After a two-year absence, the McCreary Central Raiders Football Team will be returning to District play next year. McCreary County Athletic Director informed the Board of Education last week that the Raiders have successfully applied for reinstatement with the KHSAA, and will begin playing with the possibility of qualifying for post season play starting with the 2017 season.
The Raiders will be a part of Class 3A, District 8, which is comprised of familiar foes to McCreary: Bell County, Casey County, Jackson County and Corbin.
Two years ago, due to limited participation and lack of competitiveness, the Raiders were withdrawn from the District.
Coach Lucas Ford, who took over leadership of the team this season, took a few moments to look back at what turned out to be an amazing season for the Raiders, and gave his thoughts on the return to District and what is next for McCreary’s football programs.
“I think we accomplished what we set out to do,” he said. “We kept our numbers up, which was one of our goals. We wanted somewhere in the neighborhood of 40, and we ended with 45 on the roster.”
“We wanted to have a winning record, and we ended up going 7-3,” he added.
“There are still a lot of things we have to work on, but we had a good first year overall.”
Part of the Raiders success this year was due to outstanding performances from several younger players on the roster, who will be returning for another go next year.
Ford said the key will be keeping the team focused on the future, and not being content with one season’s performances.
“One thing they have to make sure of is not to make this the pinnacle of their high school career,” Ford said. “Some of them have one more year of school left where they will have to work even harder because the level of competition goes up. They did some really good things this year but there is still room for improvement. They have to stay hungry.”
The level of competition Ford spoke of is, of course, four games in the District and a presumably tougher schedule. Both Corbin (9-1) and Casey County (8-1) had winning records this season, and Bell County (3-7) and Jackson County (2-8) also qualified for the playoffs.
To make the return to the District wasn’t a tough decision, but there is work to be done to ensure the Raiders don’t fall behind like they have in the past.
“It’s the right time to do it,” Ford said. “I think the kids deserve the opportunity to try and do that and advance to the playoffs.”
“The level of competition is going to step up, but I think a good offseason and getting more kids out if we do those things we could compete with the likes of Corbin, Bell and Casey.”
The preparation for next season will soon begin.
“We are going to start working in the next couple of weeks,” Ford said. “I have already talked to a few kids who want to come out, which will help us out.”
“We are going to lift 4 days a week and work on technique for offense and defense a couple days a week. We plan to really hit it hard”.
“We didn’t really get an offseason with the kids last year and we couldn’t install a lot of what we want on offense and defense. So we will be working to get those in place. That will be important and hopefully we will hit the ground running.”
Ford is also looking toward the youth football programs in McCreary, and has plans to bring everything together so kids making the transition from elementary to middle school and eventually to high school have the basic building blocks already in place.
”We want to start working to get the numbers up in the lower grades and getting technically better, that’s where it begins,” he said.
“If we get 15-20 kids from a class who know a lot of the fundamentals, you can teach some more advanced skills at the higher levels.”
“We plan on having several youth camps this year for different positions and grade levels to teach them the fundamentals so they can make those transitions easier. We also plan to have coaches clinics to help the youth coaches develop their programs in line of what we are doing here. It all can come together and I see that it is on the rise.”
Looking toward next season, Ford hopes the support the Raiders received this season will continue both on and off the field.
“It’s about keeping the excitement rolling,” he said. “Our last game was our highest attended game, which is a good sign. It built up as the season went along. And the fans really helped keep these kids motivated.”
“Both the coaches and the players really appreciate the administration and community for the support. Now we have to keep it going.”