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One indication that Anderson County football is headed in the right direction kept popping up over the last half of the 2008 football season.
A team with lofty goals in the pre-season, Anderson’s dream of playing for a state championship ended in some bone-chilling temperatures Friday. The Bearcats were ousted from the state playoffs by a team that might have flown a bit under the radar for most of the year, but boasted some ridiculously gifted athletes.
A year after surprising nearly everyone across the state by going 11-1, the Bearcats literally and figuratively limped home to a 7-5 record.
What happened was that Anderson recorded its third consecutive winning season for the first time since registering five straight from 1989 to 1993. What happened was that Anderson advanced in the state playoffs for the second consecutive year. We will grant that the playoffs are watered down, now that the state is divided into six classes, but the fact remains that Anderson has advanced in back-to-back post-season tournaments just one other time in history, 1991 and 1992.
And asking the “What happened?” question is really not a criticism as much as it is an indication that people in Anderson County truly care about what is going on with the Bearcat athletic programs.
Still, 7-5 was not what anyone was looking for back in August, despite Peach’s warnings that duplicating the success of the unbeaten Bearcats of 2007 would be virtually impossible.
“It’s not often you can go 10-0,” Anderson coach Mark Peach said back in August. “That is why last year was so special.”
Mother Nature happened. In 2007, Anderson could put five guys on the line that averaged over 300 pounds. Most of the time, the Bearcats were a bit smaller, but Peach could bring other big guys into the rotation. Not only was Anderson big, but there was depth, with eight different players seeing action up front in 2007. In that special season Anderson took control in the fourth quarter five times and in the second half twice more.
Four of those eight graduated. Anderson replaced them with some good young talent, but Anderson went from a huge team to an above-average size high school team with some young talent. Add to that the experience and maturity factors – both physical and mental – and there was a huge difference.
There were also some players that played key roles in 2007 that decided not to play in 2008. Their reasons were personal, so we respect that, but there is little doubt those decisions were difficult to overcome.
Injuries also happened.
I am not sure that Anderson had an extraordinarily high number of injuries, but it seemed like most were to key people. Some were nagging, some did not heal as quickly as thought. That’s just a part of sports.
And the schedule happened.
Before the season, Peach was ripped on some statewide message boards for playing some of the teams he did. Granted, it was not a killer, but to be fair, consider that the five teams that that defeated Anderson, three won playoff games. Four of the five were ranked in their respective Top 10 at the end of the regular season, and the fifth, Western Hills, had been in the Class 3A Top 10 during the year.
The five teams that beat Anderson have a combined record of 43-16, yet only the debacle against Western Hills was not close. Two of the losses were finalized in the last 90 seconds and two more in the fourth quarter.
There were some disappointments for sure. The current Bearcats gave up too many points, perhaps because of youth and a lack of depth that showed up as the season went on. And crowds were down this year, but there was horrendous weather nearly every Friday night.
But the superlatives far outweighed the bad. That young line showed flashes of being very good with some more time in the weight room and a little seasoning. Jacob Russell statistically had the best year of any Anderson quarterback in history as he threw for 29 touchdowns and over 2,200 yards. He might just be the best quarterback prospect in Kentucky in 2009.
You see winners like B.J. Robinson who relentlessly work in the weight room and simply marvel. Or you see a kid like Cody Dixon walk into Cat Madness Saturday night with a stiff leg and realize that he did all he could to be able to play against Doss before being shut down.
The list could go on and on, but space won’t permit me to list them all.
There is an old saying about championships in any sport, any level: Do you want to build a team or build a program?
A team is a one year thing. However the great programs sustain excellence.
It was not a charmed year like 2007, but it was a good one. The vast majority of high school football programs would be happy with 7-5 and a playoff win.
But Peach is not satisfied. Less than 10 minutes after the Bearcats’ season had ended, he told his team they would eventually “break that second round barrier.”That is talking about a program. And at Anderson County, it is on the right track.
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.