When Somerset opens the football season Friday night at home against Pulaski County in the Ray Correll Bowl, nobody will appreciate the lights, the action, the atmosphere more than Briar Jumpers' junior tight end/defensive end Jacobi Gilmore.
On Oct. 4 last year, Gilmore and teammate Will Hinton were involved in an automobile accident that Somerset Coach Robbie Lucas described as "horrific." Hinton suffered a broken pelvis. Gilmore had a concussion, bleeding on the brain, a collapsed lung, separated shoulder and broken jaw.
For Hinton, it was the end of his senior year of football. He was in a wheelchair for two months, and out of school for almost four while recovering and rehabilitating. "Missing football was one thing, but people don't realize how tough it was to miss so much school, being away from my classmates," Hinton said this week.
Gilmore was hospitalized in Lexington for a couple weeks, and didn't return to school until January. He lost more than 40 pounds after the accident, but he was committed to regaining his strength and playing football again. He rehabbed quickly enough that he played in a few basketball games for Somerset late in the season. He's worked tirelessly since, bulking up for football. He now has 235 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame. "It felt really good to get back out on the field with everybody," Gilmore said of the pre-season. "I'm still a little rusty at everything, but it'll come back."
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Lucas was happy, and nervous, to have Gilmore back. Lucas knows concussions are a serious issue in football. "I never took my cellphone out on the field before, but I did for Jacobi's first two or three practices with contact this pre-season. It was a scary thing. I was concerned. But we've read everything we could about concussions, and researched all the helmets and safety devices."
Gilmore admitted he's wary about suffering another concussion. That's why he spent so much time in the weight room getting stronger "so I don't have to use my head to tackle people."
Lucas said both Gilmore and Hinton "came really close to losing more than football. Now they cherish everything in life a little more."
Hinton, who's ready to start his freshman year at UK, is fully active again, lifting weights, running, playing pickup basketball. He'll be back in Somerset on Friday night to watch his former teammates play archrival Pulaski County, and appreciate all that he's been through. "I'm about as lucky as a person can get," he said.
■ Trinity and St. Xavier have combined to win 16 of the last 20 big-school state football titles. Trinity has been champ 10 of the last 12 years, but Scott County gave them a serious scare in the state semifinals last fall. Scott County led 14-0 in the fourth quarter before the Shamrocks rallied for a 21-14 victory. Does Cardinals Coach Jim McKee think Trinity or St. X can be beat this year? "They won't win forever. They'll just win 95 percent of the time," McKee said. "History tells us somebody will rise up and beat them again. I watched Clark County do it in 1991, Nelson County do it in 1996 and Male do it in 2000. I hope it's us this year, I hope it's us next year, But history tells us it's not going to happen very often."
In the meantime, McKee wants to keep Scott County contending. "We want to make each team we have the very best it can be, and what I think that has proven over the last four to six years is that we have the best public school 6A football program in the state. I think (last year's playoff game against Trinity) put a stamp on that."
■ Most coaches respond to pre-season questionnaires with just the facts. Grayson County football coach Ed Smart answered with a sense of humor. Asked about his team's strengths, Smart listed "school colors, nice fieldhouse, awesome superintendent, nice kids." As for the Cougars' weaknesses, he had "size, depth, strength, speed and head coach." Smart rated Bowling Green No. 1 in 5A, and Bowling Green's junior varsity No. 2.
■ Back home after spending nine months in Africa with the Kentucky National Guard, Steve Tressler is ready for some football. Tressler, the play-by-play man for Lexington Catholic on Real Life radio (AM-1380 and FM-94.9) the last four years, will be in Bowling Green on Saturday night for the Knights' season opener against the two-time defending 5A champ Purples. While in Africa, Tressler still managed to do his blog, The Armchair Quarterback for Kentucky.com. The only live football he saw was the Super Bowl broadcast. Having served in Iraq and Africa before, Tressler said his latest stint overseas "again reminded me how blessed we are as citizens of the United States. Our lives are so much more comfortable and our opportunities are so much greater here than anyplace else in the world."
■ West Jessamine's Devin Taylor will be one of the star attractions of the third annual VisitNich.com Bowl at East Jessamine on Friday night. East Jessamine plays South Oldham in the 6:45 p.m. opener, followed by West Jessamine facing Scott. Taylor, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior, rushed for 2,442 yards and 23 touchdowns last year. Among colleges showing interest in him are Morehead State and Eastern Illinois.
■ The 66th Recreation Bowl is Saturday at Montgomery County. Clark County and Rowan County meet in the 5 p.m. opener, followed by Bourbon County taking on the host Indians. Montgomery County will be looking for its fifth consecutive win in the Rec Bowl. Bourbon County sports a 13-game regular-season winning streak.
■ Marvin Meredith, one of the winningest coaches in Kentucky high school basketball history, passed away in early July when I was on vacation. He was 85. Mr. Meredith coached Russell for 30 years (1955-76 and 1981-89) and led the Red Devils to 677 victories, including three regional titles. In his very first game as head coach, Russell scored 117 points in a victory over Ironton (Ohio) St. Joe. "Right from the start I believed that basketball is entertainment, and that people come to the games to see you get up and down the court," Mr. Meredith said in a 1989 interview. Mr. Meredith's love for the fast break may have dated to when he was a star sprinter at Catlettsburg High School and Marshall University. In college, he once ran against a UK speedster named C.M. Newton. Mr. Meredith joked that his job as a driver's education teacher helped him handle the pressures of basketball: "I take 50 kids who can't drive out in a car every day. So when I have 3,000 fans watching me coach every week, it doesn't seem so bad."
■ Dixie Heights basketball standout Brandon Hatton has committed to Vermont, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Hatton, a 6-2 senior guard who averaged 23 points last season, is already the Colonels' all-time leading scorer with 2,365 points. He also had offers from Tennessee Tech, Winthrop, Gardner-Webb, Montana State, Samford and Jacksonville.
■ Defending boys' state golf champ West Jessamine won the Kentucky Invitational Tournament for the third year in a row last Saturday. Colts senior Fred Allen Meyer, who won the KIT as a freshman, was medalist again with a 4-under par 68 at Nevel Meade. Byron Speach had a 74 for West Jessamine, followed by Connor Haas with a 76. Austin Swentzel and Landon Adkins added 80s for the Colts, who beat St. Xavier by six shots.
■ Andrew McKinney of Danville birdied his last two holes and shot a 1-under par 70 to win medalist honors at the Garrard County Invitational at Dix River Country Club last weekend. McKinney beat his brother Spencer by one shot. Lexington Catholic, coached by Danville native and former UK player Ben Fuqua, took the team title. The Knights were led by Chase Thornhill and Justin Baker, who shot 75s. Paul Mitchell and Cooper Collins had 77s, and Spencer Carrico shot 80.