Twenty years ago Hillard Howard was in the midst of guiding Pikeville to three consecutive state football titles. Now he's in the midst of building Letcher County Central's new football program into a winner.
The project is going well, as Letcher Central has won 14 of its last 16 games, including a 3-1 record this season.
When Fleming-Neon, Letcher and Whitesburg consolidated into Letcher Central four years ago, their collective football fortunes were bankrupt. "We started at rock bottom," Howard said, "so I feel pretty good about how far we've come and what we've got now."
The Cougars' success has come through hard work in the weight room and by developing feeder programs at the middle school, freshman and junior varsity levels.
The talent level is also on the rise. Charlie Banks is one of the top players in the state. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior plays quarterback and defensive end. Last season, he threw for 2,010 yards and 19 TDs and ran for 827 yards and 20 TDs. This year, he has passed for 559 yards and three scores and run for 365 yards and 12 TDs. "He's one of the better athletes I've coached," Howard said. "He could be a good tailback for a lot of people, but he's great at quarterback for us." Banks, a top-notch student (3.8 GPA), is getting looks from Louisville, Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky and Marshall.
The Cougars' offense also features veteran lineman Chase Knight, backs Greg Collins, Dustin Brown and Travis Stephens, and receivers Chase Adams and McKenzie Smith. Middle linebacker Caleb Frazier anchors the defense.
A 1965 graduate of Whitesburg, Howard takes special delight in rejuvenating a football tradition in Eastern Kentucky that had long been dormant. "There's a lot of excitement about football here again, and the fan support has been great," he said. "This is what I was hoping for when I came back home."
■ West Jessamine will be the underdog when it visits archrival East Jessamine on Friday. But the Colts are on an uptick after ending an 18-game losing streak by beating Bourbon County two weeks ago and by giving Western Hills a scare last week. "Over the last two weeks, our guys got to feel what it was like to win, and that gave them confidence," first-year coach Randy Wood said. "Then they got to feel what it was like to let one get away. Both those things help with the growing process." Wood, a former assistant at West, isn't gauging his team's progress in terms of wins and losses. "My timetable is day-to-day," he said. "I just try to push the guys to be the best they can be each day."
■ Hazard was without four injured starters — QB Tyler Olinger, FB/LB Michael Campbell, WR Josh Kidd and OL/DL Austin Maggard — but the Bulldogs still handled Harlan 47-7.
■ Clay County quarterback Zach Lewis needs to throw for 385 yards to break Tim Couch's state career passing record. Lewis had 291 yards in a loss to Letcher Central last week, giving him 11,782 in his career. Clay County has an open date this week before visiting Middlesboro Oct. 3.
■ Henry County, following up a 9-4 record last year, is 4-0 this season, having waxed Ludlow, Trimble County, Owen County and Pendleton County by a combined 206-0. Quarterback Luke Magness has thrown for 721 yards and 12 TDs.
■ Bowling Green's Tevin Barksdale tied a school record with a 99-yard kickoff return and rushed for 95 yards and two scores in a victory over Greenwood.
■ North Hardin quarterback LaRod King, who has committed to UK as a receiver, was out of town attending a funeral and missed the Trojans' game against Nelson County. North Hardin survived without him, rallying from a 27-6 deficit to beat Nelson County 33-27. Vincent Davis filled in for King and threw for 250 yards and two scores.
■ Bell County rocked Rockcastle County 38-0 last week, its third consecutive shutout of its district rival. The Bobcats blanked the Rockets twice last year, 24-0 and 35-0.
■ Highlands star running back Josh Conner, who missed the first four weeks of the season recovering from a broken leg, has been cleared to play against Covington Catholic on Friday. Highlands is coming off a 55-28 rout of Dixie Heights in which quarterback Tony Guidugli threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
■ Christian County junior VaShun Banks has returned a kickoff for a touchdown two weeks in a row.
■ Simon Kenton junior Miles Simpson was too much for Cooper's first-year football program. Simpson ran for a school-record five touchdowns and had a two-point conversion and a safety to total 34 points in a 56-14 win.
■ Ashland Blazer beat Russell 36-10, the Red Devils' worst defeat in seven years. The Tomcats were led by Rashard Carter and Dominic DeMartino, who combined for 283 yards rushing.
■ Fort Campbell linebacker Josh Carter, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior, has committed to WKU.
■ Anderson County quarterback Jacob Russell has thrown a touchdown pass on the Bearcats' first play from scrimmage in two of their three games — a 60-yard strike to B.J. Robinson against Madison Southern, and a 37-yarder to Grant Cox against Grant County. Anderson County plays Jeffersontown on Friday in a game that was rescheduled from last week. John Herndon of the Anderson News notes that Anderson County Coach Mark Peach and J-town Coach Gary Weiter were college teammates and starting offensive tackles at Campbellsville, and they served together as assistants at Adair County.
■ Jeremy Thompson ran for 173 yards and four touchdowns in Mason County's win over East Carter. He has 462 yards and 10 TDs this season.
■ Paintsville senior linebacker Berry Ward had 15 solo tackles and six assists in a win over Allen Central.
■ It should be a high-scoring showdown when 4A district rivals Calloway County and Lone Oak meet Friday night. Both teams are led by high-profile senior QBs — Casey Brockman of Calloway County, and Jamarielle Brown of Lone Oak.
■ Almondo Theus rushed for 231 yards and two touchdowns to lead Henderson County past Bullitt East.
■ Tates Creek is trying to get in touch with alumni who were connected to the 1978 and 1998 football teams so they can celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the at-large 4A state title, and 10-year anniversary of the 4A state runner-up. Those involved with the '78 team should contact Margaret Van Hook at (859) 381-3620. Those involved with the '98 team should contact Eric Schlarb at (859) 559-3884.
■ Clark County got word from the KHSAA this week that Vinny Zollo, a 6-foot-8 sophomore basketball star who has committed to Kentucky, is eligible to play this season. Zollo transferred from McClain High in Greenfield, Ohio. Clark County Coach Scott Humphrey said Zollo has recovered from a cracked fibula that kept him off the court this summer, and that he will be 100 percent by the time practice starts Oct. 15.
■ The Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches' annual clinic is this weekend at the Hyatt Regency. Friday's guest speakers include former UK player and assistant Dwane Casey, now with the Dallas Mavericks; Gardner-Webb Coach Rick Scruggs, whose team toppled UK in Rupp Arena last year, and ESPN analyst and former college football coach Mike Gottfried.
■ Lexington Christian will host its second annual basketball classic on Jan. 2-3. Among the teams and players coming to town: Findlay Prep (Nev.) with Clarence Trent (committed to University of Washington), Avery Bradley (Texas), D.J. Richardson (Illinois) and Carlos Lopez (UNLV); Mount Zion Christian (N.C.) with Karron Johnson (recruited by Cincinnati, Memphis, Kansas, Florida and Tennessee); Scott County, with Dakotah Euton (UK).
■ Tanner Townsend, a former baseball standout at South Laurel and Western Kentucky, was named Player of the Year in the Independent Northern League. Townsend, a third baseman with the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, hit .371 and led the league with 84 RBI.
■ Dunbar graduate Sean Kelley, who was Mr. Soccer in 2005, now stars at goalkeeper for George Mason. Kelley, a 6-foot-4 junior, has had three consecutive shutouts. His 70 saves led the Patriots last year.
■ West Jessamine begins defense of its girls' state golf title when it plays in the regional tournament at the Gay Brewer Jr. Course at Picadome on Monday. The boys' regional tournament is Tuesday at the University Club of Kentucky. Paul Dunbar is the defending champ.
■ To correct an item in last week's notebook: Estill County baseball star Drew Freeman has committed to Wabash Valley Junior College in Mt. Carmel, Ill.
■ Get all the latest on high school sports from Mike Fields' blog.
■ Watch live streaming football games each weekend.
■ Get up-to-date football scores on Fridays.
■ Find boys' and girls' state soccer statistics.