The abolishment of football at Phelps High School was on the table. The Hornets, in the midst of a 24-game losing streak dating to October 2013, dropped out of district play last season. They’ve finished at .500 or better only once — 5-5 in 2004 — in 15 seasons, ironically not reaching the playoffs that year despite frequently doing so with losing records under Kentucky’s oft-kooky playoff structure.
A fresh face has been brought in to liven up the football fandom. David Jones, a two-time state champion at Belfry who went on to play at the University of Kentucky, was introduced as the school’s new head coach on Jan. 15.
“A lot of people I know they’re like ‘Why Phelps?,’” Jones said. “I feel like them kids, they need something and they deserve every bit of it. I’ve got a young coaching staff and we’re just ready to take over.”
Phelps is 37-112 this century, but the athletic future has never looked brighter for the school of about 300 students in Pike County. The finishing touches are being put on a $6.3 million complex which includes brand-new football, baseball and softball fields — things the Hornets haven’t been able to call their own for a while.
“It has been five years since they had a football field,” Jones said. “ ... They’ve been going over to Belfry Middle School playing their home games, and that’s not home. If you have any pride about yourself, you want to represent your community where it’s at. It’s been a tough situation up there.”
Jones knows a thing or two about representing one’s community. He was an all-state player as a senior after guiding Belfry to its first two state championships in 2003 and 2004. He scored the game-ending touchdown on fourth-and-one in the Pirates’ first title win over Elizabethtown.
He played on two bowl champion teams under Rich Brooks at UK before briefly signing with the Baltimore Ravens and playing professional indoor football, including a stint with the now-defunct Eastern Kentucky Drillers in Pikeville. Jones hopes his players can see what he was able to accomplish having come from a small town and use that to propel themselves forward in life.
“I had other offers on the table but I chose them,” said Jones, who lives about 15 miles away in Matewan, W.Va. “That shows them that I believe in them ... (I) just want to let them know that they’re not forgotten and that help is on the way.”
The first few weeks on the job have been “unbelievable,” Jones said. He’s got kids who didn’t even play football last season putting time in the weight room so they can see the field next year. Students who left Phelps because of its lack of playing facilities are returning to the school, something that’s “great for the whole community,” one that’s seen its share of downturn given the economics surrounding the coal industry.
Jones prepared for this moment by serving as an assistant under his former coach, Philip Haywood, at Belfry for the past five seasons. After years of picking his brain, he was finally ready to take the leap into head coaching.
He’ll never be ready to take on his mentor, though.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t even pick in those apples,” Jones said with a laugh. “ ... I’m not ever gonna coach against Philip Haywood. I don’t know how to explain that. I just will never, ever coach against him, ever. At all. He’s a genius when it comes to X’s and O’s and he taught me a lot, but I’m sure he didn’t teach me everything.”
Super Bowl connection
Jones was a senior at UK when Danny Trevathan, now a linebacker for the Denver Broncos, was a freshman for the Wildcats. He’ll be in the Broncos’ corner Sunday.
“I can remember when Danny came in as a freshman,” Jones said. “We had to humble him down a little bit, me, Braxton Kelley and DeMoreo Ford. He’s a man’s man. He’s just a baller. I hope he gets him one.”
Sweet Sixteen pairings
The pairings for the boys’ and girls’ Sweet Sixteen tournaments were drawn by the KHSAA on Thursday. Game times were determined later Thursday afternoon after the pairings were revealed as part of an effort to alleviate travel concerns.
The 55th girls’ Sweet Sixteen is scheduled for March 9-13 at BB&T Arena in Highland Heights. It is the first time a basketball state champion will be determined in Northern Kentucky. The girls’ tournament had been at WKU’s E.A. Diddle Arena since 2001.
The 99th boys’ Sweet Sixteen will be held March 16-20 at Rupp Arena. The boys’ tournament has been played at Rupp since 1995.
Here are the pairings, in bracket order:
First round, upper bracket (March 16): Region 14 vs. Region 1, noon; Region 7 vs. Region 9, 1:30 p.m.; Region 4 vs. Region 16, 6:30 p.m.; Region 11 vs. Region 12, 8 p.m.
First round, lower bracket (March 17): Region 15 vs. Region 6, noon; Region 13 vs. Region 2, 1:30 p.m.; Region 10 vs. Region 5, 6:30 p.m.; Region 8 vs. Region 3, 8 p.m.
The quarterfinals will be played at noon, 1:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on March 18. The semifinals are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 19. The finals will be played at 2 p.m. March 20.
Based on the latest Cantrall Ratings, the boys’ final four would have No. 1 Dunbar meeting No. 4 Covington Catholic and No. 8 Bullitt East getting No. 6 Christian County in the final four matchups.
First round, upper bracket (March 9): Region 12 vs. Region 14, noon; Region 15 vs. Region 11, 1:30 p.m.; Region 8 vs. Region 10, 6:30 p.m.; Region 9 vs. Region 16, 8 p.m.
First round, lower bracket (March 10): Region 1 vs. Region 7, noon; Region 6 vs. Region 4, 1:30 p.m.; Region 5 vs. Region 2, 6:30 p.m.; Region 3 vs. Region 13, 8 p.m.
The quarterfinals will be played at noon, 1:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on March 11. The semifinals are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 12, with the championship set for 2 p.m. March 13.
If things go according to the ratings, No. 1 Butler and No. 3 Murray would clash in the semifinals, as would No. 5 Mercer County and No. 8 Franklin County.
Jock Sutherland Classic
▪ Can’t make it to Rupp Arena on Saturday to see UK take out the anger of a two-game losing streak on Florida? The fourth annual Jock Sutherland Classic at Lafayette should fill that void nicely. Owen County, featuring Mr. Basketball candidate and NKU signee Carson Williams, and 13th Region contender North Laurel tip things off at 4:30 p.m. The Jaguars, led by star junior Peyton Broughton (20.3 ppg), have won their last four and 17 of their last 18 entering Friday (they play at rival South Laurel, to whom they lost 59-51 on Dec. 11). The Rebels have won 11 of their last 12, the loss a heartbreaker at the buzzer to Murray in the All “A” Classic semifinals.
No. 1 Paul Laurence Dunbar turns around after hosting its own Friday event to play No. 18 Central out of Louisville at 6:15 p.m. Six double-digit scorers will take the court in that one: Taveion Hollingsworth, Darius Williams and Jordan Lewis for Dunbar; Brandon Wells, Devin Firman and Daivon Thompson for Central.
Host Lafayette, which has lost three straight to ranked opponents, could turn some heads with an upset of No. 2 Mercer County in the 8 p.m. game. Ross Jenkins (15.9 points, 9.7 rebounds) and Harrison Lane (12.5 points) lead the No. 11 Generals in scoring. The Titans, 24-0 this season, feature four double-digit scorers in Trevon Faulkner (19.9 ppg), Dylan James (14.8), Will Hager (14.3) and Malik Dow (12.1).
▪ Drew Raisor came up with two huge nights in Burgin wins recently. He had 24 points and 22 rebounds in a 65-54 victory at Dawson Springs on Saturday. The 5-foot-11, 155-pound senior finished with 25 points and 17 rebounds and also hit the go-ahead free throws with nine seconds left in the Bulldogs’ 60-58 win over Robertson County.
The feat was more impressive considering Raisor doesn’t lead the team in either scoring or rebounds. Tommy Lopresto averages a team-high 15.5 points while Jordan Hurst averages 10.3 boards, putting him just behind the state leaders.
“These three have been the catalyst to our 11-10 record, which although is not great, is a vast improvement over the three wins this team had the last two years in a row,” Burgin Coach Don Irvine said in an email. “Our seniors are very hungry for a good season, and it has showed.”
These girls are on fire
Jenkins sensation Whitney Creech owned the headlines this week after becoming the state’s all-time scoring leader. There are two more players in the senior class who are on pace to finish inside the top-10 all-time girls’ scorers, too.
Caverna’s Madison Faulkner was at 3,055 entering Thursday’s game at Cumberland County. That total is good for 20th all-time. She’s averaging 24 ppg and the Colonels have at least eight more contests left. Erin Boley is right on Faulkner’s heels. The Notre Dame signee has 3,037 points entering Elizabethtown’s game at Fort Knox on Friday.
▪ Apologies to Paul Laurence Dunbar senior Nick Martin, who mistakenly was left out of the Herald-Leader’s signing day coverage Wednesday. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive lineman signed with Charlotte.
▪ Lexington Catholic’s girls’ soccer team, which finished 24-3 after falling to Sacred Heart in the state finals, was recognized by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America as the 24th-best team in the nation this season. The school was presented with a certificate recognizing the accomplishment.
▪ Manual junior Emina Ekic was named the Gatorade Kentucky girls’ soccer player of the year. Ekic has committed to Louisville.
▪ The Fayette County wrestling championships get underway at 10 a.m. Saturday at Henry Clay. The finals are targeted to start about 1:30 or 2 p.m. Lafayette and Henry Clay are knocking on the door of the state top 10 according to rankings done by KentuckyWrestling.com.
▪ Mercer County junior Dylan James surpassed 2,000 points for his career after scoring 16 in the Titans’ come-from-behind 83-79 win at West Jessamine last Thursday.
▪ Mason Blair, a junior at Johnson Central, joined the 1,000-point club in the Golden Eagles’ 76-75 overtime win at Sheldon Clark on Monday. He scored 41 the next night in an 88-86 overtime loss at South Floyd.
▪ Montgomery County football coach Dan Gooch resigned from the position in January. After coaching for 32 years, he said he wanted the freedom to go visit his kids at college whenever he felt the urge. “I may coach again but I’m just looking forward to some free time right now,” Gooch said in a text message.
▪ Henry Clay senior Michael Fredlock has committed to play lacrosse at Berry College in Georgia.
▪ Mark Sander, the athletic director at Iroquois and former football coach at DeSales, was hired as Bullitt East’s head coach Thursday, the Courier-Journal reported. The Courier-Journal also reported that Mike Copley, previously a defensive coordinator at Centennial (Tenn.), was hired as the new football coach at Ballard.
▪ Howard Feggins, who coached football at Warren Central, is hosting a recruiting seminar and mini-combine for players who haven’t yet signed at Griffin Elite in Erlanger on Saturday. Registration begins at noon with the combine set to begin at 1 p.m. Prices vary. For more information visit griffinelite.com. Multiple schools will be on hand, including Georgetown, Lindsey Wilson and Thomas More.