(With Park View High School slated to merge with Bluestone HS to form the new Mecklenburg County HS in 2022, the South Hill Enterprise is running an ongoing series that looks back at some of the outstanding athletes and coaches and their stories through the years.)
Whenever the topic of the best running back to ever play at Park View HS comes up, Donald “TJ” Talley is a name that pops up frequently.
Talley played for the Dragons varsity football team from 2005-2008 and had a monster campaign in his senior season when he rushed for what is thought to be a school record of 2,220 yards with 29 touchdowns.
“I always liked to put on a show and for us to win games,” he said with a laugh, looking back on his high-school career.
Talley said that he felt he always had good hands and had an ability to make defenders miss.
“If I ever broke loose, I was not going to get caught,” he added with a chuckle.
Talley said the game that stands out the most to him came on a wet night in his senior campaign against Colonial Heights HS.
“It was pouring down rain,” he said. “I ended up rushing for 371 yards and scoring five touchdowns. That was definitely my memory game.”
The Dragons had a number of good athletes led by Coach Waverly Jackson that season as Marlin Smith joined with Talley to give Park View a torrid 1-2 punch in the backfield. A very athletic Michael Johnson lined up at wide out for quarterback Larry Jones and a strong offense line led by Graham Powers, Desmond Hatley and Melvin and Michael Walker helped provide the gaps, Talley said.
Talley said that Coach Jackson always expected the best from his players.
“He expected you to be your best at all times,” said Talley. “From the classroom to the weight room to the field; you were expected to put forth 110 percent all the time.”
The Dragons best campaign during Talley’s career came in his junior year when Park View went 9-3 and advanced to the regional finals where they fell in a hard-fought contest to a good James Monroe team.
A highlight for Talley during the regular season was a 70-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a rivalry contest against Brunswick HS.
“That took the wind from them,” he said.
After Park View topped Prince Edward in the regional semifinals, they faced off against James Monroe HS in the finals.
“We ended up playing after Thanksgiving,” said Talley. “It had been cold all week and then it was like 70 degrees on game day. Marlin (Smith) had hurt his ankle and wasn’t at one-hundred percent. It came down to the last few possessions but we couldn’t get the stops we needed on defense.”
Talley’s big season led him to be named the Southside District player of the year as well first Team All-District, first team All-Region and first team All-State.
A number of colleges showed interest.
“I had a walk-on invite to Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University,” said Talley. “VMI offered me a scholarship and JMU and Christopher Newport were also interested. I felt like I wanted to play Division I so I chose VMI,” he said.
Talley said there were a number of differences between Park View and the rigid structure he found at VMI.
“It was definitely a change from public school,” he said with a laugh. “But I eventually got used to it.”
He said the biggest difference at the Division 1 football level was the speed.
“Everyone was fast in college,” he said.
Travel was also a big change.
“We used to travel 30 or 45 minutes in high school. I wasn’t used to traveling six or seven hours to go to a game,” he said. “We flew to New York in 2010 which was my first time on an airplane.”
Talley played special teams in his freshman year at VMI and during his sophomore year, “I started to get the ball a little bit,” he said.
Talley had a breakout season during his junior campaign playing wide receiver and led the Cadets in receiving yards.
He played a hybrid position in his senior year and rushed for over 500 yards with six rushing touchdowns.
“My biggest game came during my junior year against ODU when I caught three passes for 140 and two touchdowns,” he said.
Talley said that game was one of the times he felt like he had arrived at the collegiate level.
“I felt like I was at home playing in front of a big crowd at ODU,” he said. “The second memory I have where I felt like I belonged was catching a pass against UVA defender Ras-l Dowling who was drafted with the first pick in the second round of the NFL draft the next season.”
Talley graduated in four years from VMI with his degree in Business and Finance and decided to join the military.
“I had some nagging injuries with my ankles and I didn’t think I had showed enough in college to try and move on,” he said.
Talley served six years with the U.S. Army leaving with the rank of Captain in November of this past year. He currently is working as a Distribution Manager for an automotive parts distributor.
He and the former Jenea Bennett, a Nurse Practitioner at Chase City Primary Care Center, make their home in Richmond.
He said many of the lessons he learned from Coach Jackson playing football are still relevant in his life today.
“It’s not over ‘til it’s over,” he said. “You always have to keep fighting and never give up.”