Lincoln must improve its feeder program

August 18, 2004|JONATHAN SMITH

Editor's note: Jonathan Smith is a 1983 Lincoln County High School graduate and was the WRSL radio play-by-play announcer for Lincoln football from 1983-89 and 1994-2001. This article contains his opinions about the future of Lincoln's football program.

I am, more or less, the unofficial Lincoln County football historian. I spent a lot of years watching Lincoln football, from both close and far away. After the school's first ever three-in-a-row losing seasons from 2001-2003, I spent some time considering what happened to the once proud program.

The school started in 1974 and clawed its way to respectability by making the Class AAA playoffs in 1979 for coach Don Wooldridge. The team finished the season 10-2 after falling to Highlands in the regional final. The Patriots revisited the playoffs in 1981 (12-1) and 1982 (9-2).

The real climb to the top of Class AAA started in 1984 when Lincoln hired Larry Phillips to be the school's fourth head coach. His "all-football-all-the-time attitude" was met with a warm reception in Lincoln. The program flourished under his tutelage and the Patriots became a AAA heavyweight. He left after the 1990 Class AAA state runner-up season to become a school administrator.


Three coaches, Marty Jaggers (1991-1996), Tim Estes (1997-2001) and Robbie Lucas (2002-2003), followed Phillips. Jaggers returned to the AAA finals with the 1993 team that featured Mr. Football and All-State tailback Jeremy Simpson. Jaggers' teams played in four regional finals in six seasons, which was quite an accomplishment. The most recent regional finalist was in 1999.

However, something happened in the mid 1990's that changed the future of Lincoln football. In 1994, the consolidated Lincoln County Middle School opened and began fielding a team of seventh- and eighth-graders. Prior to that, those students had played in the Lions Club youth program along with fifth- and sixth- graders on as many as six different teams. Now they were all on one team.

Fewer students came out for middle school football, which is logical. Instead of having individual starters on five or six youth league teams, there was now one set of starters on the middle school team. Instead of six starting quarterbacks, six starting tailbacks, six starting lines, etc., there was only one.

Fewer players got meaningful playing time to develop. It had the effect of weeding out kids too soon. Once they left football, they found other activities to occupy their time.

The youth league was hit with the same problem. The once robust league was whittled down to one single traveling team this past season. Now fourth- and fifth-graders have to either show some football talent in order to get playing time or they have to be content to bide their time.

Ask any high school football coach about the importance of the feeder system and he will put it at the top of the list of must-haves.

For several years Lincoln's feeder program was on a downward spiral and the resulting lack of developed talent was evident on the high school team. Now, 10 years later, the middle school program seems to be churning out successful teams. Last year's team was one of the best in central Kentucky.

The test, though, will be whether the middle school team can win games with a large number of players on the roster and have those players move on to the high school program. Even the most casual fans are familiar with at least one example of an average player having a breakout senior season. If players are not on the team, they'll never have a breakout season.

Football is a numbers game. Depth is important for game situations, for player development and for quality practices. A looming change on the horizon makes increasing the number of athletes participating in the Lincoln program even more important. Lincoln might be reclassified next year into Class AAAA, pitting the Patriots against the state's largest school, including teams with 100 or more players.

Hiring Larry French is a step in the right direction for Lincoln County. He took Meade County through the transition of moving from AAA to AAAA and he had some playoff success against the bigger Louisville schools.

If Lincoln County wants to compete in Class AAAA, or any other class for that matter, the feeder system must be improved and football must once again become a priority to the youth of the county.

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