Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 16, 2013

AARON SNYDER: Hitting the ground running

QB gets glimpse of teams on first official day

Aaron Snyder
The Independent

ASHLAND — FIVE-STEP DROP

Arrival    Place    Exit

7:58    Boyd Co.    8:18

8:54    Greenup Co.    9:42

10:06    Russell    10:40

10:56    Fairview    11:38

11:45    Ashland    12:42

-Total miles traveled = 52.6



From the first drill of Boyd County’s practice to the final huddle of Ashland’s, the Monday Morning Quarterback took a five-step drop and fired on all cylinders of his Pontiac to hit five practices in five hours on Monday morning.

Dead period is officially over, and summer sessions have begun. Players can’t strap on full pads for a couple more weeks, but the season opens in just 39 days (Aug. 23).

The QB’s hot route included stops at Boyd County, Greenup County, Russell, Fairview and Ashland.

Sorry to those who held practices in the evening, such as Raceland and East Carter, but remember ... I am the Monday Morning Quarterback!

It was a beautiful day to cruise a 50-mile looping trek lassoing the area. I filled up my Keurig coffee mug at 7:30 a.m. and didn’t savor the last sip until 10:41 while stopped at a traffic light on Diederich Blvd. in Russell.

Before taking you through an interesting morning via a stop-by-stop sequence, here are a few quick hits from local practices:

-Ivan McGlone will enter his 38th season as Russell’s head coach despite bouts with some serious health issues in the offseason.

-Ashland not only has a new coach, but will have a new face in a prominent position on the field.

-Greenup County coach Chris Mullins is determined to help the Musketeers avoid becoming the first team to experience back-to-back-to-back winless seasons in the area.

-John Gilliam, Boyd County’s first-year coach, appears to have his players’ attention.

-Fairview, last year’s Class A state runner-up, has its sights set even higher in 2013.



STOP 1 (7:58 a.m.)

Boyd County


Topping off his fresh Boyd County attire with a straw hat and sunglasses, first-year coach John Gilliam delivered a quick pep talk before the Lions broke into separate work stations.

Gilliam seems to have already gained a grip on the youthful Lions, as they listened intently to their second head coach in as many seasons during the early stages of practice.

Gilliam served as a Morehead State University assistant from 1996 to 2012 before moving to Boyd County. He talked about the transition.

“Probably the biggest thing is making sure the kids understand the commitment level,” Gilliam said. “I could have very easily come in here and had those expectations set that you would have set for a 22-year-old, and it’s just not realistic.”

Gilliam hopes that a completely renovated locker room and revamped meeting/film rooms in the 400-wing of the old school coupled with the new high school will rejuvenate the program. The Lions went 5-6 in each of the past two seasons.

“We’ve got the Taj Mahal of high schools,” Gilliam said, smiling. “We just need to keep trying to build on that momentum.”

The young Lions look to possess both speed and skill, but they’re still looking for more size. Gilliam said there are potential linemen roaming the hallways at the school who they’re trying to lure.

Billy McCoy, Jacob Barnwell and Jason Smith are among those returning who will likely play significant roles for Gilliam.



STOP 2 (8:54)

Greenup County


Master multi-tasker Chris Mullins collected physicals, fielded phone calls and discussed checklists with assistant coaches all while preparing for the Musketeers’ first team offense meeting of the summer.

The third-year head coach is busier now than ever.

Greenup County, down to 16 players following the graduation of 17 seniors in 2011, had right around 50 kids in the locker room on Monday.

“The first day’s always nice because you finally get the family back together, see what you’ve got,” Mullins said. “We were struggling with numbers, and we’ve been able to get that back up. But I’m also starting to see that quality is as important as quantity. We need 50 guys that are going to be out here ready to work.”

After having just one four-year senior last season, the Musketeers will have much more experience in 2013.

Mullins expects freshmen to even have a chance to contribute. He added that this fall’s schedule will allow them to be a much more competitive team that could grab that elusive first victory under his direction as head coach.

Some of the team’s top talents, Jeffrey Williams (shoulder) and Matt Lawson (knee), are questionable for the start of the season.



STOP 3 (10:06)

Russell


Seventy-five-year-old Ivan McGlone perked up at the mention of yet another season opener on the sideline in a few weeks.

“I hope I make it,” he quipped with a grin.

If his team is half as resilient as him, Russell will surprise some folks even with heavy turnover among the skill positions.

McGlone suffered a heart attack on March 5 and underwent six-bypass surgery. The two-time state champion coach spent five weeks at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington and then was at Kingsbrook Life Care in Ashland for eight weeks. He’s been home since early June.

Even while housed at Kingsbrook, McGlone got rides — from his daughter and assistant coaches — to spring weight lifting and meetings.

“I’ve told (athletic director) Sam Sparks that I would resign if he wanted me to,” said McGlone as he sat watching juniors and seniors lift weights on Monday. “But he told me it was too late for that.”

I asked McGlone when he discussed that with Sparks.

His response: “I’ve been telling him that for three years!”

McGlone is the area’s all-time winningest coach, with 309 wins.

Jackson McKnight, J.T. Howell, Landon Arnold, Pavin Downs, Patrick Soucy and Bronson Korzep highlight the group of returners for Russell.



STOP 4 (10:56)

Fairview


“One-2-3 state champs!” was the huddle breakaway cry as Fairview closed the door on its first official summer practice.

Just about eight months separated from a state runner-up finish in Bowling Green, the Eagles’ expectations are reaching new heights.

“That’s the only goal we haven’t achieved yet,” said coach Nathan McPeek. “We have to make sure that we continue to improve each and every week.”

An increased strength of schedule is jumpstarted with a pair of scrimmages in August against Johnson Central and Sheldon Clark.

Fairview, which had 63 players (including freshmen) on the field on Monday, graduated a trio of 1,000-yard rushers who combined to help set a state team rushing record in 2012.

McPeek’s cousin, Cody McPeek, has enjoyed a tremendous summer riddled with Rivals Camp Series success. The junior offensive lineman shined in Cincinnati and Dallas in underclassmen camps and could see some Division-I scholarships filter in soon.

He’s still trying to beat his cousin’s bench press record.

“I got 405, he’s at about 365 right now, 370,” said Nathan McPeek.

Caleb McKnight and Armonde Yetts are tough fullbacks to tackle. Tanner Dolen offers strength and speed at running back and quarterback Alex Roy enters his sophomore season standing at about 6-foot-4.

McKnight, Yetts and Dolen will be heavy contributors on defense, too.



STOP 5 (11:45)

Ashland


Tony Love was upbeat as his team trotted off the practice field on Monday.

“We had a lot of people impress us today,” said Love, who is in his 20th year at Ashland, but first as the head man.

Love has just three returning starters on offense, and only two on defense.

One of those subtractions is former quarterback Aaron Elam. Elam has evidently decided to drop football, leaving baseball as his sole sport.

Hunter Prince, a junior, has spent ample time developing his strength. He took the bulk of the snaps on Monday.

Quinton Baker returns to the backfield after a sensational freshman season and solid summer. He joined McPeek (mentioned earlier) in becoming the only two Kentuckians invited to the Rivals Series Camp in Dallas earlier this month.

Luke Johnson is also a key returner. He was a leader on the practice field Monday.

As for Love, he’s getting accustomed to his new job. He still routinely speaks with former head coach Leon Hart.

“We’re like brothers,” Love said. “Coach Hart said, ‘You don’t shut it off when you’re the head coach.’ And at about 2:30 (Sunday night) I’m thinking about things we need to get done ... He’s right, it doesn’t shut off.”

There were 56 Tomcats, excluding freshmen, on the field. Love is proud of his group to this point.

“We like to stick with our guys,” Love said. “We don’t just go to other places to find players to fill our voids.”

“We’ve got more depth than we’ve had (in the past),” he added. “We just don’t have a whole lot returning. They’ve all been through (recent success), they just haven’t been on the field with it yet. It’s a process.”

AARON SNYDER can be reached at asnyder@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2664.