Luke Jackson never once beat Ashland in 10 years of playing football growing up.
On Saturday, he and his Boyd County brethren will have one more shot.
Jackson is starting at quarterback for the Lions in the Gridiron Alumni Ashland-Boyd County showdown. The matchup is set for Saturday at 5 p.m. at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson.
To express how seriously he’s taking this gig, the 30-year-old AK Steel crane operator shifted his vacation time to this week in order to adequately prepare for this game.
It’s not just a game for Jackson, it’s a unique family opportunity.
“It’s always been a dream to play football with my two little brothers,” said Jackson, a 1999 graduate. “And I’m really looking forward to playing with generations of Lions.”
Jake Hughes and Casey Hughes, Jackson’s brothers, will play running back and tight end, respectively. Jake graduated in 2004, Casey in 2007.
Football has always been a family tradition for the clan. Dutch Jackson, their grandfather, scored both touchdowns in a 13-0 Boyd County win over Russell in 1948 — the first time the Lions ever beat the Red Devils.
Despite a history containing more than 300 wins, Boyd County’s varsity team is just 16-34 all-time against Ashland. The Lions haven’t toppled the Tomcats since 2003.
Chad Cook, Ashland’s alumni quarterback, enjoyed avenging that ’03 defeat later in his senior season as the Tomcats ousted the Lions in the playoffs.
Cook and company have been practicing in the sand pit across from Putnam Stadium. While it’s been a struggle to align everyone’s schedule to meet, the chance to play alongside Tomcats of the 1980s and ’90s has been rewarding.
“It’s very cool to play with some of the guys that I watched while growing up in the ’90s,” Cook said.
Marty Justice was a sophomore member of the 1990 state championship team. He’s one of the oldest set to suit up on Saturday — the oldest is Joe Broughton (45). Jeff Gee is Boyd County’s oldest, at 42.
Shane Davidson, an Ashland senior in 2011, might be the youngest on the field.
Justice, an offensive/defensive lineman, said it’s been a process getting back in football shape.
“It was tough,” Justice said. “It’s been motivation to exercise more. I’ve been practicing and also going out on my own and trying to run.”
Joked Jackson: “Sprints aren’t any fun at 30 years old.”
“My hamstrings feel it after every practice,” Cook said.
Clayton McClelland will dig into the trenches on Saturday for Boyd County at right guard. The former Lion and Campbellsville University product is used to running practices as an assistant coach over the last couple seasons. But he’s not exactly accustomed to running in practices.
“All the football stuff, that comes back to you,” said McClelland, a 2004 graduate. “It’s just the conditioning factor. You can tell people who have been running and who hasn’t.”
Boyd County has held its practices at the Catlettsburg Little League baseball field outfield since late April.
With players having been coached by several different men — among those are Vic Marsh (Ashland), Ed Vanhoose (Boyd County), Bill Tom Ross (Boyd County), Larry Hall (Ashland) and Leon Hart (Ashland) — a hodge-podge approach has resulted on both sides.
“There was a little bit of a language barrier at first,” said Justice, coached by Marsh. “Our plays had names, theirs had numbers. It’s just different coaching styles, different offenses, picking up each other’s lingo ... it’s all worked out pretty good.”
“It’s old school meeting new school,” added Cook.
Jackson said younger brother Jake has been the brains of the Boyd County offense.
Each team has between 30 and 40 players prepared to step inside the lines on Saturday. Those interested can still join the day of, but there is a roster limit of 50 players.
The cost of $100 ($80 if signed up a month prior) includes uniforms, which are looking sharp, said Cook.
Ashland will wear black, with Boyd County donning red. Gridiron Alumni didn’t possess maroon uniforms.
While smack talk has been virtually non-existent, competitive juices figure to be flowing as the high school rivalry is rekindled.
“Any time you get Boyd County and Ashland together, nobody wants to lose,” McClelland said. “We’re going to have guys playing hard because it’s natural to them. Nobody wants to be embarrassed.”
“We want to win, we’ve got a good game plan. We’ve put many hours of practicing in, in the rain, in the heat,” said Justice, whose 8-year-old son played on a JFL championship team last season. “But we don’t want to injure anybody. Guys have families.
“No cheap shots,” he continued, “but we’re coming to win.”
Brian Taylor, who became widely known for his stint as an NFL replacement referee last year, will be the head official on a five-man crew.
Gridiron Alumni is providing a pep band and cheerleaders to put the finishing touches on creating a high school environment.
The gates open at 4 p.m. Prices of admission are $10 for adults, $5 for students and children 5-and-under are free. A portion of the proceeds (including concession stand) will go to Ashland JFL.
KCU seats approximately 700 people. Cook said it might be a good idea to pack fold-out chairs just in case.
The football/soccer complex, complete with new bleachers and press box, was finished just in time for the fall sports season in August 2012. There are no lights, which is why Saturday’s game begins at 5.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.