Mike Fields' high school notebooks: The lost art of tackling

Defense relying on finesse as scores increase

Herald-Leader Staff WriterOctober 12, 2012 

  • Kentucky's undefeated football teams

    Class 6A: Pleasure Ridge Park (7-0), Trinity (7-0).

    Class 5A: Bowling Green (7-0), Franklin County (8-0), Grayson County (7-0), John Hardin (7-0), Warren Central (8-0).

    Class 4A: Highlands (7-0), Knox Central (7-0), Russell County (7-0), Warren East (7-0).

    Class 3A: Bourbon County (7-0), Breathitt County (7-0), Morgan County (7-0).

    Class 2A: Owensboro Catholic (7-0).

    Class A: Fairview (7-0).

Is it just me, or is tackling a lost art in high school football? Rare is the sight of a defender sticking his shoulder into the chest of a ballcarrier, wrapping his arms around the guy's hips and bulldozing him to the ground.

Instead, would-be tacklers try to finesse it, diving at the ball carrier in hopes of knocking him off balance, or grabbing at his shoulder pads in hopes of yanking him down.

No wonder scoreboards are lighting up like pinball machines.

I'm happy to say I'm not alone in my opinion. Jack Morris, an old-school coach who won 250 games and four state titles in 24 years at Mayfield before retiring after the 1992 season, still watches Friday night football. He says he sees "a lot more missed tackles now than I saw years ago."

Morris thinks it's because of the preponderance of pass-happy spread offenses that put defenders in the difficult position of making open-field tackles. Morris also thinks that because a lot of teams play "finesse" football, they miss out on being physical. "Defenses don't get a chance to line up and whip somebody, even in practice," Morris said. "That's where you learn that if somebody is beating on you, you better defend yourself.

"I don't think defenses are as tough physically as they used to be. I don't see kids breaking down and really sticking their hat in there to make tackles. Defenses just aren't as hard-nosed as they used to be."

One exception is Mayfield, where Morris' son Joe is the coach. The Cardinals, led by star linebacker Jonathan Jackson, are the top team in Class A because they still know how to hit hard and tackle the old-fashioned way.

■ Defending 5A champ Bowling Green puts its 22-game winning streak on the line at unbeaten Warren Central on Friday night. The Dragons are 18-2 over the last two years, both losses coming to Bowling Green last season. Warren Central Coach Mike Rogers said the key to the district showdown will be "whoever defends the pass better." Dragons' quarterback Michael Bush has two big targets in tight end Byron Carver and wideout Chris Porter-Bunton. Rogers has faith in Bush. "He beat Bowling Green as a freshman, so he's been around the block," Rogers said. "He's not lost a regular-season game on our home field." But Rogers knows Bowling Green's talented juniors, led by Nacarius Fant, present a challenge. "(Fant) can really take a game over. He's a special player," Rogers said. "He reminds me of (former Male star) Montrell Jones."

■ Williamsburg's football program got its 400th victory by beating Campbellsville last week. Former players from decades ago were on hand to mark the occasion. "It was a special night," said Jerry Herron, who grew up in Williamsburg, played for the Yellow Jackets in the 1980s, and has been their coach the last seven years. Williamsburg started playing football in 1927, stopped after the 1930 season, then got it going again in 1946. The Jackets are having a successful 2012 season. They're 6-1, with only a handful of seniors. "We're still young and inexperienced, and should keep getting better," Herron said. QB Dalton Sizemore, who threw for 2,583 yards and 23 TDs as a sophomore, has 1,745 yards and 22 TDs this year. Sophomore receiver Skyler Griffith has been a primary target. Over the past two seasons he has 71 catches for 2,300 yards and 24 TDs. Sophomore Corey Shelton has 74 receptions for 1,180 yards and 17 TDs in that time.

■ Pikeville will mark the 40th and 25th anniversaries of two teams that provided significant milestones for the Panthers' programs. The 1972 and 1987 teams will he honored at halftime of Friday's game against Phelps. The '72 Panthers, under first-year coach Hillard Howard, had only 21 players on the roster but they were the first in school history to qualify for the playoffs, win a playoff game and reach the state finals (where they lost to Trigg County). Pikeville running back Chuck Huffman led the state in scoring that year. Howard's '87 Panthers were undefeated state champs, led by Greg Hackney and Bobby Deramus, who between them rushed for 3,200 yards and 51 TDs.

■ Lone Oak Coach Jack Haskins said junior QB Cole Ousley, who's missed the last seven games with a shoulder injury, will see limited action against Hopkins Central on Friday. Ousley has thrown for 6,762 yards and 88 TDs in his career. Lone Oak freshman Zyaire Hughes has been a capable replacement. He's thrown for 1,195 yards and 13 TDs.

■ Ryan Timmons was at his play-making best in Franklin County's 76-55 come-from-behind victory over Woodford County. He had 11 touches for 310 yards and six TDs. On the season he's gotten the ball 65 times for 1,653 yards and 32 TDs. Franklin County plays host to Anderson County, last year's 5A state runner-up, in a district game on Friday.

■ Trinity senior James Quick had 10 catches for 158 yards and two TDs as the Shamrocks rolled by Manual 55-27 for their 32nd consecutive victory. Quick has 256 career catches, 10 shy of the state record set by Male's Montrell Jones in 2000. Quick has 4,041 yards, only the fourth receiver in state history to reach 4,000.

■ Trinity Coach Bob Beatty will coach the East all-stars in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 5, 2013 in the Alamodome in San Antonio. Beatty has guided Trinity to eight state titles in the last 10 years.

■ Tates Creek sophomore quarterback Graham Gordon has unofficially set a single-season school record for passing yards. He's thrown for 1,795 yards and 13 TDs in seven games. The Commodores have been primarily a running team throughout their 46-year history, notably under the late legendary coach Roy Walton. But Walton went to the air more often when he had Scott Etter. As a junior in 1986, Etter threw for 1,700 yards and 18 TDs, outrageous passing numbers under Walton. As a senior, Etter had 1,300 yards and 15 TDs and was the Courier-Journal's first-team all-state quarterback, edging Jeff Brohm of Trinity. Since Mike Harmon took over as Tates Creek's coach five years ago, the Commodores have passed more. Gordon's top receivers are R.J. Taylor and Tavon Dunn, who have combined for 73 catches, 1,351 yards and 11 TDs.

■ Newport Central Catholic's Dylan Hayes had 330 all-purpose yards and four TDs in a 63-22 rout of Lloyd. Hayes' big night included a 65-yard punt return for a TD and 173 yards rushing.

■ Highlands was without senior QB Donovan McCoy, who was sick, but it didn't matter as the Bluebirds blasted Pendleton County 70-0. They rolled up 650 yards, and had four players rush for more than 100, led by Zach Harris with 137. Highlands, on a 27-game winning streak, plays Holmes on Friday.

■ Mason County is 4-4 after a riveting 32-28 win at Russell. The Royals trailed 28-10 late in the third quarter, but rallied and won on Jaylin Jones' 7-yard TD run with 36 seconds left.

■ Frankfort senior soccer star James Murphy scored his 100th career goal in his last regular season game against Grant County last week. Murphy is also an academic standout. He's ranked first in his class with a 4.0 GPA (and 29 ACT). He was a Governor's Scholar this summer, focusing on "Modes of Mathematical Thinking." Murphy, who was born in England, has a dream of one day playing for an international pro team like Manchester United. First, though, he would like to play at UK and study engineering, but Murphy has yet to make his final college choice.

■ Sheldon Clark has hired Frankie Smith as its boys' basketball coach. He'll succeed Kevin Spurlock, who left for Perry County Central. Smith took over at Mingo Central (W. Va.) this summer, but resigned before the season started. Smith was coach at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan the previous five years. He led Tug Valley (W.Va.) to a high school state title in 1999.

■ West Jessamine is only the third public school in the last 12 years to win the boys' state golf title, joining Marshall County (2007) and Henry Clay (2006). St. Xavier has won five titles, LCA has two, and Paducah St. Mary and Louisville Trinity one each since 2001. Despite Sacred Heart's titles the last two years, girls' golf has been dominated by public schools, which have won 16 of the last 20 state championships.

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Email: mfields@herald-leader. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog:

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