You could hear workers drilling, hammering and otherwise completing Boyd County’s new football venue.
Fourth-year Rowan County coach Kelly Ford held forth despite the cacophony during an Aug. 7 media day for eastern Kentucky coaches.
You could say the Vikings fit in with the noise: they were 6-5 last year, the first winning season since 2012, and they want to build on a refurbished foundation – a 3-1 streak to finish the season.
Ford said he’s learned “the ins and outs” of being a high school football head coach – tackling the administrative challenges, gauging the moods of teenage boys, figuring out how to motivate 50 or so players while appeasing parents and fans.
“When we first took the job, the program was in a mess,” Ford said. “My No. 1 goal was to get everybody reeled back into one. I think we’ve done a really good job of doing that, following our system.”
Sometimes, it was hard.
Three seasons ago, the Vikings needed a 42-7 Week 8 win at Boyd County to secure a Class 4A playoff berth and salvage a 3-8 debacle. You could’ve called the 2018 campaign depressing: starting out 4-1, dropping four of the last five and missing the postseason.
Move ahead to last year, and the Vikings were in early trouble.
After wins at Morgan County and Bath County came the nightmares: setbacks to Raceland and Fleming County, and after a win at Lewis County, district losses at Scott and Holmes.
Then, a glimpse of hope that wasn’t a train approaching.
There was the 14-0 shutout of Harrison County, a 21-7 triumph at Boyd County and taking down Montgomery County, 21-7.
Scott eliminated the Vikings, 29-7, Nov. 8 in Taylor Mill.
“It carries over,” Ford said of last year’s finish. “Our guys that we’ve got are seniors coming back. … It’s gonna be a reload.”
When Ford talks replenishing, he’s thinking about the offense. Quarterback Will Cox, leading receiver Devin Davidson and second-leading runner Nick Johnson graduated.
“We lost 19 good seniors. That was part of the process when I got the job,” Ford said. “We lost a lot of our guys defensively. We’ve got the majority of our offense back, some pieces that are gonna make us go.”
Thinking senior running back Cole Wallace could be the engine that drives the Vikings is a little like saying a 2001 Harley-Davidson V-Rod is a fast motorcycle because it can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds.
Last season, he ran for 1,495 yards and 21 touchdowns and averaged nearly 136 yards and two scores per game.
“Cole Wallace is a premier running back,” Ford said. “Our program is built around him.”
Here, an understatement arises: in three varsity years, Wallace has gained 3,305 yards, tallied 41 touchdowns and averaged 7.28 yards per carry.
Wallace spent the COVID-19 break the way you’d expect.
“Lifting, running, trying to get better,” Wallace said. “I have a loft in my house with a lot of weights. I weighed 155 pounds last season; I weighed 182 (Aug. 7).”
Ford would also like to see Wallace catch a few more passes. If he does, senior Austin Fannin likely will throw them.
The challenge: Fannin didn’t throw for a single inch last year.
“He’s a pocket quarterback,” Ford said.
The Vikings’ receivers didn’t catch a lot of passes in 2019 – they gained just 563 yards. Senior Brien Hill (six catches, 115 yards) is the leading returnee.
“He’s a speed guy,” Ford said of Hill.
Senior tight end Braden Crouch also returns.
Rowan County’s offensive line is a concern – seniors Arian Brown and Brady Kelsey are the only two returnees.
The Vikings’ defense allowed 238 points last year, 1,320 yards on the ground and 923 through the air. Shrinking those numbers could be a puzzle.
“We’re starting from scratch,” Ford said. “We lost 19 seniors; probably nine of those guys played on the defensive side of the ball only.
“We’ve really got to do some things on the defensive side.”
Conundrum could also describe Rowan County’s dilemma. Ford said he didn’t have a middle linebacker and needed to replace a couple of D-linemen.
“Our primary guy on defense would be Brien Hill,” Ford said. Hill grabbed four interceptions last year.
Wallace is also a linebacker. He had 52 tackles (10 of them for losses) and two sacks.
The way Ford sees it, whenever the season starts, it could be as unattractive as two scoops of peach ice cream on a filet mignon.
“It’s gonna look probably a little ugly and rough on that first (game),” Ford said. “You’ve just gotta continue to get better throughout the year.”