Carter County: Damron realizes dream at EKU after record-breaking Georgetown career

Georgetown record breaker realizes dream at EKU

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 5, 2011 

Once an All-American on Georgetown College's national title team that scored 744 points in 1991, Dane Damron is the offensive coordinator at Eastern Kentucky. All thanks to hard work and mom's phone call.

MARK CORNELISON | STAFF

  • A STORY FOR EVERY COUNTY

    ONE COLUMNIST'S PURSUIT OF KENTUCKY'S MOST COMPELLING STORIES

  • Carter County

    Ten things to know about Carter County:

    County's birth: April 10, 1838 (the 88th of Kentucky's 120 counties in order of formation)

    Named for: State Sen. William Grayson Carter (1834-38), who was instrumental in the formation of the county

    Population: 26,848 (2010 U.S. Census Bureau)

    Demographics: Whites 26,365; Hispanics 244; Other/Multi-Race 145; Blacks 124; American Indians/Alaska Natives 82; Asians 51; Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders 4.

    County seat: Grayson (103 miles northeast of Lexington)

    2008 U.S. presidential election: McCain 5,252; Obama 4,316

    A mammoth cave system: The Carter and Cascade Cave System, part of the Carter Caves State Resort Park, is composed of more than 20 caverns (including a 30-foot-high underground waterfall) and is the best known cave/cavern group in Eastern Kentucky.

    Home to a university: Kentucky Christian University in Grayson opened in 1919 under the name Christian Normal Institute with the mission to provide "training for religious and secular vocations" for students from Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee. In 1944, the school became known as Kentucky Christian College and, in 2004, it changed its name to its current one. The school's enrollment is some 662 (source: National Center for Educational Statistics).

    A 'Huggy Bearcat': Jackson Julson, a 6-foot-9 forward/center, moved to Grayson with his family before his sophomore year of high school and became a basketball star for East Carter High School's boys' team. He was a 1993 Lexington Herald-Leader first-team All-State selection (23 points, 12.5 rebounds, five blocked shots a game as a senior) and signed with Bob Huggins and the Cincinnati Bearcats. At UC, injuries plagued Julson throughout his career. He was, however, a contributing player on the 1996 UC team that reached the NCAA Tournament round of 16 (in Rupp Arena) and started 29 games for Cincinnati in 1996-97.

    Hop's state champs: West Carter High School lived one of the ultimate Kentucky basketball dreams in 2000 when the school's girls' team won the state championship. Led by the quick-quipping coach, John "Hop" Brown, freshman point guard Megen Gearhart and the coach's daughter, sweet-shooting wing Kandi Brown, the Lady Comets vanquished Harrison County, Hart County, Manual and Shelby County to claim the state crown. Kandi Brown was named state tournament MVP.

    Mark Story

  • About this series

    This column is the 76th in a series that looks at the sporting life throughout the Herald-Leader's 78-county circulation area. One county will be selected at random on a regular basis, and Mark Story will seek out the best sports story in that county.

    Coming next: Wayne County

In October, 1993, Dane Damron was in the final weeks of a college quarterbacking career that earned him All-America honors and brought Georgetown College its first football national title.

Back then, he told the Herald-Leader that he knew what his future would be. He would coach college football and eventually run a team's offense.

Last month, the Herald-Leader led a college football roundup with the news that Dane Damron, the QB of Georgetown's 1991 NAIA Division II national championship team, had been named Eastern Kentucky University's offensive coordinator by Colonels head coach Dean Hood.

"I have the job I've always dreamed about," the 39-year-old Damron said last Thursday.

Would you believe the career path that led the former East Carter High School three-sport star to his dream job was launched way back in the 1990s by his mom writing a letter to Roy Kidd?

It's been 20 years — where does the time go? — since Dane Damron did something very rare for small-college athletes in the commonwealth: He pierced the consciousness of the average Kentucky sports fan with his play.

In the fall of 1991, Damron was the sophomore quarterback of a Georgetown offense that would score more points in a season (744) than any college football team ever had in the 20th century.

Before Hal Mumme brought the Air Raid to the commonwealth and prior to John L. Smith filling the air with footballs in Louisville, the most dynamic offense in Kentucky college football was the one Kevin Donley installed at Georgetown.

It combined the triple-option ground attack from the wishbone formation and the spread-the-field concepts from the pass-happy run-and-shoot.

"We were a little bit ahead of the curve for that time, what we were doing offensively," Damron says now. "A common misconception at that time was that if you run the option, you can't be a good passing team.

"Well, we decided that was what we were going to do. We were going to get good enough at running the triple(-option) that teams still had to play assignment football against us, but we were also going to throw the heck out of the football."

Devastation was the result. During that 1991 season, Georgetown won games by scores such as 78-25, 70-7, 77-0 and 63-14. At the controls of a blitzkrieg, Damron ran for 519 yards and 11 touchdowns and threw for 3,369 yards and 33 scores.

The pinball numbers Georgetown was putting on scoreboards while en route to a one-loss campaign captured the imagination of the state.

In that 1991 season, the Herald-Leader staffed eight Tigers football games. Channel 27 broadcast Georgetown's national title contest against Pacific Lutheran.

Playing in the championship thanks to the novocaine shots that were dulling the pain of a broken hand suffered in the semifinals, Damron led Georgetown to a 28-20 win and was named the offensive MVP.

After that championship season, the state's media voted Donley No. 2 and Damron No. 10 on the Herald-Leader's Kentucky Sportsman of the Year ballot.

"The whole year, it was just awesome," Damron says.

Flash forward two decades. When Damron watched the offenses in January's BCS national title game between Auburn and Oregon — both teams spread the field with receivers, yet also ran the option with mobile quarterbacks — he smiled with recognition.

"What Auburn did last year, what Oregon did, it's the same concept of what we did at Georgetown," Damron said. "They're just not doing it under center like we did. But it's how much football has evolved."

From the outside, it seems almost unnatural that Dane Damron became known in Kentucky for football.

His father, Dick Damron, was the longtime men's basketball coach at the school now known as Kentucky Christian University. In his coaching career, Dick Damron led the Knights to four national titles in the National Christian College Athletic Association.

Dick Damron also taught history at Kentucky Christian and worked as a preacher in Grayson. Not long after KCU named its gym after Dick Damron, he died from stomach cancer in 2007.

"My Dad would teach a full load of history classes on Friday," Dane Damron says. "He'd then get on a bus, drive somewhere, and play a basketball game on a Friday night, play another one on a Saturday night, get in at 2 or 3 in the morning, then preach two services on Sunday. I learned hard work from watching my Dad."

Basketball would have seemed Dane's destiny.

Yet "I was just always a football guy," Damron says. "My older brother (Donald) was a football player. He was five years older than me, and I was always trying to pal around with him, and he was a football guy. And I was always a big (Cincinnati) Bengals fan. I played all the sports, but football became my love."

Early on, all his "love" did was cause Damron pain. In the quarterback's sophomore year at East Carter, the Raiders went 1-9. Their head coach, Mike Jupin, died of a heart attack during the season.

The East Carter losing streak reached 15 games before the team finally broke through with a victory. Yet in Damron's senior season, after East Carter decided to opt out of district play and essentially play an independent schedule, the Raiders went undefeated.

Marshall, Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky all expressed recruiting interest in the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Damron. Then the first two withdrew scholarship offers after coaching changes; EKU never offered at all.

Finally, Georgetown did. The Tigers wanted Damron — as a defensive back.

By the time Damron reported to Georgetown, he had been reinstalled as a quarterback.

"That worked out fairly well," he deadpans.

Four years later, Damron graduated from Georgetown with a 28-8 record as a starting quarterback and a degree in marketing. He started his post-college life back in Grayson, working as a substitute teacher and helping coach the East Carter football team.

One day, his phone rang. Damron answered to find Roy Kidd, the iconic Eastern Kentucky football coach, on the line.

"He said, 'I got your letter, and I'd like you to come down and interview for our graduate assistant's job,' " Damron says. "I said, 'Sure.' "

Dane hung up and shook his head. He hadn't sent Kidd a letter.

Unknown to him, his mom, Linda, had.

"I just told (Kidd) that Dane had been an All-American at Georgetown, that he had always been interested in coaching with Roy Kidd; it would be one of the best experiences he could find," Linda Damron says.

Dane took the interview and got the job. In the two years he spent working on Kidd's staff, he became close to one of EKU's assistants, Dean Hood.

The same Dean Hood, now the Colonels head man, who hired Damron as a full-time Eastern assistant in 2009 and named him offensive coordinator last month.

In between his two stints at EKU, Dane worked as a high school head coach in Florida and at Boyd County and started a college football program at his dad's old school, Kentucky Christian.

He had the latter job when Hood called to offer Dane, now a married father of two, a chance to return to Eastern.

It is funny what makes careers turn. If Linda Damron hadn't written that letter to Kidd lo those many years ago, Dane would not have worked with Hood and might not have had the connections to end up as EKU offensive coordinator.

Says Dane Damron: "You know, I've never really looked at it that way, but that is exactly right."

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com.

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