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Some call him, “The last man standing.”
Anderson County football coach Mark Peach has called him many things since they started working together eight years ago.
“Probably a lot of good and bad,” Bearcat assistant coach Duane Hammons says with his familiar laugh. “It depends on when he said it.”
Nope. It's all good.
For the record, Peach has referred to his defensive coordinator as, “The Genius” and “The Mad Scientist” over the years.
And now, Hammons starts his ninth season at Anderson as the lone holdover from Peach's original staff that agonized through the 1-9 season of 2005. Anderson has not come close to a losing season since then, instead winning two district championships, the school's first-ever regional title and has appeared in the Class 5A state championship game.
“I think it's been almost 180 degrees,” Hammons, a math teacher during the day, says of the turnaround. “I am not saying we have a lot better players than we did. We don't. We have the same type of players that we had when we got here. The difference is in the attitude. There is a different attitude in the players. It's different in the community and in the school.”
What a difference winning makes.
“Now, people ask me if we have a shot at going back to Bowling Green,” Hammons says of the state championship game, where Anderson ended its season two years ago. “When we got here, people were asking if we had a chance of winning a game.”
Yes, Anderson has a shot – a very good one, at that – at spending a weekend in Bowling Green in early December. Part of the reason is Duane Hammons, a man who had coached at one of Anderson's arch-rivals, Mercer County, for his entire career before heading north on Highway 127 as Peach's first hire.
The wheels started turning after Hammons says he and Mercer had come to a mutual agreement to go their separate ways. Peach, meanwhile, was unemployed after tendering his resignation as coach at Campbellsville University.
“It was a phone call about something totally different,” Hammons recalls. “He had not been hired, but we were talking about some of the possibilities and I expressed interest in coming to Anderson. Even though they had been losing, I always looked at Anderson County as a successful program and I had been around central Kentucky long enough that I knew they had the potential to win.”
And the Bearcats have won. They have won big.
After that initial 1-9 campaign – “I had been with a 1-9 team as an assistant coach at Mercer,” Hammons remembers. “That is a long 10-game season” – Anderson has won 62 games over the last seven years.
But Hammons believes the groundwork was set that first year, 2005. “We felt like we were so close several times, but it just didn't happen,” he recalls, “but it gave us hope. The kids were not satisfied and when that happens, you know you are going to get better.”
Over the years the Bearcats got better with a defense that is often overshadowed by their prolific offense. The Bearcats score points and score them in bunches. While the defense is rarely among the state leaders, it has come up with the key stop more often than not.
In 2010, the Bearcats forced Oldham County to kick a field goal in overtime, setting the stage for the game-winning touchdown when the Bearcats got the ball. A year later, after scoring the go-ahead touchdown with less than 44 seconds to play, the Bearcats earned the regional title by stopping a Conner team that had put up 84 points the week before.
Last year, Anderson stopped the opposition 19 out of 28 fourth-down attempts.
(By comparison, the Bearcats were successful on 9-of-17 on fourth down.)
“I have been in it long enough to know,” Hammons says. “I would like to shut everyone out. But that is not going to happen. If our defense holds you to one point less than what our offense scores, I am happy. A win is a win.”
Over the years, Hammons has concocted many a scheme. He's broken some clipboards with his halftime rants when his team is not executing the game plan.
A former youth minister, Hammons just chuckles when asked if he has any regrets that the football program has had to purchase extra clipboards. “Nope,” he says. “I am emotional.”
But never was he as emotional as that Friday after Thanksgiving when the Bearcats had routed Pulaski Southwestern to earn a trip to the state championship game. Never mind that the Bearcats knew they were going to be huge underdogs to the Bowling Green team that eventually romped 55-3. It was the pinnacle of a career that started as a young assistant at Mercer County.
He had to try to come up with a scheme to stop the most talented team he had ever lined up against. He'd tried to slow some of the powerful Danville teams that were loaded with speed. “When I was at Mercer, we played against Harrodsburg and they had Dennis Johnson, Derrick Johnson, Julius Yeast and Adrian Patton. All four went major college and two of them played in the NFL, but Bowling Green have more talent all over the field.”
Hammons said the Bearcats learned a few things about the big show two years ago. “You want to try to keep things as normal as possible,” he says while acknowledging that is almost impossible. “You want to enjoy it but it is still a football game and you have got to prepare.”
Which is what Hammons loves to do, watching 20-25 hours of film a week, while teaching a math class and directing the school's in-school suspension program.
When Hammons encourages kids to make sure they excel in the classroom, he speaks with authority as he was an honors student at Knox Central High School, then went on to Union College just down the road from his home. The smallest man in the Knox Central line, Hammons didn't play college football, instead soaking the game up as a young coach-to-be.
“I think that to be a good coach, you have to be a good teacher,” Hammons says. “In the classroom, I have to teach high school kids how to do math. I also have to teach high school kids what to do on the football field.”
The disciplines are remarkably similar.
“You have to teach by example, then teach by practice and then teach by doing,” he says.
In the classroom, the teaching by doing is in the form of tests and quizzes.
“When we go to practice, I show the kids what I want done. Our tests are game nights,” Hammons says.
Hammons is always trying to come up with new ways to stop the latest offensive fad. He says his wife, Missy, has gotten up in the middle of the night to find him watching film.
“As a football coach, it is very helpful to be a math teacher,” Hammons says. “Everything I do is based on the percentages of what (the opponent) is going to do.”
Hammons says some teams are very predictable in what they will be doing offensively, but adds, “One person I would hate to go against is (his football boss) Mark Peach. He runs a lot of different sets and has a lot of big plays.”
Hammons smiles about how the game has evolved.
“When I started coaching, nobody would line up with four wideouts and nobody in the backfield. Now its uncommon to have two tight ends and three men lining up in the backfield.”
He's always evolving, always trying to get better.
Even if he really is the last man standing.
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