From sidelined to sideline: How an injury paved the way for the future


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The November air crisp, the stands at Bob Black Stadium full as time ticked off the clock in the second quarter of Fulton’s game against West High School. Then-junior Tommy Sweat was in at quarterback for the Falcons with upset on his mind.

“I dropped back to pass and I took off to run and I realized there were two big linebackers in front of me so I should probably get down so I slide,” Sweat recalled. “I got hit my foot kind of slid up under the turf it was pretty gruesome.”

Standing fifteen feet away from him on the sidelines was Fulton Athletic Director and Tommy’s high school basketball coach Jody Wright.

“I knew it wasn’t good,” Coach Wright said. “Just the way slid and the way he hit it looked like it wasn’t going to be good. 

Tommy had fractured and broken his ankle putting an end to his junior football season. His mind on the pain then the return.

“When can I get back, that was the first thing that went through my mind,” Tommy said. “I’m a two-sport athlete so when can I get back and play basketball. I knew my football season was done for my junior year but basketball is a long season that starts in November and goes all the way to March.”

Tommy attacked his rehab, but as hard as he worked he couldn’t do anything to alter the largest factor in his recovery – time. The junior was sidelined for 21 games that season, missing just over three months.

“That was the biggest injury I’ve ever had that sidelined me for that long,” he said. ” That was really hard for me and humbling to figure out I couldn’t play sports for that long a period of time.”

Unlike most 17-year olds ‘free time’ isn’t a phrase Tommy enjoys and he hated the abundance he was unexpectedly experiencing in late 2019 and early 2020. While trying to find ways he could fill the void sports had left in his life, he was brought right back to it, joining Falcon Radio’s broadcast of Fulton Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball games.

“I kinda felt like Bob Kesling, I wasn’t as good as him and Brent Hubbs do,” he joked. “That made the process a whole lot easier because I wasn’t sitting around doing nothing watching practice. I had something to fill my time and pique my interest.”

He brought a unique perspective to the student-run broadcast, being the only one who played the game and played for Jody Wright, he knew what was going on both on the court, in the huddle, and in the mind of his head coach.

“I had people say man Tommy is really good at this,” Wright explained. “He’s articulate, he’s smart, he can think and speak off the cuff which you gotta do in that profession but also he knows what’s going on.”

When a play would go awry, he had the foresight to comment on what Coach Wright would say in the huddles and express that on-air, but it also gave him insight into his Hall of Fame head coach’s mind as he watched the game from a new point of view.

“From a broadcasters view I actually see oh wow this is what he was talking about it actually makes a whole lot of sense,” he said. “You get to see his knowledge. Everything he says to me is correct so I just have to go out and execute it. It showed me a different perspective which is nice.”

Tommy was able to return to the court in February, playing the final eight games of his junior season adn every game that Covid has allowedn ow during his senior year. His time on the sideline already taught him to appreciate each game, a lesson many others are learning in the Covid era of athletics, but also paved the way for the senior to never be far from the it.

“I’m going to be going to a four-year university and that’s been one of my majors maybe communication something in broadcasting – either radio or television,” he said. “Doing that and my experience that actually is something that really piqued my interest and said hey this is something I can do in the near future.”

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