High School Football

Paul Laurence Dunbar football ‘ready to roll’ after embracing new culture

This is the seventh in a series of stories previewing high school football teams in Lexington before the start of the 2017 season on Aug. 18:

Synopsis

Coach: Chris Mullins (second year)

Last season: 3-8 (lost to Conner in the first round of Class 6A playoffs)

Outlook: The Bulldogs struggled early last season, losing their first four games before winning three of four in the middle of the year. New head coach Chris Mullins only had a short window to imprint his philosophy on the team. He came on board the last week of February 2016 but didn’t move to Lexington until June after completing his duties as a math teacher at Greenup County High School. Mullins is the program’s eighth head coach since 2000. He has a long-term outlook when it comes to turning things around.

“The culture is the problem. When you’re turning over coaches every 2 1/2 years you’re setting the stage for lots of issues,” he said. “Our first goal is to set a standard of ‘I don’t care how good you are, we’re gonna do things the right way.’ ... It’s a process and it takes some time. But we’re gonna get it done.”

Mullins said the Bulldogs have made huge strides this offseason in embracing his style of defensive-minded “mountain football,” cultivated in his years as a player, assistant and head coach for Greenup County.

While Dunbar’s offseason has been a success, it has also brought its share of tribulation. Leading receiver Tre Homer transferred to a high school in Texas and incumbent quarterback Gavin Bugg announced he was transferring to Frederick Douglass in July. But the blow of Bugg’s departure was softened by the addition of junior quarterback Tanner Cox, who transferred from Lexington Christian.

“Tanner is a kid who comes early, stays late, has a strong work ethic and is eager to learn,” Mullins said. “He’s a tall kid with a great arm but just hasn’t had the opportunity to lead a team yet. This is his team and the kids have really rallied around him.”

Cox’s transition to the starting role should be aided by the presence of All-City running back Alex Bard, who scored 12 touchdowns in 10 games last year. Bard is one of just two returning starters on offense. The defense returns four starters, including middle linebacker Tyler Browning, who had 42 tackles, third-most on the team.

Other expected contributors: Darren Edmond (sr. WR), Landon Jackson (jr. DB/WR), Trace Lane (sr. OL), Marshall Nelson (sr. DL), Kaden Gaylord (sr. DB), Dominique Price (jr. WR/DB)

Senior spotlight

Darren Edmond was singled out by Mullins as a player who has taken on an increased leadership role and should have a big statistical impact this year. Edmond played in just six games last season, catching six passes for 71 yards, but is the Bulldogs’ most experienced returning receiver.

“Darren’s first of all a high-character kid,” Mullins said. “He’s worked so hard in the offseason and he’s about to get a big opportunity this year.”

Coach’s corner

Mullins: “We’re taking the attitude that this is the true ‘year-one’ for us. This is the team that needs to be the one that starts the turnaround. When we look back 10 years from now when this has been successful, this team is the one that will be remembered for pointing us the right way.”

Fightin’ words

Tanner Cox: “We’re ready to roll. We’re gonna be a tough team and I know there’s a lot of people doubting us but that’s OK because it only motivates us. People who doubt us are in for a surprise.”

Josh Sullivan: 859-231-3225, @sullyjosh

Schedule

(All times p.m.; home games in capital letters)

Aug. 25: Southwestern, 6

Sept. 1: CLARK CO., 7:30

Sept. 8: Tates Creek, 7:30

Sept. 16: McCreary Central, 7:30

Sept. 22: FREDERICK DOUGLASS, 7:30

Sept. 29: Lafayette, 7:30

Oct. 5: Henry Clay, 7:30

Oct. 13: SCOTT CO., 7:30

Oct. 20: Bryan Station, 7:30

Oct. 27: WESTERN, 7:30

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