 years, it’s hard to put big life moments in perspective.
Covington senior point guard Vontae Powell shrugs when asked if he ponders the fact that a big chapter in his life is nearing an end.
Senior center Brandon Alston, who is sitting across a table from Powell in the CHS library on a rainy Tuesday morning, interjects.
“I do,” he says. “I’m going to miss it. I’m going to miss high school basketball and seeing everybody’s faces. I’m not going to miss the work but I’m going to miss the school.”
Upon hearing this, Powell concedes he has thought about the season ending in a few short weeks.
“I’m going to miss playing with them,” he says softly.
This is not any other season nearing a conclusion. Considering the team’s top three scorers – Powell (19 points per game), Alston (16) and Tyjuan Smith (13) – are all seniors, and the team has been on the cusp of making the state tournament the last two years, the season has a bit of a now-or-never feel to it.
As has been well-documented, the last time a Tipton County boys high school basketball team made the state tournament was when Covington went in 1987, about 15 years before any of the Covington seniors were born.
Assistant coach Kaleb Estes is sitting at the table with Alston, Powell and Smith, as are key team members Devin Dean, Myles Stark and Josh McGarity. All but Dean are seniors.
Estes was a junior guard for the Chargers in 2014 when they lost to eventual state champ Jackson South Side in a sectional game, one win away from state. Although he’s not that much older than the players he coaches, Estes clearly understands the gravity of the situation.
“I tell them to take it one game at a time,” Estes says. “Don’t take anything for granted. You’ll never get this back. I told Brandon that at Brighton. ‘This is the last time you’ll play at Brighton against Brighton.’ It’s a surreal feeling. Give it all you got while you got it.”
That was also head coach Charles Mitchell’s first year at Covington. Over the past six seasons, the Chargers have made it to at least the region semifinals five times. They lost to the eventual state champs in four of those seasons. Haywood ended their season in 2015, Hamilton in 2018 and Wooddale last year.
Covington has racked up a lot of wins every year during Mitchell’s tenure, but this year has been even better. The Chargers (22-3) are riding an 11-game winning streak, are undefeated (9-0) in District 15-AA play, have not lost to a team from Tennessee all year are ranked sixth in this week’s Associated Press Class AA state poll. Covington’s last defeat came against North Lutheran (Mo.) on Dec. 27.
Nobody remembers the last time Covington, or any team from their district, went undefeated in league play.
So what’s so special about this year’s version of the Chargers?
“I feel like we have good team chemistry,” Alston says. “We play well together and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
“These guys are talented,” McGarity says. “The talk around the team and around the town is that we’re going to do something special.”
Stark talks about the closeness of the team. Like McGarity, he was a standout on the football team that advanced to the state semifinals and joined the team late.
“I wanted to come back to be with my brothers,” he says.
Covington was undefeated in league play halfway through its league schedule the last two seasons before dropping some games late.
“Over the last three years this is not uncommon, we just didn’t finish it off,” Mitchell says. “This year could be different. That would be pretty major.”
The players and coaches don’t talk about it openly too much, but making an appearance in Murfreesboro in March is the clear goal. This year’s seniors have played together since teaming up at Crestview Middle School and want to go out with a bang.
“It’s important,” Smith says. “We haven’t been there in like 30 years.”
“Everybody says this is our year,” Alston says. “That’s how we feel.”
Says Mitchell: “They pretty much know what the goal is. Our goal is to try and break this streak and go to state. That will be my goal until I get out of here and I think that’s their goal. They want to go.”