Pardue spent three seasons as Boyle County’s head coach, then spent the past four years as Campbellsville’s offensive coordinator. The lure of the high school game was too much for Pardue, and when the Mercer job opened up he jumped at it and a chance to get back closer to home.
“I loved when I was at Campbellsville. It was a great place to be and I wouldn’t have left for any other situation except for this one. It was just one of those things that worked out the way it did. And one thing I missed at Campbellsville, I missed Friday night. I love the Friday nights,” he said.
“My happiest weeks at Campbellsville, once or twice a year we played on Thursday night and I enjoyed those more than the Saturday games.”
Pardue said being hired so late makes for hectic time getting everything in place.
“It puts us behind more in my mind than anything else. I’m always thinking we should be at this point right now, so I have to remind myself and remind my coaches we are in a transition right now and we’re all learning,” he said. “I’m learning, the coaches are learning, so what we’ve got to do to make up for that is we won’t be real complicated, which we never have been. So we have to focus on the techniques and doing the little things right and just playing as hard as we possibly can.”
And little has changed with Pardue’s system. Those familiar with Boyle’s five straight state title teams from 1999-2033 will see the Titans run the exact same offense.
“We may change one little piece of terminology, but it’s exactly the same,” he said. “Our philosophy on both sides of the ball is to attack and be fundamentally sound and play with our heart.”
Leading that offense is returning junior quarterback J.T. Long, who has impressed Pardue.
“He’s getting the ball where it needs to be most of the time,” he said. “We’ve got to work on the quickness of his release because our offense is a quick-release offense.”
James Johnson returns at running back, and Pardue said he has to “stay healthy” since he will also be playing linebacker. Ashton Jones and Kobe Ford will back him up.
Pardue was high on his receivers. Jordan Ellery, Darion Lewis and Lane Peavler are slotted in at first team, with Dylan Logue, Jacob¿Catlett, Connor Bird and Nick Brown backing them up.
“We’ve got a great receiving corps,” he said. “That first group is going to get a lot of reps, but I wouldn’t hesitate to put any of them in.”
Austin Coleman, A.K. Gibson, Tommy Craig, G.W. Anderson and Curry Brown are slotted in on the line, along with Cameron Bryant, and Pardue said there are capable backups. Most of the players will also play defense.
Pardue said few players will play one side of the ball.
“We’re not going to be a one-way playing team,” he said. “And I understand that the second team, once the first team gets tired, can be just as effective. I’d say we have 20-25 kids that we would consider varsity kids that are going to see most of the playing time.”
Mac Guay is one of the returning linebackers, and Russell Sims also returns at safety. Lewis and Ellery are also back in the secondary.
Pardue said the Titans got a good boost after their win over Russell County in the playoffs, and hopes that momentum can carry over into this season. On film and in person, he saw a different Mercer team from the beginning of the season to the end of it.
“I think in scouting and recruiting I watched the Mercer County-Collins game the first game of the year, and I saw the Boyle County game,” he said. “Then I saw a couple of later games, and the team got better all year long. So if we could start out close to where they finished last year and keep making improvements like they did last year, I think we could get after some people by playoff time.