A touch of sibling rivalry will help motivate Bryce Nunnelly during his two days at the state decathlon in Murfreesboro. From left are Walker Valley track and field coach Drew Nunnelly and youngest brother Bryce Nunnelly. Middle brother Trent Nunnelly is not pictured. (Banner Photo: Saralyn Norkus)
They say that athleticism runs in the family, and in the Nunnellys’ case that seems especially true.
Football, basketball, baseball, track and field — when it comes to sports at Walker Valley High School, the trio of Nunnelly sons have excelled at them all.
First came Drew, who graduated in 2007 and participated in basketball, baseball and track and field. Next was Trent, who graduated in 2010 and during his time at Walker Valley played baseball (freshman year), basketball, football (senior year) and was a standout in track and field. He was heavily recruited by numerous college programs.
Now, it is the youngest brother’s turn to make his mark on WVHS athletics.
Bryce, who will graduate next year, is following in his brothers’ footsteps and excelling in football, basketball, and track and field. Recently, Bryce received an offer from Tennessee Tech for football.
Making the family dynamic even more interesting is the fact the Bryce’s head track coach is oldest brother Drew, and Trent became an assistant coach this season.
“I’m used to (them) helping me out with whatever it may be, homework, football, basketball or something growing up. Coming out here, it’s nothing different,” Bryce stated.
“I don’t have to say nearly as much to him to get him to work hard,” Drew added. “As far as the boys go, and I’m not saying this just because he’s my brother, but he works as hard if not harder than everyone else on the boys’ team. He’s usually the pace or tone setter; he’s raising the intensity level for practice every day.”
Today, the youngest Nunnelly is competing in his first day at the state decathlon, considered quite a feat in itself. While both Drew and Trent reached the state level, neither did it as a junior, and neither earned that coveted All-State distinction.
Drew went to state his senior year and finished 11th in the state, while Trent finished ninth and was one spot away from making All-State his senior year.
It’s Bryce’s goal to surpass his older brothers, and coming into the state competition, he stands a good chance at doing just that.
“I’m going to try. I want to get in the top eight. If I have a good day and do well, I think it’s a possibility,” Bryce commented. “I haven’t won the sectional decathlon yet, but hopefully I can do that next year. I do get to go to state, though.”
There has always been a healthy level of competition between the brothers.
“It goes all the way back to when we’d play things in the yard. It didn’t matter what we were playing, it could be cornhole, could be spike ball or just a little pickup game of basketball out in the street,” the eldest reflected.
“They didn’t take it easy on me,” Bryce quipped.
“No — we didn’t let him win,” Drew laughed. “Mom would come out there and be like ‘Y’all take it easy on him, don’t be too hard on him,’ and usually he would say that we weren’t (being too hard on him).”
Bryce finished third in the sectional decathlon, which earned him an at-large bid to compete at the state decathlon.
“Leaving that night, we thought that he would get in, but we weren’t sure. It was kind of an excruciating, long wait,” Drew said.
Currently, his score of 5,268 has him ranked 11th in the state. He is also some 600 points below his brother Trent’s school record.
“He has the record, so I want that. I just need 600 more points,” Bryce declared.
The decathlon is a 10-event competition spread out over two days. It is comprised of the 100-meter dash, discus throw, triple jump, pole vault, 400-meter dash, 110-meter hurdles, long jump, shot put, high jump and the 1,500-meter run.
“The first event of day one is always the 100. The last event on the first day is always the 400. They kind of flip-flop events two, three and four on day one, but you’ll either have high jump or pole vault,” Drew explained. “On day two, the first event is always the 110-meter hurdles, and the last event is the 1,500-meter run. Then you’ve got the jumps mixed in, long jump and triple jump. You’ll do one on the first day and one on the second day. Shot put and discus are on separate days, as well.”
Both Drew and Bryce said the 100-meter dash is their favorite event. The eldest brother favored the long jump as well, because he was a jumper outside of the decathlon.
“I was actually a long jumper, and I still have the record here at 20 feet, 8.5 inches, which is my only record I have left because Trent has broken the rest of them, and I’ve coached a couple of relay teams that have broken them,” Drew said.
Bryce prefers the triple jump and the 400-meter dash. Last year, Bryce qualified for the state meet in the 400 and has qualified again for it this year.
“I like the 100 for sure, the triple jump and the 400. I can get a lot of points in that if I run it the way I can,” he explained.
In the decathlon, most athletes will tell you that the 1,500-meter run is the toughest event. Drew and Bryce are no different.
“It’s a test. it’s your last event on the second day, and you’ve already done the athletic ability tests all the way up until that, so that’s just a gut check for it,” Drew said.
“It’s pretty tough; it’s a long two days and then when that last event comes it’s gut check time as to who wants it more. I try to come out fast and get to the top of the pack, but I try not to lead it. I try to stay real close behind one and two and just save it up for the last 150 to 100 meters and then just sprint as fast as I can,” Bryce explained. “I don’t even remember what I’m thinking. I’m just running and going ‘OK, I’ve got 200 meters to go until lap one is over … I’ve got one more lap left,’ or something like that.”
When thinking back to his own state decathlon appearance, Drew is able to perfectly remember what was going through his mind.
“I remember exactly what I was thinking when I did mine (at the state). There was this guy who had won the state two years in a row, and at the time was the state record holder in the decathlon. He had dominated all day long, and his goal was to win every event. ... All I heard for two days was how no one was going to beat him in the 1,500 and how no one had ever beaten him in that race. I kept that in mind, and he had already ticked me off earlier that day because he was really cocky. Going into the last lap of the 1,500 I was seventh, but I was looking at him even though there were five other guys between him and me. I was watching him as he went around the curve and I started closing the gap. The whole time I was thinking, ‘Don’t let him beat you,’ and I got him. I passed him and beat him by seven seconds,” Drew recalled.
“When it comes down to the 1,500 it’s about determination, and you just have to find something to motivate you. For me, I was just angry. I was frustrated at myself for how I’d done, and I was frustrated with him for how he acted.”
Drew’s foray into the decathlon was a bit untraditional, to say the least.
He was recruited to the track and field team during his senior year following baseball season.
“They had gotten me out from baseball and were like ‘Hey, you think you’d be good at doing decathlon?’ I was like, ‘What’s the decathlon?’ They explained it to me and got me up here the weekend before the competition, and we worked on it and learned how to do the events,” the Walker Valley track and field coach explained. “I came out on Monday and Tuesday and somehow won (the sectional) and got to go to state my senior year.”
After the success both Drew and Trent saw in the decathlon, it seemed only natural their younger brother should follow in their footsteps.
“I thought that since Trent and I both did it and were able to win it, we could put Bryce in. We started training him his freshman year and let him compete in it,” the track and field coach explained. “He got 13th or 14th place (in the section) his freshman year, then fifth his sophomore year. This year he got third and scored 300 to 400 more points than he did last year. That was a lot better. We knew after his sophomore year when he got fifth that he could do this.”
The competition in the 2016 state decathlon will be fierce, as Rhea County’s Chase Sholl, who scored 6,519 points at the section and was the 2015 state champion, is looking to defend his title during his final appearance.
“There is usually always one guy (Sholl) who is good at every event. He wins most events, so my goal is to try to stay with him,” Bryce explained.
“It helps to have a guy like that though when you’re competing, and to be able to compete with him at these other meets leading up to (state),” Drew added. “You go into it not really worried about the other ones because he’s got his sights set on defending as state champion. It’s a tall order and we know that, but if you can compete with him, you can compete with anybody.”
According to the track coach, there is no specific strategy for the decathlon, but there are some goals that he has set for Bryce.
“It’s all on a point scale, so we go into each event knowing the time frame or kind of the distance scale that we want to hit, knowing that it will get you a certain amount of points. If you can place top three to five in every event, you’re going to be at the top by the time it’s over. We have to stay in the top three to five in every event that we can,” Drew detailed. “We’ve got goals for every single event, and some of them we met last time. We’re going to keep the goals that we had for the last decathlon competition and improve on the ones that he already met. If we can get them all in one day, you never know what will happen.”