“This is the healthiest Casey County football has ever been,” Marple said. “I would say we have as strong a youth program as anybody in Kentucky. We’re pushing out large numbers, and there’s a lot of coach growth at the youth level, too.
“And here at the top, the success we’ve had the last year or two has made people in the community see that we can be successful.”
Marple knows as well as anyone what it will take to do that. He played for Casey from 1997-2000 and was an assistant coach from 2005-09 before joining the staff at Henderson County last season. He was hired in May to replace his former boss, Andy Stephens, who is now an assistant coach at Southwestern.
The charge for Marple is build on the success Stephens’ team had last year, when the Rebels set a school record for victories and achieved two significant firsts by both hosting and winning a postseason game.
“We’ve proved that we can be successful one year, now we’ve got to prove that we can be consistently successful,” he said.
It won’t be easy this season, even though Casey returns many of last year’s key players.
Casey is facing arguably the toughest schedule it has ever played, starting with the season opener against Simon Kenton and continuing with non-district games against Green County and Prestonsburg and match-ups with new district opponents Bell County and Corbin. Marple said it probably isn’t the ideal schedule for the Rebels, but he said they aren’t shying away from it.
“The kids are smart enough to know. They can look down the schedule and see what’s in front of them,” Marple said. “But in the past, if our kids here would’ve seen that type of schedule, you would have already been hearing things like, ‘That’s going to be a rough week.’ I haven’t heard that.
“They know who they’re playing on week one, they know what they’re district’s like, and that’s pushing them to work harder.”
That’s one good indication as any of how the football culture is slowly changing at Casey. Another is in the local pee-wee program, where improvements made years ago are just now starting to pay off at the high school level.
Last year’s senior class was the first to come all the way up through Casey’s football system since the pee-wee program was restructured. Now others are coming behind them, and Marple said there is an emphasis on keeping as many kids as possible in football as they transition from the youth league to middle school to high school.
“You lose kids everywhere, but when it happens at a county school like Casey County it hurts worse because of the numbers. You can’t lose too many,” he said.
There are seven seniors remaining out of a group of 23 who came into the program as freshmen in 2008.
Marple said it is a class that he and Stephens had their eyes on for years, worked hard to cultivate and pressed into service as freshmen when things weren’t quite so good.
“The kids that are going to be seniors this year, every single one of them started when they were freshmen. Started on Monday night during the JV game, started on Tuesday during the freshman game and started on Friday during the varsity game. That’s a pretty special group,” Marple said.
The Rebels need seven wins this fall to make those seniors the winningest class in school history.
“That’s one of our big goals this year, to send those kids out like that,” Marple said.
Those players, as well as those coming immediately before and after them, have laid a foundation that simply didn’t exist before, even when Casey made the playoffs for the first time in 2000 and returned to the postseason two years later.