A Life Remembered
Tribute to Trigg County Football Star David Sadler
David Sadler was 53 years old and living in Trigg County.
On Monday, January 12, David was at work using a jackhammer. He complained to his brother Phillip, ďThis thing is shocking me.Ē Seconds later, David was on the ground. He was barely conscious while being rushed to the hospital in his brotherís truck.
A day later, January 13, 2009, marked the loss of another of Bearís Boys.
This is a story about the passing of a seemingly healthy person. But these kinds of tragedies strike more frequently than we realize.
Cause of death: brain aneurism.
Sadler was a person not defined by football, but he did excel and became a beloved native son when he starred on two Kentucky high school championship teams at Trigg County High in the early 1970s, then played in two Sugar Bowl games and a Liberty Bowl for legendary Paul ďBearĒ Bryant. As a senior at íBama, he was team captain.
Shortly after arriving at Trigg County Hospital, David was on his way to St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville. Even before David arrived in Nashville, Mal Moore, director of athletics at the University of Alabama, was aware of the seriousness of Davidís situation and his teammates had been alerted.
The next day, with family at his side, David passed away.
Reflective of the kind of person he was, David had become an organ donor.
It was a bolt of lightning that rocks us all when this sort of news comes as it always seems to.
So, we had lost another member from our 1971 and 1972 state Class-A championship team.
Because David was an organ donor, the visitation was pushed back a few days to Friday, January 16. When my wife, Joye, and I arrived at Kingís Funeral Home in Cadiz, people were clustered in small groups talking quietly among themselves. Some faces I recognized, some not.
There was a long line of people leading to the casket that seemed to have no starting place. My line of sight carried toward the front of the room where David lay and reality started to settle in.
My emotions began to well up, get the best of me.
Then a nice lady beside me took my hand and led me to the front where Phillip and Mike, Davidís brothers, and his widow, Lynda, and daughters stood.
Later, we would have nostalgic conversations. The kind where best-of-times memories flood back, come easily, and serve to relieve tension that comes with grief.
Itís a moment that encourages one to believe Davidís spirit is right there beside all of us. Smiling.
Then I made my way to my brother Johnny and Coach Buddy Perry. This was when I was told an amazing story. It involves Bear Bryant and underlines what Bearís Boys really means. It lets one understand why every player who ever lettered under Coach Bryant became forever one of Bearís Boys.
From Cadiz to Tuscaloosa
To recount how David Sadler earned his place, we go back to the winter of 1971 when I was given the opportunity to be head football coach at Trigg County High School, following in the footsteps of Ken Barrett.
My brother Johnny and Buddy Perry became my assistants.
Where is Trigg County?
Historically, Trigg is linked to Land Between The Lakes, 17,000 acres located in parts of Trigg and Lyon counties in Kentucky and Stewart County, Tennessee, between the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. Some call it the best fishing and hunting area in the U.S. My son Marty calls it Godís Country.
In spring 1971, I met David Sadler for the first time. He was a freshman who made a big impression on the coaches at spring practice. By late summer, David had made himself an important cog in our football team. I couldnít decide where to play him.
Big, fast, and willing, he started at defensive end and offensive guard the next three seasons, during which our team won 33 of 38 games.
David helped us win two Class-A state titles and we finished one point away from a chance at a third.
In the spring of 1973, before Davidís senior year, Alabama came calling.
So did Kentucky.
Coach Perry was instrumental in getting University of Alabama interested in David.
He telephoned Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Ken Donahue, who asked us to send film.
Also that spring, scouts from the University of Kentucky came to see David work out.
His senior season at Trigg County would catapult David to All-State and he was selected the stateís Outstanding Lineman Award by the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Recognition of his skills was enhanced by the teamís successful drive to a Class-A state championship in Davidís sophomore and junior years.
Yet when the time came to talk about a college scholarship, we were told that coaches on Fran Curciís staff at Kentucky didnít think David was ďSEC material.Ē
Never mind, UK had not so much as had a winning season in seven straight years and wouldnít in 1973 either.
So, for Davidís future, we turned back to Alabama and Donahue. At the end of the í73 season, Coach Perry called to see if Alabama needed more game film on David. To our amazement, his response was, ďIíve already seen him play three gamesÖAlabama will be offering David a scholarship to play football.Ē
Wonderful news for all of us.
During his freshman season at íBama, David played just enough to not be red-shirted. Bryantís staff knew what they were doing. By the next season, the kid Kentucky figured was not Southeastern Conference caliber was a starter at Alabama on both sides of the football, at offensive tackle and nose guard on several occasions.
He would play in two Sugar Bowl games and the Liberty Bowl, and become team captain his senior year.
By the end of his last season in the spring of 1978, Sadler needed only 18 hours to graduate. Knowing Davidís eligibility was spent, Coach Bear Bryant asked him to stay on as a graduate assistant.
He had a huge decision to makeóget his college degree or go home.
Ties to his Old Kentucky Home were strong and David returned to Trigg County, where he married, became a father, and entered the logging business. Later, he worked for his brother, Phillip, building homes.
Standing there in Kingís Funeral Home that January near David Sadlerís casket, I looked around the room and I thought about how quickly time gets by.
Seeing so many who had come to honor David was mind-boggling.
But I was about to discover something special and good would come out of this tragedy.
To this day, it gives me goose bumps.
Jim Crider, Davidís roommate at Alabama, had traveled to Cadiz on Thursday. By Friday, several of Bearís Boys had arrived. Fifteen, I thought, although Coach Perryís estimate was 25.
Crider spent Thursday evening at Davidís home consoling Lynda and family, and discussing the familyís needs.
Crider and other Bearís Boys are privy to something many donít know. Before Coach Bryant died, he created a special fund to be used to help ďHis BoysĒ when hard times came. How much help depended on the circumstances.
Davidís hospital care, the funeral, and burial were paid for in their entirety by Bearís Boys. And David and Lyndaís three daughters have full scholarships to attend the University of Alabama if they want them.
It shows Bear Bryant was far more than a football coach.
When I learned about this generosity and support by The Bear, I was flabbergasted.
Springtime and fall have come again and everyone has gone back to their lives. Cadiz and Trigg County too. But folks havenít forgotten their Bearís Boy.
A sign at the edge of town reads: Cadiz, 1971-72 State Champs.
Recently added, ďThe Home of David Sadler.Ē KL
ABOUT THE AUTHOR AND COACH
By Shannon Clinton
Coach Joe Kelly Jaggers canít help but continue a habit formed during his high school football coaching years.
While watching weekend college football games, whether itís Western Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky, University of Alabama, or University of Florida, he doesnít bark commands toward the television as a retired coach might.
ďI kind of learn from the games,Ē he says. ďI have a yellow notebook and Iíll see some formation and play that they ran and write it down.Ē
Other aspects of his career are indelibly etched into his heart, like memories of the late David Sadler.
Fitting words of tribute didnít come easy.
ďI was asked to speak at his funeral,Ē Coach Jaggers says. ďSince he was an organ donor, I had a few days to think about what I was going to say. I just came home and started writing and it took me a long time. Iíd tear it up and start all over.Ē
Coach Jaggers himself is a noted athlete and coach. A 1958 Caldwell County High School graduate, he played football at WKU, where he attended 1958-63, and lettered four years on its golf team and two years in football.
His coaching career began in Franklin in 1963, then he coached at three different schools until his Trigg County coaching stint, which included two state championships and lasted from 1971-76. Jaggers began a new coaching era at Fort Knox High School in 1977, where his teams earned three more state championships. He then served as football coach at North Hardin High School from 1991 until his retirement in 1999.
Jaggers has also been named to the KHSAA Hall of Fame and the National High School Athletic Coaches Hall of Fame, and was named the stateís winningest coach of all time with 292 victories, though that distinction has since been surpassed.
He now lives in Elizabethtown with his wife of 53 years, Joye. The couple has four children and 14 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In his spare time he enjoys playing golf, fishing, and naturally, watching football games.
Coach Jaggersí father and brother played football at WKU, and his two sons, Crad Jaggers and Marty Jaggers, are high school football coaches. Football players and coaches also round out the roster among his grandchildren and nephews.
The elder Coach Jaggers remains modest about his accomplishments. ďJust like Iíve passed others, others have passed me,Ē he says.