Morgan County enjoyed a lot of success in football last fall. The Cougars won eight games for only the second time in their history, hosted a playoff game for the first time ever, and set school records for most points scored and fewest allowed.
So would it be strange to proclaim Morgan County as the "Comeback Team of the Year" for 2012?
Not at all, considering what the Cougars have gone through the past six months and how they've handled that adversity. They've started the season 4-0 for the first time since 1983.
"The kids want to demonstrate and represent the character of our people, the resilience of our people," Coach Brian Turner said.
Everything changed for Morgan County on March 2 when a devastating tornado leveled downtown West Liberty. The damage was not only physical, but also psychological. The ripple effect of the storm meant Morgan County's football team couldn't have spring practice, and it seemed unlikely the Cougars would play any home games in 2012 because its facilities were wiped out.
In pre-season practice, the team took another hit. Its best player, Joe Holbrook, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a sophomore and junior, tore his ACL and was sidelined for the season.
But the Cougars refused to give in or give up.
They got their stadium lights back up the night before a pre-season scrimmage against Powell County.
With quarterback Larrin Collins handing off to Kody Thornsberry, Walker Crase and Jordan Whitt, Morgan County's offense has consistently moved the ball. Nick Adams, J.T. Brown, Jared Short, Zach Bartley and Crase have been solid on defense in wins over Boyd County, Estill County, Pendleton County and South Floyd.
"Phenomenal," is how Turner described his team's spirited play. Not that he's surprised. When he took over at Morgan County four years ago, the Cougars were in the middle of a 19-game losing streak. But they've turned things around, and Turner now talks about building a program, "not just a winning team every 10 or 15 years."
Morgan County's bounce-back after the tornado, however, has been special. The team even modified its motto — "All in" — to reflect what it has overcome:
"All in, from the rubble," Turner said.
■ Breathitt County has had star quarterbacks over the years, including Waylon Chapman, Kyle Moore and Justin Haddix, who led the Bobcats to state titles, and Allen Sperry, who set a single-season state passing record. Breathitt County senior QB Richard Trent is the latest to make a name for himself. He's been one of the state's top dual threats over the last three years, generating 7,485 yards and 106 TDs passing and running. He's thrown for 4,374 yards and 51 TDs, and rushed for 3,111 yards and 55 TDs. Trent, who's also a standout on defense, led unbeaten Breathitt County past Somerset 34-13 last week. "He's just one of those kids who can do anything," Coach Mike Holcomb said. "He's an outstanding football player." Trent played running back and linebacker as a freshman, "so that tells you he's a tough kid," Holcomb said. Breathitt County tweaked its offense to give Trent more designed runs. He's also improved his passing dramatically. "He's the type of kid we can turn the game over to offensively," Holcomb said.
■ Prestonsburg's Jarredd Jarrell threw for a state-record 676 yards, and Bryson Williams had a state-record 357 receiving yards in an 83-49 win over Pike County Central last week. John DeRossett remembers when he first arrived as Prestonsburg coach in the mid-1990s, people likened his offensive strategy to that of former Ohio State coach "Woody Hayes — three runs and a punt." But over the years DeRossett was influenced by Breathitt County Coach Mike Holcomb's passing philosophy, and former UK coach Hal Mumme's "Air Raid" attack. By adopting a more wide-open offense, DeRossett has seen his roster become more inclusive. "Now we've got all kinds of kids — skinny kids, tall kids, basketball players, all wanting to play football. Throwing the ball is fun and it gets more kids involved. The fans get excited, too."
■ Franklin County star Ryan Timmons said in early August that he hoped to make his college choice within the first few weeks of the season. But Timmons, who has offers from UK, Arkansas, Purdue, Illinois and WKU, is still mulling his decision. He's visiting Arkansas this weekend. Timmons has helped Franklin County to a 5-0 start. The Flyers are averaging 65 points a game. Timmons has touched the ball 35 times and scored 19 TDs while generating 936 all-purpose yards.
■ Trinity star James Quick has 40 touches for 648 all-purpose yards, including 35 catches for 556 yards and six TDs in four games. Quick has reportedly narrowed his college choices to Louisville, Ohio State, Oregon, Kentucky and Cincinnati.
■ Nick Britt ran for 275 yards and five TDs in Russell County's 45-35 win over North Laurel. Michael Nelson rushed for 225 yards for the Jaguars.
■ Taylor County Coach Eric Graves, who is recovering from prostate surgery, hopes to be back on the sideline when the Cardinals host Marion County next Friday. "I am sore and tired, but doing well," Graves said in an email. Graves missed Campbellsville University's athletic Hall of Fame ceremony last weekend. He was a student coach for the 1988 football team that was inducted. Three weeks ago when Taylor County played archrival Campbellsville, Campbellsville's players wore arm bands in tribute to Graves. "It was an honor and very humbling," he said. Graves wants to be open about his medical issue in hopes that people will become more aware of prostate cancer.
■ Bowling Green is home to four undefeated football teams: Class 5A Bowling Green (5-0), 5A Greenwood (5-0), 5A Warren Central (5-0), and 4A Warren East (5-0). The only exception is 3A South Warren (3-2).
■ Bellevue junior Dylan Huff had a big game in a 30-8 win at Carroll County. He ran 25 times for 195 yards and two TDs, caught two passes for 55 yards and a TD, and had a 96-yard interception return for a score.
■ Hopkinsville ended a 14-game losing streak by beating Allen County-Scottsville last week.
■ Western Kentucky beat UK 32-31 in overtime last Saturday on a razzle-dazzle two-point conversion. WKU quarterback Kawaun Jakes tossed a lateral to running back Antonio Andrews, who in turn passed the ball back to Jakes, who took it into the end zone for the victory. It wasn't the first time Andrews was involved in a trick play to win a big game. He capped his junior season at Fort Campbell by leading the Falcons over Newport Central Catholic in the Class 2A finals. Fort Campbell trailed 23-20 with less than two minutes left when Andrews, playing quarterback, handed off to J.D. Ervin, who then threw a 59-yard TD pass to Andrews for a 26-23 victory. Andrews was 29-0 as a starting QB in high school, led the Falcons to two state titles and was named Mr. Football. He signed with Air Force but transferred to WKU.
■ Mick Caba, who coached at Magoffin County in the mid-1990s, has been selected for the National Junior College Athletic Association's football Hall of Fame. Caba is in his 16th season as an NJCAA coach, the last 12 at Alfred State College (N.Y.).
■ Lexington Christian's girls won the Kentucky All "A" State Cup soccer title last weekend, beating St. Henry 2-1 in a penalty-kick shootout in Frankfort. It was LCA's sixth consecutive appearance in the finals, and its second championship. St. Henry beat the Eagles on penalty kicks in last year's All "A" finals. St. Henry also beat LCA in the KHSAA state finals in 2010. "We've got quite a rivalry going with them," LCA Coach Steve Fugmann said. The Eagles were led by All "A" MVP Elise McKinney. Bri Arnold, Caroline Hargis and Caroline Boone also made the all-tournament team. Fugmann, in his fourth year at LCA after coaching the previous 10 years at Lafayette and Henry Clay, said it took him a while to realize the importance of the All "A" to LCA. "I've learned it's a big, big deal here," he said. St. Henry won the boys' All "A" Cup, beating Owensboro Catholic 3-0 in the finals.
■ Golf's post-season begins next week with regional tournaments. The girls' 7th Region, which includes Lexington's teams, will be at Gibson Bay in Richmond on Monday. The boys' 9th Region, which includes Lexington's teams, will be at Kearney Hill Links on Tuesday. The boys' 4th Region, which includes West Jessamine, will be at Lincoln Homestead in Springfield on Tuesday. The boys' and girls' state tournaments are in Bowling Green the first week of October. Lexington Christian is two-time defending boys' state champ.
■ The Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches, marking its 20th anniversary, will hold its fall clinic at the Hyatt in Lexington on Friday and Saturday. Purdue Coach Matt Painter will be among the speakers. For information go to www.kentuckybasketballcoaches.org.