If Tates Creek's football team had a battle hymn, it could start with, "Mine eyes have seen the gory ..."
There hasn't been much glory for the Commodores in recent years. Since reaching the state semifinals in 2001, they've managed just four winning seasons with an overall record of 46-73.
The current seniors have had their share of setbacks. In 2011 Tates Creek lost four close games while going 3-8. Last fall its defense was demolished in 65-54, 71-13, 56-8 and 66-13 losses, and the Commodores finished 4-7.
"These guys have seen it all and been through it all," Coach Mike Harmon said. "We're hoping all those experiences have prepared them for this year."
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Ryan Betlach, a senior linebacker, thinks Tates Creek is ready for a revival.
"After everything we've been through, we can adapt to any situation," he said. "If we're ahead, we know to keep it going. If we get behind, we know how to fight back."
Senior running back/linebacker Casey Grimes agreed: "Nothing can surprise us anymore. We're ready for anything and everything."
Harmon thinks this is the season for a big turnaround.
"I'll be very disappointed if we don't look like a totally different team than the last couple years. We probably have close to 30 guys with a lot of varsity experience.
"Since these guys were freshmen they've been a very tight-knit group. Football is important to them. These are good, smart kids who are fun to be around."
Winning consistently would make things a lot more fun, and Harmon thinks he has the personnel to do it.
The Commodores are stocked at the skill positions.
Graham Gordon, who set a single-season school record by passing for 2,327 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore last season, is back. But senior Jake Ryan, who got a few snaps last season, is battling Gordon for the starting spot.
Harmon said both will play, and that sophomore Peyton Burke is also looking good.
"I think we have three quarterbacks who can execute our offense and win games," Harmon said.
The Commodores' receiving corps is led by wide-outs R.J. Taylor (44 catches, 673 yards, five TDs last year), Tavon Dunn (34 catches, 565 yards, seven TDs) and tight end Marshall Gant (12 catches, 181 yards). Betlach, Austin Rogers and Taiwan Hart will also be targets.
Tates Creek's running backs can run and catch. Grimes has rushed for more than 600 yards over the last two years, and had 16 receptions last season. Eamon Nasr, Martavius Carter and Jaren Shelby will also get their share of carries.
The offensive line will be led by standouts Deion Webb and Jovan Blackburn, and include veterans Tyler Sturgill, Tanner Gill and Jacob Czarnecki.
Even if the offense plays up to its potential, the defense must be much improved if the Commodores are to have a big year. Harmon said last season's debacle on "D" — it surrendered more than 40 points a game — was due mostly to poor fundamentals. "This year we'll be lined up right, understand our base reads better, and we're going to be more physical and tackle better. We're going to be very sound defensively."
Webb, Blackburn, Sturgill and Hart will shore up the defensive line, along with Clint Boyte.
Grimes, Betlach, Nasr, Gant and Rogers make up a strong group of linebackers, backed up by Taylor and Carter in the secondary.
Grimes said the Commodores have learned that teamwork is the key to success. "We've got to be a family, and have that connection with everybody on the field. You can't be a whole machine without one part. Without that one part, you fall apart."
Harmon is optimistic. "If we can have some early success and learn to win consistently, this could be a special year," he said.
Aug. 23x-PAUL DUNBAR, 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 6at Perry Central
Sept. 13at Henry Clay
Sept. 20at Rowan County
Sept. 27BRYAN STATION
Oct. 4at Dixie Heights
Oct. 11MADISON CENTRAL
Oct. 18at Clark County
Note: Games at 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Home games in capital letters.
x-Central Kentucky Kickoff Classic
y-Roy Walton Bowl
Coach: Mike Harmon (sixth year, 65-55 overall)
Last year: 4-7 (lost to St. Xavier in first round of 6A playoffs)
Top players: Casey Grimes (RB/DB), Ryan Betlach (LB/WR), R.J. Taylor (WR/RB/DB), Deion Webb (OL/DL), Jovan Blackburn (OL/DL), Marshall Gant (TE/LB), Eamon Nasr (RB/LB), Graham Gordon (QB), Tavon Dunn (WR), Tyler Sturgill (OL), Tanner Gill (OL), Jacob Czarnecki (OL/DL), Martavius Carter (RB/DB), Austin Rogers (LB/WR), Taiwan Hart (WR)