Zach Cathey said each East Carter football team makes two goals for the season — get a winning record and reach the playoffs.
The senior has seen neither in his first three years with the Raiders.
“It’s really hard, because that’s always the goal for us,” Cathey said. “My whole three years I’ve been up here I’ve had three wins. We make it a goal every year to make the playoffs and get a winning season. But when you don’t get that, it just kills you.”
Cathey is one of 11 seniors on the Raiders’ roster this year. But the bigger deal is Cathey is one of only five seniors that played all four years in the East Carter system.
Other four-year players include Robert Blevins, Dakota Marshall, Chase Felty and Chase Steele.
East Carter head coach Zach Moore said the hardest part about coaching these five guys is seeing how hard they worked, but they only have three wins to show for it.
“They’re the only five really left standing,” Moore said. “They’ve won three games in three years and that’s tough. It’s one of those things where when they look back in 10 years, they are going to see how much better they got. But that doesn’t do a heck of a lot for right now.
“It’s been tough on them. And you feel an obligation as a coach to do a little bit more for them, so they feel a little bit better about their experience here.”
Moore is entering his third year at the helm of the East Carter football program.
His start as the Raiders head coach couldn’t have started worse — East Carter went an imperfect 0-10 in his first season.
“I just have to laugh about it now,” Moore said. “It was miserable, but at the same time looking back on it, it wasn’t as bad as we thought. There is so much progress made.
“At the same time there is progress there. But what you hate is as a coach that you have good kids that are working hard, and the best you can tell them is we’re making progress.”
The Raiders did make progress last season picking up two wins, including a victory over rival West Carter.
And with Moore’s system really taking over, the players have seen a lot of changes to the atmosphere in Grayson.
One of the big factors is the atmosphere seems more crowded. There are 53 players on the Raiders’ roster this season.
“I don’t really remember that many on the team before,” Cathey said. “I think a lot of people have heard about what coach Moore brings and how he keeps us in line. I think the parents like that, so they are letting their kids play.”
Parents could also like this fact — Moore said every player will not just be a tackling dummy. They will get coached.
“Our coaches tend to take less money in order to have more coaches,” Moore said. “And that’s so we can coach everybody, freshmen included. Whether you are a freshman or a senior, you are getting coached. You are not just there so some older guy can beat on you, you are there to learn.”
With newfound roster size, East Carter has also discovered newfound youth. East Carter will dress 21 freshmen and 13 sophomores.
But senior Jacob Gray, who transferred his sophomore year from Southwest Pulaski, said the youth has enough talent to help East Carter out.
“We have a lot of potential,” Gray said. “I can see it at every practice and we get better and better. I really do think we have a lot of potential.”
Since Gray has transferred in, East Carter has only won two games. But the senior has seen changes for the better as well.
Along with numbers, Gray points out attendance in the weight room has grown.
“When I first got here nobody was really trying,” Gray said. “Then my junior year, everyone was going hard on every single rep. It didn’t skip a beat. Then at practice we just went hard every single play.”
For Moore, weight room time has been a big key in the way he runs in the program.
The reason: It’s the only way he knows how.
“If you’re not playing another sport, who ought be in the weight room lifting in the offseason a few times a week,” Moore said. “There is no excuse not to be there. My first year I was here we had eight guys in the winter and we were pretty excited. This past year we averaged over 30.
“That’s the bad thing, when you’re driven like our coaches are, we weren’t happy. We wanted everybody there.”
And while the coaches are driven, Moore admits nobody on the field is more motivated than his seniors.
“I’ll say this about this year’s seniors — they’ve done a great job accepting that leadership role,” Moore said. “Leadership has been a strong part of our team this year, and we had a lot of older guys in the past, but at times not a lot of true leadership in the past. These guys really have, because they are not afraid to call out their teammates on stuff that needed to be said.”
Cathey said the reason for that is there a lot of good young players in the East Carter system and the Raiders want to keep them in the program.
“There is a lot of talent in our freshman class,” Cathey said. “We just have to keep them motivated and interested in playing. As a senior you need to keep them in line and help them out. If they mess up, you have to get their head back on right.”
East Carter hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008, and hasn’t had a winning season since 2005.
But Moore feels that things are starting to change in Grayson for the better. And he’s hoping the community is going to start to notice as well.
“One thing we need to do is make sure our community is buying in with us,” Moore said. “That’s our responsibility along with the players. We have to win games to get that kind of support and it will all come together. If we stay consistent with our plan, all that will come together.”
Right now the plan is simple for the players.
“I expect a winning season and I expect to be in the playoffs,” Gray said.
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658.