It was a quiet bus ride home for the Scott County football team the Friday night after Thanksgiving in 2009.
Jim McKee, then in his 13th season as coach of the Cardinals, was downcast. Scott County had just lost to Trinity 42-13 in the semifinals of the Class 6A playoffs.
McKee's son Clay, then a seventh-grader and riding the team bus, texted his dad, who was sitting a few rows in front of him.
"Clay's message said something to the effect of, 'Maybe we ought to go somewhere else because I don't know if we can ever do it here,'" Jim McKee recalled.
Last year, father, son and the Cardinals erased those doubts.
Clay quarterbacked Scott County through an undefeated season, capped by a dramatic 21-14 win over Meade County in the 6A title game.
Jim McKee, not one to rest (even for a minute) on his laurels, admitted that after the Cards' championship he allowed himself to exhale.
"I'm 44 years old and I love football, but I don't envision coaching when I'm 60," he said. "So there was a little bit of relief, that yes, we did it."
McKee thinks Scott County's title was a good thing for Kentucky high school football, which for decades has been dominated by a select few schools, most notably Trinity and Highlands.
"For us to win 6A was a great shot in the arm for public schools," McKee said. "What Collins did was good for football in this state, too."
Collins beat Highlands in the 4A finals, ending the Bluebirds' six-year title run.
"What Pulaski County and Wayne County did was good for football, too," McKee added.
Pulaski County and Wayne County both went undefeated to reach the state finals for the first time before losing to perennial powers Bowling Green (5A) and Belfry (3A), respectively.
Williamsburg and DeSales also had breakthrough years. Williamsburg was a first-time finalist in Class A. DeSales was crowned champion in 2A.
Scott County figures to be a contender in 6A again.
Clay McKee returns at quarterback to run the Cards' triple-option.
"Clay is really good," his dad said. "What he does is often overlooked because we're a stats-driven world.
"He's a master at hiding the ball and getting it to the right people at the right time."
Clay is an effective passer. Over the past two seasons he's thrown for 2,543 yards and 48 touchdowns while being picked off only nine times.
Grayson Miller will be McKee's prime target at receiver.
Leading the running game will be Keith Guy (1,382 yards, 13 TDs last year), Theo Price (1,268 yards, 22 TDs) and Noah Hughes (552 yards, seven TDs).
Chase Daff will anchor the offensive line, along with tight end Clark Griffin.
Miller, who has committed to Michigan State as a strong safety, will lead Scott County's defense, along with Zach Barber, Tyler Carpenter and Jameer Womack.
Clay McKee said the Cards "celebrated our fair share" after their state title, but they got back to work in the weight room in mid-January.
"This is a new season and a new team facing new challenges. I think we have a great chance to be just as successful as we were last year. We're using the 'road to repeat' slogan and focusing on getting back there."
Miller thinks Scott County "has a chance to be even better this year. We're a little smaller, but we're faster, quicker and more athletic.
"Last year was an unreal experience, a dream season with a perfect ending. But we've got to move on from that and try to get back to that elite level this season."
Jim McKee is thinking the same way, but he's not pressuring his Cards to repeat.
"As a coaching staff, our whole focus is trying to make this team the very best it can be, and no matter what happens in November, you feel good about it," he said.
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.