BLUFF CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Once the school year begins and fall sets in, it means just one thing for Sullivan East senior Donovan Smithpeters.

“There’s never been a sport like football,” he said. “Just the thrill and excitement you get from it.”

He’s always liked the physicality of it, as well. It’s hard to shy away from contact when you play running back.

“I enjoy it,” he smiled. “I just like running into people.”

Smithpeters played his younger years in the Bulldogs’ program.

“My grandfather just had always been part of Hampton,” he said. “He says he bleeds blue all the time.”

But, by middle school, he settled in with Bluff City and Sullivan East.

“I love the atmosphere – and our coach, we have a great head coach,” he said. “This is a very competitive school. We’ve got athletes here.”

Thanks to Smithpeters and crew, the Patriots have opened the year with a 4-1 record. And they’re not lacking any confidence as they head towards the second half of the season.

“Our main goal is to make it to the playoffs – and if we can get past that, we’re going to make it to the state championship,” he said.

Once fall turns to winter, the senior will shed the pads and hit the mat for a third season of wrestling.

“Once I got into it, I realized how physical it was and how much it correlates towards football,” he said.

Success didn’t come right away.

“My sophomore year, I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to do,” he explained.

“I got my butt kicked all the time in the wrestling room – until I started figuring out what I like and … what works for me,” he continued.

It didn’t come together until districts that year, but once it did, Smithpeters started to roll.

“I started winning my matches,” he said, “once I got there I made it to state.”

He returned to the Class A state meet again as a junior last season and finished eighth in the 138-pound class. As a senior, he’ll be wrestling closer to 150-160 pounds, but it’s a challenge he is ready to embrace.

“I love competing, so I’m excited for it,” he said.

Whether it’s on the gridiron or the mat, he’s learned one thing that will stick with him beyond his days in Bluff City.

“You have to be disciplined and you have to want it,” he said.