Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 27, 2013

Elkins has firm grip

When Raceland QB could've drowned, he drove harder

Aaron Snyder
The Independent

RACELAND — Just shy of 4,500 passing yards. Fifty-nine touchdowns (and only 24 interceptions). One-thousand-plus rushing yards, with 13 scores tagged along.

Oh, don't forget the school-record 27 wins he's earned as a starting quarterback.

Get this: Adam Elkins would trade all of it away.

Even so, Elkins remarkably spun a tragic event into a turn of events. It's a turn, though, that he wished he wouldn't have been forced to take.

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The last thing Morgan Elkins did on this earth was watch his son Adam play football — certainly, one of his favorite hobbies.

After Adam, then a blossoming sophomore quarterback, missed his receiver on a two-point conversion attempt that would've given Raceland a one-point lead, Morgan texted his brother, Greg.

“The text message said ‘21-20, bad guys,’” said Adam Elkins.

The “bad guys” were the Pikeville Panthers, the same team Adam and the Rams trumped on Friday to give Raceland its first-ever regional football championship.

Adam was disappointed after the Sept. 2, 2011, game at Pikeville. He underthrew classmate Daylin Beach, he said, and he assumed full responsibility for the loss.

Mike Francis, who had been Adam's middle school coach, and Ash Joseph, father of player A.J., pulled Adam away from the postgame huddle.

“I was pretty upset … I was thinking this game is pretty much on me,” Adam recalled. “I figured (Francis and Joseph) were going to calm me down and say, ‘Adam, it’s all right.’ But (Francis) said, ‘Your dad’s in the hospital.’ I said, ‘What are we still doing here?’”

A Pikeville man — Adam doesn't recollect his name — offered the opposing QB a truck-ride to Pikeville Medical Center. Adam accepted.

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Sleep didn't cross Adam Elkins’ mind until 3 a.m. late Thursday night.

He rehearsed how he would convey an important message to his teammates, that he was playing for his father on Friday.

“I said to them, ‘Ever since we’ve been playing Pikeville since the night my dad passed away, I’m 1-2 against Pikeville.’ I said, ‘And I want to break it even for my dad. You guys can play for the regional championship. I’m playing for my dad, and I want you guys to have my back.’ And that's what they did,” Elkins assured amid a memorable scene at Rams Stadium.

With teammates sliding every which way on a muddy field, the bold orange ‘R’ sopping wet at the 50-yard line, Elkins joined in the celebration of an unprecedented moment.

“I think I got more thanks from older Rams than anybody,” Elkins said. “They enjoyed it as much as, if not more than, we did.”

Shortly thereafter, his focus turned to Williamsburg, Raceland’s state semifinal foe. The Rams travel there on Friday.

He also thought about something else. More specifically, someone else — the man who drives him to win.

“Whenever I got to my car, I got to thinking,” Elkins said. “This is something I could tell my kids when I get older. That I lost my dad at the Pikeville game, then we struggled with them throughout my years and finished by beating them for a regional championship.”

Final: Raceland 14, “Bad Guys” 3.

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Upon wheeling him into the back of an ambulance after he collapsed in the bleachers, the EMTs heard Morgan Elkins utter a request.

According to Adam, his 43-year-old father had asked them to keep the back doors open so that he could witness the end of the game.

Morgan passed away on the way to the hospital. He had suffered a heart attack.

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Raceland quarterbacks coach Scott Grizzle, a former successful Rams signal-caller himself, labeled Adam Elkins as “one of the tougher guys I’ve ever played with or coached.

“They don’t get any tougher than Adam Elkins,” he said.

Elkins said he and Grizzle connected from the get-go. He was a freshman when his former idol joined the coaching staff.

“I used to be Scott Grizzle in the backyard,” Elkins said. “And (senior teammate) Alec (Risner) would be Derek Beach or Benji Mullins.”

Elkins and Grizzle have grown close throughout the past four seasons, constantly texting back and forth and picking one another's brain about issues on and off the field.

Elkins admitted that he’s surprised himself in how well-rounded his game has become. His skills aren’t what set him apart from others, though, said Grizzle. It’s that he’s “smart, competitive and tough.”

“Adversity breeds toughness, breeds change,” said Grizzle, adding that when Elkins could’ve understandably moped around the locker room and felt sorry for himself following his father’s death, he refused.

“You see kids at 15, 16 years old, take something like that and crash and burn,” Grizzle said. “He just put his head down and came to work every day.

“If you tell Adam, you can’t do this, he’s going to say all right. Then, he’s going to work his tail off and he’s going to do it."

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Adam Elkins can’t shake the vivid image of the hospital scene.

The faces of his mother, Melinda, his brother, Chad, and his brother’s best friend, Charlie, are ingrained in his mind.

“I came through the doors and Mom just grabbed me, put all of her weight on me,” Adam said. “I didn't know how serious it was until doctors said he’s been gone, and they were trying to get him back.

“Whenever the doctor came in and shook his head no, it was almost like I was in shock,” he continued. “I didn’t cry that whole night.”

The following morning, the Elkins house was stuffed full of people who Morgan had impacted in some form or fashion.

Adam said that he his older brother, Chad (now almost 22), quickly came to the realization that they had to step up and be the men of the house. Taking care of Mom was top priority.

“Really, the only time we could cry was on our own time,” Adam said. “We had to be strong for Mom.”

The entire Pikeville team offered to come and support Adam and his family at Morgan’s visitation, but someone close to the family thought it would be too overwhelming. Adam, though, expressed his appreciation for Pikeville coach Chris McNamee and the team.

Adam said he could’ve never emerged from the tragedy had it not been for caring individuals by his side.

“I’m not very independent, I don’t like to be alone,” Adam said.

Friends, like Blake Justice, and teammates, such as the whole senior group, were instrumental. Girlfriend Katie Ritchie played a huge role in Adam’s recovery, too.

“She helped me a whole lot,” he said. “Really, a whole lot.”

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Morgan Elkins was a longtime close friend and poker buddy of Raceland head coach T.J. Maynard’s.

“We played cards every Friday night, every weekend, throughout the offseason,” Maynard said. “Hold ’em, five-card stud, seven-card stud, Omaha, whatever.”

Maynard drove Adam home from Pikeville to Raceland that unpleasant night.

Little did he know that, merely seven days later, Adam would pace his team to a convincing 42-6 victory over Greenup County behind an outstanding performance of 223 yards of offense and a TD.

“He channeled (emotion) the right way, used it as motivation,” Maynard said. “He used that game as kind of a tribute to his dad. To go out and play the way he did was unbelievable. It was a credit to his toughness and character.”

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Maynard's senior quarterback is making throws this season that he never even came close to executing before, said the coach.

A Tom Leach All-Resilient Team selection in 2011, Elkins has made the best of the adversity he’s encountered.

“He’s gotten better each year,” Maynard said.

Now on the precipice of a state championship game appearance, Elkins is playing the best ball of his high school career.

“I’m not ready for my career to be over at Raceland,” he said.

What pushes him?

It’s not a dream of college football — he’s already set out plans to study criminal justice and become a police officer.

It’s not a goal of getting the girls — he’s already got one who he considers pretty special.

It’s not even an eagerness of hoisting any hardware, although that’d be a nice bonus.

Adam Elkins just wants to make Dad proud.

“If I have it in the back of my head that he’s proud of me, then that’s what makes me work harder,” Elkins said. “Way harder.

“I really don’t think I’d be half the quarterback I am today if my dad didn’t pass away,” he said. “That's not saying I’m glad it happened. I’d be the worst quarterback in the world just to have my dad back.”

Adam does take comfort in the fact that Morgan Elkins was able to see his first three varsity starts.

Adam believes, too, that his dad still watches.

The doors open the same time every Friday night.

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