Great Crossing High School football players see new field for the first time
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2019 Kentucky high school football preview
The 2019 high school football season kicks off Friday, Aug. 23. New high school sports beat writer Jared Peck is rolling out several stories over the next two weeks in the Herald-Leader and on Kentucky.com previewing the season around the city, region and state and highlighting the top players and games. Click below to read all of his previous stories.
Freshman Jakeece Patterson couldn’t help himself.
As he and his Great Crossing teammates gained access to their new field at “Birds Nest Stadium,” for the first time last Thursday, he jogged over to the green and navy-emblazoned “Warhawks” end zone and dove face down into the soft, plush turf.
He gave it a hug.
“I’m home!” Patterson exclaimed, ignoring one of his coaches’ admonishments to get up off the ground.
Giddy with the excitement of seeing their athletic complex even in a still raw, unfinished state with an Aug. 23 opener against Scott County looming, Great Crossing players smiled broadly as they took in the 4,000-seat venue.
“This is by far the best high school field I’ve ever seen, ever. This is amazing,” said senior Alexander Stapleton. “Words can’t explain it.”
They didn’t even seem to mind the other end zone carried the name and colors of their former school. Scott County and Great Crossing will share the Birds Nest for football and square off against each other annually in a “Battle of the Birds.” Busing over to home games isn’t new for the Cardinals, who have a practice facility with a full field, but not a full stadium, on their campus. The Cardinals have played home football games at Georgetown College since 1997.
Construction continues on the stadium, other athletic facilities and the school itself, all-told with a price tag of $90 million, as classes are set to begin Aug. 21. Players last week had to park at the neighboring elementary school and walk down to the field through a parking lot that was just getting asphalt and then across outer grounds that didn’t yet have a paved path to the surface.
“The coaches have been patient, they’ve been flexible in terms of practicing other places since the spring. They’ve been all over the county,” said Austin Haywood, Great Crossing’s athletics director. “Finally, they are on their field with their logo. We’re all excited. It’s a work in progress still. We’re shooting for the 23rd to be full go.”
The stadium itself is an A-frame with football stands on one leg adjoining soccer stands on the other, capped by what has to be one of the largest high school press boxes in the state. Two sections of chairback seats straddle the 50-yard line with bleachers elsewhere. The soccer field also appeared ready for practices, but the nearby softball and baseball fields have not yet taken shape. The football field is also lined for lacrosse.
Like its campus, the Great Crossing football team figures to be a work in progress entering its inaugural season with a tough Class 5A schedule and a roster that includes only about a dozen seniors. Scott County, by comparison, has 24 seniors on at team that expects to contend for a Class 5A state title.
But veteran head coach Paul Rains knows something about building a program. He helped convert Lexington Christian from a doormat to state title holder a decade ago.
“It’s been a total whirlwind. Every day is a new adventure,” Rains said at a recent practice where he also held a parent meeting in the Georgetown College stands. “You’re trying to locate this equipment or you’re missing this. That’s the biggest difference from all the other programs that I’ve worked at is that, usually, you’ve got an equipment room and a locker room and you know where these items are. We’re digging through boxes. We’re trying to find the box. We don’t even know where the box is to dig through. So that’s been a little crazy.”
Rains has been encouraged by what he’s seen from his players since practice began in earnest a couple of weeks ago, but he knows the road ahead will be difficult.
“Our schedule is tough. It would be tough for any 5A team,” Rains said. “For a young football team, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got our priorities aligned and keep the path. Don’t get down when bad things happen. And that’s tough with a young football team. I think we’ve got a great staff and some great leadership from what I’ve seen so far. I think we’ll be all right.”
Rains had been an assistant for the last two years at Scott County after what he thought was his retirement from head coaching a few years ago. He lives in the community and said the opening of Great Crossing was much needed.
“We’re very excited about the school,” he said. “There are still some naysayers out there and they’d wish it’d still be one big school and this and that, but there are way more people, in my opinion, that are happy that we’ve got two schools and that we’ve increased the opportunity for these boys to get out and show their stuff.”
Senior Trenton Allen said he can’t wait to get out on the field.
“It’s just so cool being the first … . Team one. I’m going to be the first senior to ever graduate. It’s awesome,” he said, also noting that it was past time for Scott County’s enrollment, which topped 2,400 last year, to split. “The school was just way too packed. You couldn’t walk through the halls to save your life.”
Great Crossing’s enrollment is expected to be near 1,500 students in its first year. All students in the county were given the option to enroll in the school of their choice in 2019-20. The schools are only about 2 miles apart.
“I think the opening of the new school is a great thing. I think it’s awesome for a thousand reasons,” Scott County’s Jim McKee said at a recent practice. “Number one, we topped out last year at 142 players. We’ve got a great staff, but it’s not super large and when these kids go home today, I want the kid to get in the car with a parent (and the parent ask) ‘Well, what did you do?’ ‘I practiced football.’ I don’t want him to say, ‘I stood over on the sidelines and watched. I practiced football.’”
As for how the community will be able to support two competitive athletics programs, district athletics director Daniel-Taylor “DT” Wells sees nothing but positives.
“I think what people are going to find, even the ones that are adamantly against it will find that it’s positive for kids. And that’s why we’re here,” Wells said. “They’re going to find we have a ton of talent in the community, and we’re going to have two successful programs at both schools.”
McKee has generated multiple 10-win seasons and a state title over his more than two decades coaching and believes the Cardinals’ future is bright, regardless.
“I don’t see us going anywhere,” McKee said.