Fulton County, the third-smallest football playing school in Kentucky, is 3-0. Does that matter?
Three weeks into the 2018 season, Fulton County has won as many games as it has in its last three seasons — combined. All three of those wins came last year, two of them against crosstown rival Fulton City, the smallest football-playing school in Kentucky. The Pilots beat the Bulldogs, 70-0, two weeks ago and play them again later this season, making at least a fourth win a real possibility this season.
Fulton County hasn’t had a winning season since 2006, when current head coach James Bridges was in the first year of what would be a four-year stint leading the program. The tiny western Kentucky program hasn’t won a playoff game since 1998, when Bridges was a junior lineman.
Back-to-back 6-5 seasons in 2005 and 2006 are the only winning campaigns the Pilots have put together this century. This is only the sixth time in 20 seasons they’ve reached the three-win mark, and it’s the program’s best start since 1985, when it went 10-0 and earned a No. 1 ranking in the state before falling to eventual state champion Crittenden County in the playoffs.
So, yeah, a 3-0 start matters.
“It’s good for the community and good for the kids, and it’s gonna lead to other great things I hope.”
Fulton County’s first two wins were lopsided shutouts but it won in dramatic fashion last Friday: junior Caleb Kimble rushed for the game-winning touchdown as time expired in a 38-37 road victory over Stewart County, a Class 3A team in Tennessee that Bridges estimated had about 70 total players on its sideline; Fulton County had 84 total boys enrolled at the start of this school year, 24 of whom play football.
Kimble has been a headline-maker for the Pilots, having rushed for 695 yards and 14 TDs on just 41 carries. A trio of sophomore linemen — Dylan Hammond, Tyler Love and John David Swain — along with senior Mason Eakes and junior Kyle Bridges have enabled he and senior fullback Chris Smith — a reliable chain mover when he’s not blocking, Bridges says — to flourish.
Eakes, Smith and wide receiver Adrian Turner make up a trio of seniors who’ve been Pilots since their freshmen season, when the program was still in the early stages of what would become a 27-game losing streak.
They helped snap that streak in Fulton County’s season opener last year, and are setting the table for future generations. The area’s youth football program restarted within the past couple years, and the middle school teams are fielding competitive rosters, numbers-wise, consistently.
“People around the area have been calling me non-stop wondering what we’ve been doing different,” Bridges said. “It’s the same kids but just a different mentality. Before the start of the season, before we went to a passing league in July, I went and bought ’em some shirts and had #TheLittleThings put on it. Just doing the little things right will add up to the big things.”
Their efforts aren’t lost on the locals. Fans had to fight for elbow room in the stands for the Pilots’ home opener against Fulton City, and Bridges says calls for portable bleachers have been made this week to help increase the stadium’s 200-seat capacity for their home game against South Fulton, Tenn. Another home game awaits against Greenfield, Tenn., before district play begins.
In the eyes of many, this season can already be marked down as a successful one for the Pilots, but they’re not done turning heads yet.
“I’m gonna be honest with ya,” Bridges said, “I think we can play with anybody.”