Stan Cotten NC sportscaster of year

Published 10:09 am Thursday, August 6, 2015

Stan Cotten knew early in his childhood that sports would be a big part of his life. He grew up dreaming of playing football for the Tennessee Volunteers, but two injuries to the same knee in back-to-back years sent his athletic career up in flames.

He never dreamed he would be a sportscaster, but man did he find his niche.

Cotten, who lives in Advance, was named the 2015 North Carolina Sportscaster of the Year, the third time he’s won the award. He’s been the Voice of the Deacons since 1996, and this coming football season will mark his 36th year behind the mic. Cotten, 54, and wife Patti have lived in Advance for seven years. They met at the University of Tennessee and recently celebrated their 33rd anniversary. Patti is an attorney. They have two daughters. Their oldest, Annie, is a rising senior at Charlotte. A soccer and volleyball athlete at Calvary, she was the keeper on two state-championship teams. Jessie will be a freshman at UNC-Wilmington. She was all-conference three years in soccer at Calvary, and last spring he made the all-state team. Both were team captains in volleyball.

“He’s as fine a person as you’ll find in the sports industry and in life in general,” a good friend, Kyle Swicegood of Mocksville, said. “The thing that makes me admire Stan is he lives in the world of sports, but he has remained true to his faith. He’s just authentic. He could be nose-up-in-the-air, I’m Mr. Wake Forest, I’m Mr. Sportscaster of the Year, but he’s not like that at all. He’s down to earth. That injury could have destroyed the future of his life.”

“We love Davie County,” Cotten said. “When you come up to our house, it looks like we own a thousand acres and we don’t own any of it. We have a bunch of fields and land around us. Our neighbors in Clemmons moved out here and bought a bunch of land. For a long time, they said, ‘Come on out to Davie County. You’ll love it.’ Finally we did. You can sit on the back porch and listen to the crickets.”

Born and raised in Knoxville, Tenn., Cotten grew up bleeding orange and singing Rocky Top.

“I was (at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium) every Saturday,” Cotten said. “A lot of mornings when I was younger, I’d play a little league football game and we’d go straight to Neyland Stadium. I probably didn’t miss a home game from age 8 through college. It was the place to be. It’s where I grew up. It’s all I knew for so long.”

Cotten was a terrific athlete. At Farragut High, he played football, basketball and was a sprinter on the track team.

“I did not play baseball in high school,” he said. “At Farragut, all the football players were track people. I loved baseball, but you had to play that in the summer if you were a football player. Like most kids, I played them all. I played golf. If there was a ball involved, that’s what I was doing.”

One of Cotten’s best friends growing up was a kid named Bill Bates. Talk about a legend. As a Farragut senior, Bates was all-state in football and basketball. After starring at Tennessee, Bates became one of the most beloved Dallas Cowboys of all time, playing for Dallas for 15 years (1983-97) and winning three Super Bowl rings.

Tom Landry once said: “If we had 11 players on the field who played as hard as Bill Bates does and did their homework like he does, we’d be almost impossible to beat.”

John Madden once said: “Every game starts with a kick. With Bill Bates on the field, every game begins with a bang.”

“Bill was in my wedding and I was in Bill’s wedding,” Cotten said. “We played football together forever. Oh mercy, he was something. I was quarterback and he played strong safety. When we went ones against ones, you never wanted to get hit by Bill.”

Surely, Bates would not tee off on Farragut’s quarterback, would he? “Shoot, that sucker didn’t know anything but fifth gear,” Cotten said. “I mean he would absolutely clean your clock.”

After stumbling to 4-6 in back-to-back years, Farragut had a new coach in ‘77 season. Ken Sparks came and the Admirals took flight. After a three-year run in which Sparks lifted Farragut to unprecedented heights, Sparks became an icon at Carson-Newman, where he’s set to begin his 36th year this fall.

Heading into his senior season in ‘77, Cotten was Division-I recruit, some schools looking at him as a QB and others as an athlete/DB.

“Auburn was recruiting me pretty hard,” Cotten said. “Kentucky pretty hard, Vanderbilt. And I’d say Tennessee as hard as anybody, but probably not as a quarterback. At Tennessee I probably would have been a defensive back. They recruited a lot of guys as athletes. In high school, we were running the option. Johnny Majors was (coach) at Tennessee at the time, and they weren’t going to be running the option. But Auburn was doing a lot of option stuff. I would have maybe had a shot at being an option quarterback there. I just wanted to play college football. I had these dreams of playing in the NFL.”

The first devastating knee injury came in the spring before the ‘77 season. It happened in a game of flag football.

“I had to have it operated on that spring,” he said. “When it came time to play, I couldn’t go.”

Sparks came up with a genius idea. Cotten would drop out of school for half a year and come back the next fall as a senior.

“He was looking ahead to my future,” he said. “I was pretty heavily recruited by Tennessee and some of those people. That season went by and I didn’t go to school. I started back after Christmas. It was basically a red-shirt. I could come back that fall (of ‘78) and play, and the college recruiters loved it because I would be a year older, stronger and all that kind of stuff. Plus, I was going to get to play that senior year, graduate at Christmas and start early wherever I went to college. On paper, it was all going to be great.”

Meanwhile, the ‘77 team went 10-1, setting a record for wins for the 31-year school. Imagine if that team would have had Cotten under center.

The buildup for the ‘78 season was immense. Cotten, Bates and a host of other studs were going to be seniors. Unfortunately for Cotten, it wasn’t meant to be.

“Well, about a week before the season started, I tore the knee up again,” he said. “It was ACL-related, and back then in the ‘70s, when you did that to your ACL you were basically done. So there goes my playing career, which was disappointing to say the least.”

The ‘78 team blazed its way to 12-0, setting another record for wins and reaching the AAA semifinals. The perfect season ended with a 28-27 overtime loss to Red Bank. Imagine if that team would have had Cotten running the show.

“We had a lot of guys that ended up going on to play in college,” he said. “Off that one team, Tennessee signed three guys to scholarships. If they would have still offered me, I would have been the fourth.”

Sparks went 29-5 at Farragut. His record at Carson-Newman since 1980 is an astounding 325-89-2.

“He was in my wedding, too,” Cotten said. “We’re still close today. He’s still coaching (at age 71 while fighting cancer). He’s battling through it. He’s going through chemo and all that kind of stuff.”

With his athletic career over, Cotten got into the radio business by accident. At age 19, a career was launched.

“There was a radio station carrying our (Tennessee) games,” he said. “The guy who was calling the games is now the Voice of the Tennessee Vols, Bob Kesling. They said: ‘You know these guys better than anybody else. Have some fun with it. We’ll air it in the pregame show.’ I started thinking: ‘This would be a way to kind of stay close to the game and still be apart of it. I feel into it. I did that and they kind of liked it. Well, they gave me a part-time job. I started working at the radio station there in Knoxville that carries the Tennessee games.”

Cotten has a special place in his heart for Sparks for several reasons. It was Sparks who set up Cotten’s first play-by-play job at Carson-Newman. It was the fall of ‘80, when he was still a student at Tennessee.

A week before the Carson-Newman season got underway, Cotten sat in the booth of a rather famous Georgia-at-Tennessee battle. That’s when freshman Herschel Walker introduced himself to Bates and the rest of the college football world in a 16-15 Georgia comeback. On his first collegiate TD run, Walker steamrolled Bates at the 5 en route to a 16-yard run. Georgia went on to win the national championship.

“I was in the Vol Network booth for that game because the next Saturday I did my first-ever game for Carson-Newman,” Cotten said. “John Ward, who was the Voice of the Vols at the time, lived in my neighborhood and Bob Kesling was his spotter. I said: ‘Can I come in and see what you do because next week I’m doing a game.’ That’s when Herschel debuted for Georgia in the second half and ran roughshod over Tennessee and ran over Bill.”

“(Years later) we roasted Bill Bates. He sat there and we just pounded him for a couple hours with Herschel Walker jokes.”

Sparks’ influence on Cotten’s career was profound.

“He said: ‘You’re messing around with this radio stuff. Do you want to call our games?’ I was like, ‘Sure.’ He was such a creative guy and a forward-thinking guy.”

Cotten spent 12 years in Jefferson City, Tenn., describing five Carson-Newman runs to the NAIA National Championship (1983, 1984, 1986, 1988 and 1989).

“It was awesome being there,” he said. “I loved it. I could have stayed at Carson-Newman forever. I obviously love Ken Sparks. It was small but they were doing it right.”

While he’s appreciative of what Carson-Newman meant to his career, his four years in Huntington, W.V., were downright lovely. He was the Voice of the Marshall Thundering Herd from 1992-95.

“I just woke up one day and said: ‘You know what, if I ever do want to move on, I need to get going,’” he said. “I had been at Carson-Newman 12 years and I wasn’t a young man anymore (31).”

Billy Donovan was Marshall’s basketball coach from 1994-95 through 1995-96. Jim Donnan was the football coach from 1990-95.

“Gosh, what a great time,” Cotten said. “That’s where Donovan started, and my first year at Marshall they won the national championship in football.”

The day before the 1992 Division I-AA championship game, Donnan suspended the starting kicker, David Merrick, for missing practice. The backup kicker was David’s brother, senior Willy Merrick. The problem was Willy had never attempted a field goal in his Marshall career. With the score tied at 28 and 10 seconds left, Willy banged through a 22-yarder to give Marshall its first national title. Cotten still gets goosebumps when he watches that clip.

“We had great teams and I had four great years,” he said. “I loved Huntington.”

Cotten’s next move came in 1996, when he joined the Wake Forest IMG Radio Network. He’s been the Voice of the Deacs ever since, the upcoming football season marking his 20th year.

“We had a lot of family in North Carolina, so it was kind of like coming home for us,” he said. “My grandparents, who have since passed away, lived in Asheville. I’ve got relatives in the Raleigh area. So it wasn’t that difficult of a decision to come here.”

Cotten’s first year calling Wake basketball games was Tim Duncan’s senior year.

“Even though I missed (Wake winning ACC Tournament titles in 1994 and 1995), I did get Tim Duncan, which was pretty cool,” he said. “All of a sudden you’re involved in games with people that you’ve watched for years on television. That was neat.”

Cotten recounted the most pleasant memory in Wake football history, the ACC championship team in 2006. It was the first title since 1970, and it ended with a school-record 11 victories and a trip to the Orange Bowl.

“That thing that made it really crazy is nobody saw that coming,” he said. “Wake was picked last by the media that fall. Wow. Looking back on it now, you see how special a player (quarterback) Riley Skinner was. I don’t know if Wake will ever have another one like him. He just won games. He just found a way to win.

“That night at the Orange Bowl, when you looked out and there were estimates of 40-, 45,000 Wake Forest people – when BB&T Field doesn’t even hold that many people – was absolutely incredible. It was a lot of emotion that week because you don’t know if you’ll ever see that again.”

Cotten savors Wake’s highs. But when the Deacs fall, he feels their pain.

“I’ve been at Wake so long, you get to know the coaches and their families and their kids,” he said. “You know how hard they work and you know what they’re up against. Wake is trying to survive in a league where everybody is getting better. To be as small as Wake is and to see how hard they work to try to compete, when they don’t get it done it hurts. But when they get it done, it’s a great feeling and great to be apart of it.”

It’s an exciting time to be around the Deacs. Dave Clawson (football) and Danny Manning (basketball) are both heading into their second years at Wake, and it’ll be interesting to see how their rebuilding projects unfold.

“I would be shocked if both of those men didn’t get it done,” Cotten said. “I really would. I think Clawson and his guys have recruited really well. There’s a lot of excitement. They’re working on an big indoor facility, something that has been desperately needed for a long time. And Danny Manny has been great. He’s recruiting well. You can see when you go to practice that Wake has two really good guys in those two sports.”

Cotten has certainly made a name for himself, winning the NC Sportscaster of the Year Award in 2001, 2006 and 2015. He hopes to paint pictures with words for many more years.

“It’s a great way to make a living,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s been a way to stay close to sports. I try not to take it for granted because I’ve got a lot of buddies who would love to do what I do. I still enjoy it as much today as I did in 1980. I think these next several years at Wake could be really, really fun.”