When Trent Dilfer arrived at Lipscomb Academy in January of 2019, the Mustangs’ once-mighty football program had fallen on hard times.

Lipscomb had won only three of its previous 22 games.

There were just 38 players on the roster.

“They just were so bad,” said Dilfer, the Lipscomb coach. “Football was not a priority. There was kind of a mass exodus of athletes and it didn’t feel like the institution was behind growing sports. Now, that changed rapidly.”

Almost overnight.

The former NFL quarterback led the Mustangs to the Division II-AA semifinals in his first season.

Last year, Lipscomb went 11-3 and finished as the state runner-up behind Christ Presbyterian Academy.

This season, the Mustangs (5-1) are third in the Tennessee Super 25 statewide high school football ranking behind top-rated Oakland and No. 2 Maryville.

There were plenty of doubters when Dilfer arrived on the Granny White Pike campus despite his impressive resume that included a 14-year NFL career highlighted by a Super Bowl win with the Baltimore Ravens after the 2000 season.

“It took a complete buy-in by the institution, both the university and the academy,” Dilfer said. “But I don’t think anybody thought that was going to happen so the naysayers were (saying) ‘Trent can do whatever he thinks he wants to do, but ain’t gonna happen because there’s just not a buy-in.’

“Well, they were wrong because everybody’s bought in. I can’t think of a person in our community that hasn’t bought in to what we’re doing and really has put some weight behind it.”

Dilfer, 49, describes the resurgence as “a 24/7/365 endeavor."

The coach and his wife are empty nesters whose two youngest daughters are playing volleyball at Lipscomb and Louisville.

“My wife has kind of allowed me to go all-in on this thing,” Dilfer said. “It’s taken every ounce of me and our family and the staff and the players, the administration, the community to turn around this quick.”

Dilfer is building on the foundation laid by Glenn McCadams, a Hall of Fame coach who compiled a 319-112 career record at Lipscomb and Peabody.

Coach Mac won three state titles and finished runner-up four times during his 31 years with the Mustangs before passing away in 2013.

“I think there are some commonalities,” Dilfer said of their coaching styles. “I’ve tried to steal a lot of Mac’s cultural stuff, learn from how he built it when he got there because when he got there they were really down as well.”

McCadams started by building a strong foundation, an approach Dilfer emulated.

“Make it substantive, make it something bigger than ourselves, make it about each other, not about individual accomplishment,” Dilfer said. “Build it up on campus, too, making sure that it wasn’t just a football build. It was a community build.”

There are also some big differences between McCadams and Dilfer.

“I think we’re polar opposites and it’s just different generations,” Dilfer said. “He didn’t like any of the flash and sizzle, he wanted old school. I realized to build this thing we had to create a lot of flash and sizzle to it whether it was uniforms, social media or facilities. We had to put ourselves out there.”

Several of Dilfer’s celebrity friends such as Tom Brady, Troy Aikman, Ray Lewis, Chris Berman, Suzy Kolber, John Lynch and Mitchell Tenpenny, an alum of the school, have narrated Mustang game day hype videos.

“It’s been fun for them,” Dilfer said. “They really enjoy it. They want to lean in any way they can and they’ve been really gracious with their time.”

Lipscomb Sports Information Director Patrick Carpenter, a country music songwriter, writes the scripts for the videos.

“The opposing coaches always tease me about it,” Dilfer said. “You know, like, how are we supposed to compete with this? I’m, like, well, you’re not supposed to. You can beat us on the field, but you can’t beat us in the sizzle.”

Lipscomb just built a Hall of Fame in its meeting room that celebrates McCadams’ tenure and accomplishments.

“We’re really trying to make sure people realize that what we’re doing – the original foundation was laid years ago by Coach Mac and his staff and we’re just trying to build upon that,” Dilfer said.

Lipscomb suffered its first loss of the season 29-21 at defending Class 6A champion Oakland on Thursday.

Eric Taylor tackled Boston College commit Alex Broome on the Patriots 2-yard line with about 3 seconds left to seal the win as Oakland (5-0) rallied from a 21-7 deficit.  

“Oh, it’s a gut punch,” Dilfer said. “There’s no other way of saying it. They’re really good. They’ve won, what is it, 51 straight at their place and now 20 in a row and multiple state championships. Coach (Kevin) Creasy and his staff do an incredible job.”

Dilfer called the final play a bad play call on his part as the Mustangs didn’t account for Taylor blitzing off the edge, enabling him to tackle Broome in the backfield.

Lipscomb will try to rebound at three-time defending DII-A champion Davidson Academy (4-2) on Friday.

The Mustangs feature a great one-two punch with quarterback Luther Richesson and Broome.

Richesson has completed 100 of 116 passes for 1,122 yards with no interceptions, an 86.2 completion percentage and a 207.3 quarterback rating.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior has nearly as many touchdowns (14) and incompletions (16).

“He’s as good as there is,” Dilfer said. “His secret sauce is his work mentality, his competitive nature, his leadership. He’s revered by his teammates and coaches and that doesn’t happen a lot.”

Dilfer calls him a pro style quarterback and an underrated athlete.

He has five offers, including Michigan State.

Playing for Dilfer has made Richesson a better quarterback.

“He’s taught me so much about how to play the position, what defenses are thinking, how to expose defenses and I’m grateful for it every day,” Richesson said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned in my couple of years here is just don’t give the defense too much credit. Just because a guy is near one of our guys doesn’t mean they can make the play, so trust yourself, trust your receivers and trust your preparation to go out there and make plays.”

Broome is averaging 117 rushing yards per game and 8.9 yards per carry with 585 yards and 14 TDs.

The 5-9, 186-pound senior is the team’s second-leading receiver with 27 receptions and five TDs.

“He’s so complete,” Dilfer said. “It starts with his football IQ. He just understands the run game, the pass game, the pass protection game. He understands what we’re trying to do on each play and then he’s got the talent to back it up.”

Dilfer describes him as a combo back who runs with power, but also has the speed to finish plays.

“He can get you the four hard ones, but he can get you the 45 as well and you don’t find a lot of guys like that,” Dilfer said.

Broome’s dad, Arcentae, coaches Overton and he was a talented running back at Stratford and Tennessee State.

Junior Sherill is Lipscomb’s leading receiver with 33 catches and six TDs. He recently picked up an offer from Vanderbilt. 

Jamie Graham, a former football and basketball standout at Vandy and Whites Creek, coaches the receivers.

The Mustangs’ explosive offense is averaging 53.6 points per game.

“We’re a tight group,” Richesson said. “Every day we go out, we’re like brothers out there so we just go out there and let it rip on Fridays and sometimes Thursdays.”

Lipscomb set the tone with a 76-point outburst in a season-opening win over Greater Atlanta Christian in August.

“We try to be really multiple,” Dilfer said. “We have versions of power, spread, play-action. We’ll try to run it inside-outside. We kind of try to be good at everything.”

Lipscomb’s offensive linemen have been giving Richesson plenty of time to throw and opening big holes for Broome.

“It starts with the big guys up front,” Richesson said. “We’ve had guys transfer in, Alex Valbuena. We’ve had guys here since they were sophomores playing, Carson Pearman, Luke Westerman and then we’ve got some young guys and don’t forget the tight ends. They’ve just been mauling guys up front his year.”

Lipscomb owns a commanding 18-1 advantage in turnovers with a defense that has intercepted 12 passes and recovered six fumbles.

Dilfer has his sights set on Chattanooga with showdowns against CPA likely, including a MyTV30 rematch of the 2020 state final on Oct. 22.

“It’s really fulfilling,” Dilfer said of the quick turnaround at Lipscomb. “It’s aged me, for sure. It’s been a sacrifice for our family. The thing I tell the kids is that nothing great happens in life unless it’s hard. But it’s fulfilling because I know great things are coming.”