Soon after Paul Rains was hired as Paul Laurence Dunbar's football coach last winter, he gave the coaches' office at Jon R. Akers Stadium a much-needed make-over, including brighter wall paint and new flooring.
Those cosmetic changes were easy. Now comes the hard part: remaking the Bulldogs into winners.
Rains was given the job because he's been a successful program-builder at several schools, including Lexington Christian Academy, where he led the Eagles to a Class A state title in 2009.
Rains has 195 victories in a 24-year career that has also had stops at Hazard, Montgomery County, Madison Central, Mercer County and Letcher County Central.
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Dunbar, on the other hand, has been starving for success. The Bulldogs have a record of 13-64 since 2006.
Dunbar senior Emory Thompson won't let the team's past struggles dim his outlook: "You've got to find light in any situation. We've got to learn from the past and make changes or we'll get the same results."
Senior Brandyn Duncan is ready to trust Rains with the reins: "You gotta stay humble and listen to coach. Knowing he won a state title at LCA definitely helps believing in his decisions and his system."
Rains will rely heavily on Thompson and Duncan to help lay the foundation for Dunbar's future. Both will be leaders on defense, and they will take turns at quarterback in the Bulldogs' new triple-option offense.
Thompson, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound speedster, played QB most of last season and generated 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns passing and running. The 5-9, 170-pound Duncan had 21 catches for 208 yards and a TD for a Dunbar offense that averaged just over 200 yards and 15 points a game.
Rains said Thompson is a "little more laid back" than Duncan, who "does everything at a quicker pace, but needs to slow the game down at quarterback."
Thompson and Duncan will also play slotback and receiver. Maurice Carter, Marcellis Means, Trey Merritt and La'Quan Taylor will see time at receiver, too.
Dunbar has other weapons, including halfbacks Antwan Williams (440 yards rushing), Darien Hardaway (225 yards), Chris Allen and Derante Sanders. J'Maurion Dunn and Cameron Pergram are physical fullbacks.
The offensive line is a question mark, but Rains expects Blake Gilbert, Jauhquan Harris, Nick Martin, Luke Daily and Nick Edge to be quick and capable enough to open seams for the option.
On defense, Thompson and Duncan will bring experience to the secondary, along with Carter, Williams and Sanders.
Dunn, Pergram, Daily and Edge are among the linebackers. The defensive line rotation will include Gilbert, Harris, Martin, Ladarrius Morton and Shane Wilson.
As Rains undertakes the rebuilding project at Dunbar, his assistants include Jim Franklin, a holdover from the previous staff, former West Jessamine coach Graham Heasley, former Bryan Station assistant Warren Wilson, and Matt Ledford, who played for Rains at LCA.
Years of losing has let apathy creep into the Bulldogs' football fan base, but Rains said the team's attitude "is about as good as you could hope for considering what they've been through.
"There's a path out there they've gotta take that they've never been on, and they've gotta put their total faith in somebody who's been there. That's hard to do."
The Bulldogs' highlight last season was beating Henry Clay to end a five-year, 20-game losing streak to city opponents.
"That was a good experience, but we expect more from ourselves," Duncan said. "We want wins like that to be the norm, like it used to be at Dunbar."
Aug. 23 x-at Tates Creek, 5:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 EAST JESSAMINE
Sept. 6 WOODFORD COUNTY
Sept. 13 at Madison Southern
Sept. 20 at Lafayette
Sept. 27 MADISON CENTRAL
Oct. 10 at Bryan Station
Oct. 18 HENRY CLAY
Oct. 25 SCOTT COUNTY
Nov. 1 at Mercer County
Note: Games at 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Home games in capital letters.
x-Central Kentucky Kickoff Classic
Coach: Paul Rains (first year, 195-96 overall)
Last year: 3-8 (lost to Campbell County in first round of 6A playoffs)
Top players: Emory Thompson (QB/WR/DB), Brandyn Duncan (QB/WR/DB), Antwan Williams (RB/DB), Cameron Pergram (FB/LB), J'Maurion Dunn (FB/LB), Blake Gilbert (OL/DL), Nick Martin (OL/DL), Shane Wilson (DL), Jauhquan Harris (OL/DL), Chris Allen (RB), Marcellis Means (WR).