Far from northeastern Kentucky, as young boys they began to develop a passion for soccer — one in Peru, another in Germany, the third in Missouri.
Now, Marty Torgrimson, Billy Kemper and Max Hammond are new head coaches of respected boys high school programs at Russell, East Carter and Rowan County, respectively.
Torgrimson, 53, needs no introduction to anyone remotely familiar with soccer in the area.
He’s one of the remaining diehards from a group that has enjoyed competing in pick-up games in Central Park for more than 30 years.
“I’ve played soccer my entire life. As soon as I learned how to walk I was kicking the ball,” said Torgrimson, who was born in Peru, went to boarding school in Ecuador and became a four-year college starter at Mt. Vernon Nazarene in Ohio.
He also has coaching experience at the high school and college levels as well as being active officiating the sport since the early 1990s, including working in several state tournaments.
Torgrimson officiated the girls state final in 2005, when a daughter of former Cincinnati Bengals receiver Cris Collinsworth played for Highlands.
“Since I was the head ref, I got a game ball,” Torgrimson said. “I’m one of few people to have a professional football player signing a soccer ball.”
At the same time, Torgrimson likes staying in the background.
He said Russell’s Joe Grizzle approached him two or three years ago about helping coach the boys team, with the idea being that Torgrimson might succeed him before long. Grizzle was also coaching the girls squad at the time and did both for a couple of more years before stepping down as boys coach after last season.
Torgrimson already had a connection to the school — a son and daughter having played soccer there.
“Russell does have a solid tradition around here of being one of the better teams,” Torgrimson said. “I’m a little apprehensive with that. I do want to keep that history going.”
As returning Red Devil players can test, Torgrimson believes strongly in physical conditioning. That means plenty of running.
“For some of the freshmen that I had not been around, it was something of a shock,” the coach said.
Kemper, meanwhile, is implementing his own system at East Carter after being hired as the successor to Ben Fritz, now an assistant principal at ECHS.
“I’ve got a tactical plan of how we’re going to play,” Kemper said. “I’m a defensive-minded coach. Defense wins championships. We’ve got to stay compact. The main thing is getting back in transition, staying tight.”
The 41-year-old learned that style in Germany, where he was born and raised.
In all, Kemper spent 25 years competing in club soccer. He played 11 years professionally there “with some big clubs.”
Kemper moved into the area seven years ago and has been coaching Eastern Kentucky Futbol Club age-group teams for three years.
“All the kids, everybody knows me from EKFC,” he said.
High school soccer is a new challenge for Kemper and he’s happy with how East Carter players are adapting to his way of thinking.
“They really believe in me and themselves,” Kemper said. “They believe in our philosophy.”
That, of course, begins with defense.
“If we get in a tactical position, it will be hard to score against us,” he said. “It might not be attractive to fans, but it works. We’re going to take the fun from a lot of these teams we play.”
Torgrimson and Kemper have played soccer together many times.
“I highly respect and admire him,” Torgrimson said. “We have a lot of similar philosophies on how it should be played. You’ve got to build from the defense and move forward. We see things similar there.”
East Carter opens its season tonight at Greenup County — last year’s surprise 16th Region champion.
“It’s going to take us five, six, seven games to get comfortable with everything,” Kemper said.
At Rowan County, Hammond takes over for Alan Evans and is eager to help add to the Vikings’ rich history.
“(Evans) just always ran a top-notch program,” Hammond said. “He’s well respected. He brought it to every game, and that’s something I hope to continue.”
Hammond, 27, makes the transition after starting the West Carter boys team and building it to a 12-8-2 record in the third varsity season. The Comets won the 16th Region All “A” title.
“It was hard to leave, but things have gone really well here,” Hammond said of the transition.
Rowan County graduated a large group of seniors, including several starers from a 14-6-4 team. But Hammond said returning players are well-conditioned after training in the weight room since February. A soccer-specific physical education class at the school is another plus.
“These kids do a very good job moving the ball around,” Hammond said. “Several can play midfield. There’s decent speed and quickness.”
Hammond’s own soccer-playing days trace back to when he was a 4-year-old in Missouri. He ended up moving to Grayson and played both high school soccer and football at East Carter.
Then came a college football career at Wyoming and Morehead State as a kicker and punter.
Now he’s back in Morehead, optimistic about his new team.
“I definitely think we can contend for the region this year,” Hammond said. “It doesn’t matter so much about the regular season, it’s the postseason. Greenup County is a perfect example of that.”
It’s a new situation for Musketeers coach Andy Zabrieszack.
“We lost 11 seniors, a few soccer players and a ton of athletes,” he said. “However, with such a great season last year we find our numbers have increased. Greenup County soccer has had a taste of the big show and we want to go back.”
Boyd County, last year’s region runner-up, will be trying to make another big push behind All-Area Player of the Year Jonah Black.
Ashland is primed to make a run at the top of the region with 17 returners, including several proven players.
“We should be a strong team,” Tomcats coach Kenny Wheeler said. “We have experience, speed, size and quickness. We need to find our chemistry. If we do, we will be a very dangerous team.”
Overall, the area has five new boys head coaches.
Jerry Campbell has taken Hammonds’ place at West Carter, while Mark Nordin moved up at Paintsville after five years as assistant coach with the 15th Regiuon team.
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2671.