Warren County loaded with talent
Matt Turner loves to remind me anytime he has a chance. I was a huge proponent of moving our football team out of the Murfreesboro region back in 2018, while Turner – about to take over the squad – wanted to play the best. More so, he was going to beat the best.
He truly believed in the talent in Warren County. He saw it walking in the hallways every day – kids who were going to change the perception of Pioneer and Lady Pioneer athletics.
Turner was right on the money.
People can still laugh at Warren County if they want, or start penciling wins in the preseason when they see the Pioneers and Lady Pioneers on the schedule, but they’re going to have a rude awakening when they have to play. Our area is starting to churn out top-level athletes in every sport.
When I came back to Warren County in 2010 and started relearning the sports landscape, I immediately jumped into covering Cody Robinson. He was a giant and already getting serious looks from top colleges. I recall having a conversation with coach Tommy Johnson, who was also just being introduced to the level of athletes locally.
Johnson told me point blank that he was told when he interviewed that Warren County had multiple D1 athletes on the football roster. He found out quickly there was just one: Robinson. People were talking about him as a once-in-a-generation athlete in Warren County, capable of getting big-time schools to start looking at the Pioneers.
And while it was awesome to praise Robinson for putting Warren County on the map, it was also concerning to think maybe we wouldn't see a player like that again for a long time. After all, it had been years since SEC schools were showing up for Warren County games. People enjoyed the moment, but decades of losing reinforced the notion the talent wasn’t here and wasn’t coming back.
A few years later, K’rojhn Calbert started emerging on the local fields. When Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and others came calling, we heard the same thing locally. Calbert was a “once in a lifetime athlete from Warren County.” It was easy to believe – I mean, how many 6-foot-6, 300-pound athletes capable of throwing a football 80 yards and windmill dunk a basketball are there in the world, much less Warren County?
Well, CJ Taylor, Katie Toney and Lauren Slatton aren’t 6-foot-6, but they’re showing Warren County can consistently produce top-level athletes – and they can produce it across the board.
I joked with CJ earlier this year that when he walked into a volleyball match, he wasn’t the best Warren County athlete in the gym. He looked at me puzzled and asked, “Who is better?”
I pointed into the stands to Slatton, who was still in her golf attire after dominating another local event. I told CJ, “She’s a beast. And she can’t even drive yet.”
Slatton’s swing as a freshman had people dropping their jaws throughout Middle Tennessee back in the summer. She was routinely outdriving girls who were 2-3 years older and when she couldn’t beat them with length, she would take them down with a deft touch on approach shots and a killer instinct on the greens.
Again, Slatton won’t be driving for a couple more years! She finished 12th in the state this year. She’s probably going to win a state (or two) before she’s done at Warren County.
Of course, I don’t think we have to rehash the season CJ Taylor and the Pioneers just completed. Taylor is the first Mr. Football in Warren County history and the Pioneers are likely to have 5-6 more players sign football scholarships in the next two months.
Then there’s Toney, a talented scoring machine who plays like the Energizer Bunny – she keeps going, and going and going. Toney is going to shatter local records for scoring next year and has already been named all-state twice, along with being a District and Region MVP. She wants to play college soccer and it feels like there’s a 99.99 percent chance at least one coach is going to sign her up.
Throw in some wrestlers who could make state in February (if we have sports) and you’re talking about Warren County having 4-5 athletes in four different sports in the conversation for best in the state. This is an incredible talent boom!
It isn’t likely to stop this year either. For starters, Toney and Slatton will be back at the top of their respective sports next summer and fall. They’ll be joined by some standouts too.
Bekah Jackson, currently a sophomore, is already on the fringe of being an all-state soccer player in her own right. Fellow sophomores Dayton Jernigan and Braylon Grayson are going to start hearing from college coaches very soon. Trust me, Grayson may not be Mr. Football in a few years, but he’s going to be a coveted prospect.
Don’t forget Madison Hollis is chomping at the bit to get back on the diamond too. When we last saw Hollis, she was a freshman leading the Lady Pioneers to the program’s first region softball championship. Now a junior, Hollis could end up being the best pitcher in program history and break the team’s home run record (though losing a season may hurt her chances of catching Ashton Whiles).
Hopefully we can stop shutting down sports in Warren County. Local fans are in for a treat if they can ever get back and see the sensational athletes we have.