High School Sports

In 43rd year of coaching, Henry Clay's Joyce still cherishes the process

Henry Clay offensive line coach Marty Joyce has either played or coached football for nearly 15 years. He says he still thinks he has a couple of years of coaching left.
Henry Clay offensive line coach Marty Joyce has either played or coached football for nearly 15 years. He says he still thinks he has a couple of years of coaching left. Herald-Leader

Henry Clay offensive line coach Marty Joyce knows football, and he knows Latin, too, from his days at Salesianum, an all-boys Catholic high school in Wilmington, Del.

Joyce's go-to motto is the Latin phrase "Tenui Nec Dimittam." He preaches it to his linemen throughout the year, and has it inscribed on medallions that he gives them at the end of every season.

"It means, 'I have taken hold and will not let go,'" Joyce said. "It means whatever adversity we face, we're going to be in it together."

"Tenui Nec Dimittam" has also served as Joyce's football mantra for almost 50 years, including his playing days at the University of Kentucky under Charlie Bradshaw, and his high school coaching career.

Joyce's love for football, and its all-for-one and one-for-all ideal, took hold long ago, and he won't let it go.

"People ask me, 'When you gonna hang it up?' But I still have a lot of little boy left in me. I still have a passion for the game," Joyce said.

Joyce is in his 43rd year as a high school coach. He spent the majority of that time (27 years) as Don Danko's top assistant at Clark County. He's been at Henry Clay with Sam Simpson since 1998.

Joyce's first job was as head coach at Morgan County. He was 23, fresh out of college, too young to know what he was getting into. He talked UK teammate Ed Zaremba into joining him as a two-man staff in West Liberty.

"It was an unbelievable experience," Joyce recalled. "Ed was from Cleveland, I was from Wilmington (near Philadelphia), and we were headed to eastern Kentucky. It was a big culture change for both of us. But everybody there accepted us and was great to us."

Morgan County won five games that season. Cougars fans weren't used to that much success. "At the banquet they presented us with Kentucky Colonel awards," Joyce said. "I didn't even know what that was."

Joyce did know that he wasn't ready to be in charge of a football program.

"Just because you played the game doesn't mean you can coach," he said. "I realized I needed to go somewhere under a good coach to learn football and how to actually prepare for a game."

So Joyce left Morgan County after one season and went to Clark County to be an assistant under Lloyd Hodge and later Bill Urbanik.

Joyce helped Danko, who was in real estate in Lexington at the time, also get a job on the Clark County staff. Two years later, Tom Duffy joined the Cardinals as an assistant.

In 1974, the head coaching job at Clark County came open. Joyce had a baby daughter with medical issues, so he talked Danko into taking the top position.

"We were together for a long time," Joyce said. "We had good chemistry. Don was laid back. I was more emotional, more vocal."

Danko said his quiet was balanced by Joyce's loudness. "I didn't have to raise my voice. Marty was always on top of things."

Duffy was an assistant at Clark County for only two years before leaving to coach on the college level. He eventually returned to Kentucky high school ball, and won multiple state titles at Danville and Highlands.

But Duffy still cherishes his days at Clark County where he became lifelong friends with Joyce and Danko.

To this day, Joyce calls Duffy after every game to rehash what happened. And the two of them join Danko most Wednesdays to team up for trivia night at a Lexington tavern.

Joyce's career highlight was Clark County's Class 4A state title in 1991. The Cardinals went undefeated, beating Boone County, Trinity and St. Xavier three weeks in a row to close the playoffs.

That Clark County team featured what Joyce called "a million-dollar backfield" — quarterback Jerome Embry and running backs Eric Clay and Tim Hampton — that masterfully executed Joyce's wing-T expertise.

(For the record, Joyce got another Kentucky Colonel award after that championship season. "I'm a Kentucky Colonel twice. I should be an admiral!" Joyce said with his trademark hearty laugh.)

Danko and Joyce retired from coaching Clark County after the 1997 season. Danko left football for good. Joyce went to Henry Clay, where he's now in his 15th year.

Danko is not surprised Joyce is still coaching.

"He's a competitor. That's what it is. Marty wants to win," Danko said. "He pushes kids to do well, and he loves seeing them have success."

Duffy, who calls his friend "Big Moe," said Joyce "loves the kids. They all like him and play hard for him because they know he cares about them."

Joyce actually prefers the weekday practices over the Friday night games.

"I like the planning the best." he said. "I love going out to practice every day. I tell the kids that every day they get better or get worse, they never stay the same.

"I'm pretty tough and a disciplinarian, but I'm fair and consistent in what I do.

"I tell the kids if we're not successful, it won't be because we're not in condition, or because we don't know our assignments, or because they don't give 110 percent on every play."

Henry Clay senior Andrew Pendleton credits Joyce for making him a college-caliber lineman who has committed to Tiffin University in Ohio.

"He's without a doubt the best o-line coach in the state," said Pendleton, who saw only limited action last year but has developed into the anchor of the Blue Devils' front line this season.

Simpson also considers Joyce the premier o-line coach in Kentucky.

"Marty has high expectations for his players," Simpson said. "He wants them to be good sportsmen, to be in condition, to master the footwork of good line play, and to play the game with honor and courage."

Joyce, who suffers from leg problems and has trouble getting around, said he re-evaluates each year whether to keep coaching.

"I still enjoy working with young kids and helping them grow into young men," he said. "As long as I'm still making a contribution, and my health will let me, I want to stay at it. I think I can go maybe a couple more years."

That's Marty Joyce-speak for "Tenui Nec Dimittam."

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