Witten making name for himself in coaching

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   Sports fans in Carter County, Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and now almost the whole country know about Shawn and Jason Witten. But there's another Witten out there that has also accomplished a lot in his life.
   Ryan Witten is the brother of the Division I-A collegiate football players, and he is starting to make a name for himself in the coaching ranks.
   Witten, who played sports for EHS during the early and mid 1990s, is currently the freshman football coach at his alma-mater, and he also coaches basketball at T.A. Dugger Junior High.
   But Witten is known mostly as the older brother of Shawn and Jason, who are standouts at Virginia Tech and Tennessee, respectively.
   Witten is fine with that, and he couldn't be happier with his brothers' success.
   "I'm the happiest brother in the world, because I've got two boys in D-I," Ryan Witten said after a recent EHS freshman football game. "It makes me proud. Right now we're on Shawn's bandwagon because they're the No. 4 team in the nation, but Tennessee will be back. It's fun because you've got two teams when most people have a favorite one. Well, we've got two and it's awesome."
   With Ryan being the oldest, he is there to support his younger siblings. That role has been magnified lately with Jason, as the Vols' season hasn't exactly gone as planned.
   Witten says Jason has handled things well throughout all the early struggles.
   "He's doing his job," Witten said. "He's leading as an example, and he's a good man. That's all you can ask for. Football is just a game, and they know that.
   Ryan Witten says things have not been a bed of roses for Shawn this year either, but he knows the Hokie will be just fine.
   "It's frustrating because he wants the ball," Witten said. "A great football player always wants the ball, and you can't blame him. He put in his time. When he played here he touched the ball every play. I'm just here to do what I can for the boys. They're the best in the world."
   The oldest Witten says his younger brothers care about what Ryan's doing just as much as he cares about his siblings.
   "When I get home on Thursday and Friday nights, they'll call and see if we won," Witten said. "They care about my life just as much as anybody else does."
   Witten is not only proud of his Division I-A college football playing brothers, but also his legendary grandfather. Dave Rider, as we all know, is one of the most recognizable names in all of Northeast Tennessee, and he led the Cyclones to success for three decades.
   "Anytime I've got a question I go home and talk to him," Witten said. "He has the answers. He knows way more football than I'll ever hope to contain. He doesn't talk football unless you come to him. He doesn't bombard Shawn and Jason. He doesn't ask them about football, he's just there for them. He's a great man. If I can be half the man he is I'll be happy."
   Ryan Witten grew up in the Washington D.C. area, but moved to Elizabethton during his freshman year of high school. He went on to star on the football field, and then played a year at Clinch Valley College (now called UVA-Wise).
   Witten looks back on his childhood playing days with a smile.
   "My mom sent me down here my freshman year and I was ineligible, because I didn't live with my guardian," Witten said. "I had to sit out my freshman year, and that was real tough. Then my sophomore, junior and senior year, I played played football and basketball here. And I wasn't really that good, I just played with a lot of heart and I was real physical. With your grandpa as football coach you had to be real physical.
   "I just did what I could do. I would trade a lot to come back and play for the Cyclones. Those were the four greatest years of my life. I played with great guys and great teammates. I came in and didn't know a soul, but they took me right underneath their wing and showed me around. But I just loved playing for my grandpa, and playing for Coach (Roger) Childers and all those guys. They were great coaches, and that's what made me want to be a coach. They made a difference in my life, and hopefully I can make a difference in somebody else's life."
   After giving up playing football, Witten became active in the community. He has been involved at the Boys and Girls Club of Elizabethton and Carter County.
   Witten felt like it was something he had to do.
   "Somebody touched me up in Washington D.C. at the Boys Club, and got me to be involved," Witten said. "I have an advantage, because I know all the kids. I've known kids since they were seven years old, and I watched them growing up. Even the guys at Unaka like Rusty Chambers and all those guys, I remember when they were little. I have an advantage, especially when I'm coaching freshman. I know them when they come in. I don't have to learn names, I already know their names. We've got a great community, and I would like to be more involved in that if I had enough time."
   Witten is now in sixth year as a football coach in the school system, and he is in his fourth season at the high school.
   According to Witten, coaching is something he loves to do.
   "A little kid in third grade asked me the other day 'do you think you'll be coaching by the time I'm there.' I said 'I'll be coaching 50 more years.' This is all I want to do."
   Witten wants to be a head coach in the future. And with his freshman team continuing to have success, it looks like he's on his way.
   "I want to be a head coach, that's my goal," Witten said. "My real goal is to be the head coach here one day. It doesn't matter if I'm 50 years old or 100 years old. My real goal is to be here, but if it's at Unaka or Morristown or wherever, that's what I'll do. But that's my goal, to be a head coach. I'll live right here on "C" Street. That will be me."
   Overall, Witten is happy with how his life is going at this point.
   "No regrets," Witten said. "On Thursday and Friday nights I get to be around great guys. You make decisions, not always the right ones, not always the wrong ones. But Coach (Tommy) Jenkins chose me to be a part of the program. My grandpa worked so hard for over 25 years, I don't want to see it diminish or crumble. I want to keep it going. Football is going to end for Shawn and Jason one day, and they're going to have a life afterwards. Hopefully, I've got mine already started. It will be all right.
   While Witten is focused on coaching, he wants to clear up a rumor that's been going around about his brother Jason and whether or not he will be a Tennessee Vol next season.
   "He's going to stay," Witten said about the rumor Jason might go into the NFL draft. "He doesn't need to go yet. Peyton Manning stayed all four years, and he can be a Tennessee legend. He's going to stay. I hope he does. We're not in dire need of money. I would like to have a few extra dollars, but I'll be all right. He's still got a lot to prove."
   (Note: This story was written before the Arkansas-Tennessee game).