COLUMN: Continuing the tradition

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Current Bearcat team can be very good, drawing comparisons to great Anderson teams of the past

By John Herndon

Right now, every high school football team in Kentucky is undefeated.

It is that time of eternal optimism where many teams and their fans are hoping to catch the lightning to transform a bad team into a contender. Going from 2-8 to 8-2 (or some reasonable facsimile thereof) isn’t likely but it happens enough that fans always have hope the week of the opener.

Then there are cases like Anderson County. The Bearcats really did have a major turnaround, going from 1-9 in 2005 to 11-1 two years later. The Bearcats have maintained a level of excellence, being ranked among Kentucky’s best teams in Class 5A since then.

But that was largely attributed to run of strong classes, including last year’s. Jacob Russell was widely regarded as the state’s best pocket passer in 2009. Grant Cox was one of the state’s top receivers. In all, 13 players graduated last year, leaving some major holes for Anderson to fill.

Yet, most of the line returns on both sides of the ball. There are some talented newcomers on the roster.

The two competing for Russell’s old spot are not slouches. Both are considered to be very good. While it would be foolish to overlook some major question marks, it would be just as silly to label the season that opens Friday night as “rebuilding.”

Suffice it to say Anderson has the potential to be very good. Heading into the season, it would be safe to assume that the Bearcats will be solid favorites to three win games (South Oldham, Grant County and Spencer County), a decided underdog in one (Oldham County) and six games in varying degrees of “tossup.”

If the Bearcats develop their potential, then a 7-3 season, or much better, is not out of the question. If they do not, then a string of four straight winning seasons could be in jeopardy. For the record, I believe this team will be just fine and, if they remain healthy, could be a major threat to do some serious damage in the playoffs.

Around those who follow the Bearcats, and even from inside the Anderson camp, it is not uncommon to hear a reference to 2007. Anderson surprised the state with an undefeated regular season before being upset in the regional semifinals that year.

The comparison is understandable.

The strength of the Anderson team, 2010 edition figures to be the line. Anderson is experienced – a trio of three-year starters – and has some size with Steve Sims and Todd DeWoody both weighing in at about 280 pounds and Zach Cotton topping 300.

Even though Anderson had a nice nucleus returning in 2007, there were enough losses from the previous year that the question concerning Anderson’s ability to replace them was legitimate.

That 2007 team also had some major contributions out of players like Alex Barnett and Jeremy Turpin, neither of whom had played varsity football before. Obviously, it would be silly to anoint any certain newcomer as the one to necessarily step into those roles. But, Anderson coach Mark Peach is very high on several players that fit that description.

Time will tell, since there are some glaring differences too.

The team three years ago had a proven quarterback, also we really had not seen how good Russell, then a sophomore, would become. It had three proven running backs returning. This team totals less than 150 returning rushing yards.

And as good as the current line can be, that 2007 team featured the kind of unit that is almost unheard of at a public high school. At times, Peach could put three 300-pounders up front. One, Austin Corn, was an all-stater even though Anderson did not push it hard. That line had depth and experience. The current group has the potential to be very good, but it will not be nearly as beefy.

For my money, though, a truer comparison might be the group that will be honored at the Alumni Bowl on Friday, the 1965 Bearcats.

Granted, that team was well before my time, but in talking with players and coaches of that team, I learned that it was hit hard by graduation from the year before. Only a handful had played any varsity football at all. Like this group, the 1965 Bearcats were having to replace a quarterback (Rod Cloyd) who had signed with a major college program (Kentucky) and had little experience in the backfield.

Granted there are some areas that don’t fit. This team should not have a numbers problem and its line is much more experienced.

But the biggest similarity to the ‘65 team comes in expectations. In 1964, Anderson went 9-1. Last year, Anderson was 9-1 in the regular season. In 1965, the Bearcats could have had a bump in what is one of the most successful five-year runs in school history. Instead, because they refused to accept the reasons they should falter, they overachieved, going 8-2.

Along the way, they became the first Anderson team to ever beat Shelbyville High. There was no playoff berth, since a team had to win its district to advance at the time.

The current Bearcats face the same challenge. The material to be very good is there. The goal is not to beat a team for the first time but to win more than one playoff game, something no Anderson team has done.

We will find out where the 2010 Bearcats will be in the program’s history beginning Friday night.

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.