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Nearly everyone who follows Kentucky high school football knows at least a little bit about Anderson County's resurgence.
The numbers say that Anderson has put together a 64-20 record since the start of the 2007 season. That's winning at a 76 percent clip. Over that same time span, the Bearcats have won three district championships, including 2013, and have been district runner-up the other four years. There has been a trip to the state championship game in the mix, too, a trip many programs never experience.
While the perennial powers might not be impressed, it's a record that few can match over the same time frame.
High school sports are normally cyclical. Programs have good classes and weak classes. And for most, having sustained excellence just doesn't happen.
Enter Brian Holloman. Or more precisely, enter the Anderson County Middle School program Holloman has headed up since 2010.
Before that, it was under the direction of Chris Glass, now the principal at the high school. Before Glass, Steve Karsner, now in administration in Boyle County, led the Mustangs.
The Mustangs just finished another stellar season, going 13-2. Both losses, including the conference championship to Lincoln County last Tuesday night at the high school field, were in overtime.
It has almost become the norm for the Mustangs, who were state runner-up in 2009, losing to Bowling Green in the final.
“I told them that if they stick together and come together with the other classes they will be playing with in high school, the sky is the limit for them,” Holloman said a few moments after Lincoln had come from behind to win 24-22 in overtime.
The Mustangs had beaten Lincoln earlier in the year. Anderson's only other loss was to Jefferson County Traditional Middle School, 30-22, in the third round of the state playoffs.
Last Tuesday, Anderson had led most of the way but Lincoln tied things late, set up by an 88-yard pass on third-and-long. Given a reprieve at the Anderson 5-yard line, Lincoln scored with less than three minutes to play, then tacked on the two point conversion to tie it at 16.
In the overtime, Lincoln scored first, got the conversion, then, after Anderson's Bryce Edmondson bulled his way to pay dirt, Lincoln stopped Cobe Penny just short of the goal line on the conversion.
“The main thing we wanted to focus on was that one game does not define our entire season,” Holloman said.
The 2013 season was simply a continuation of excellence by the Mustang program. Holloman says part of the success is due to having “some really good football players.”
There is no question about that. Penny and Edmondson gave Anderson a very talented duo that complemented each other. Edmondson might have been the Rocky Bleier to Penny's Franco Harris – look them up if you don't know who they are – while Tyler Peters showed his versatility moving from receiver to quarterback when starter Gunnar Gillis went down with an injury early in the season.
Holloman also noted that some of his linemen are already tipping the scales at better than 230 pounds. It would be impossible to name all that have played major roles for the Mustangs this year, which is a reflection of what Holloman has done.
“We try to relate football to life,” the coach says. “We tell the kids if you are going to particiapte in any sport or activity, why not be the best? Why not try to excel and come out victorious? Hopefully, that will carry over in life, that when they get a job, they will excel and not just settle for being mediocre.
“We really stress setting goals and working together to make them happen.”
And those goals are of the lofty sort. Winning seasons aren't enough. Championships are the prize and excellence is expected.
“I think the main thing we are able to do,” Holloman says, “is lay the foundation. We are laying the fundamentals as far as terminology and expectations. We try to mirror what they do at the high school.”
And it is invaluable.
“No question,” says Anderson Bearcat coach Mark Peach. “Coach Holloman and his staff do a great job teaching the basics and the fundamentals. It really helps when you talk the terminology and the adjustments we want to make and the kids know it. It can add so much more to your scheme because the kids already have a conception of what you want.”
While middle school football is different from the varsity in that the younger levels are heavy on the basics, there is still the universal desire for success. Holloman says that has made the Mustang program one to be emulated.
“The kids understand our system and our expectations,” he says. “We have just been able to win football games.”
Holloman does it with a staff heavy on volunteer assistants. Only two assistant coaches draw any salary, but the reality is even with a paycheck, it is mainly a labor of love of the game and of kids.
As the Mustangs showed again this fall, success starts with the basics. They are nothing fancy and they are not a secret.
“A lot of success at the middle school level is based on getting the right attitude and work ethic so we can work together as a team to get where we want to be,” Holloman says.
While people watch and remember high school football infinitely more than the middle school game, there is also little doubt that the foundation for success starts long before players become Bearcats.
Holloman says it could be apparent in a few weeks. Bowling Green is a heavy favorite to win the state Class 5A title, but Anderson is one of the teams given a real shot at taking the Purples on in the championship game.
“We played them for the state (middle school) championship when this year's seniors were eighth-graders,” he smiles. “If we play them again this year, it will be the first time since we started the middle school playoffs that two teams play then and again for the champioship as seniors.”
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