2021 was an anomaly for Russell County Football. The Lakers, perennially competitive with a winning tradition that stretches back decades, stumbled to a two-win season.
New year, new coach, new expectations
Plenty has changed since last year’s first round playoff exit, a shutout at the hands of Allen County-Scottsville. Lucas Ford is in as the new head coach. A bevy of talented young players are primed to step into varsity roles.
There are still question marks, but the paltry win-loss record from the previous season feels like a distant memory. Ford says that establishing good habits and focusing on the task ahead will ensure that last season’s shortfalls play no part in this year’s results.
“It’s just about coming to work every day and concentrating on getting better,” Ford says of his team’s attitude heading into the new season. “Right now, we’re not where we want to be. We want to come in with a mindset every day that we’re going to get better and by the end of the season, hopefully we’re clicking on all cylinders and playing our best football.”
Consistent improvement is somewhat of an obsession for Ford. Even more than regular season wins, he wants to see his players grind it out day after day, slowly building to something bigger and better.
“I don’t have a certain record I want, nine wins, 10 wins, nothing like that,” he says. “It’s just, get better every day. By the end of the year, we want to be in the playoffs and we want to win playoff games.”
Young but talented
According to Ford, players have responded well to his “big picture” approach to development.
“This is all about these kids, them staying out there and working through the hard times,” Ford says of his philosophy. “We want to show consistent improvement and then be playing our best football by the end of the year. One thing I love about this group is that they’re very resilient, and they never drop their heads if something bad happens—they keep playing.”
The early returns are promising. This team does not carry itself like a group coming off a 2-9 season. Players have bought into Ford’s approach to “consistent improvement” and the coach says some gains are already noticeable.
“We’re young, but we’re getting more physical every day, working hard every day,” Ford says of his team. “They’re a good bunch of kids and they show up and practice for as long as we need them to get what we need to get done.”
While this team is young, as Ford notes, and will rely on contributions from a range of underclassmen, the group features experience as well. There are nine seniors, including several that Ford mentions as part of the team’s strengths.
“We’ve got a good linebacker group led by three seniors—Ayden Hardwick, Antonio Noyola, and Larin Coffey,” Ford says. “Luke Popplewell, a sophomore, is our other guy in there, so that’s a good group.”
Other position groups Ford says he is excited about are the wide receiver corps—“They’re young, but it’s good, young talent,” he explains—as well as the offensive line.
“Our offensive line is looking great,” Ford states with pride. “They were a little bit young last year but they’ve got a bunch of returning guys and they’re rounding into shape.”
The other position Ford mentions is quarterback, saying, “We’re excited about our quarterback position.” He does not disclose his starter for Friday’s opener, but the presumed favorite is sophomore Owen Loy.
“Those are the positions that have stuck out so far,” Ford notes, adding that there is no one glaring weakness on his team, or position group that lags far behind the others.
“I can’t name one in particular,” he says. “We just come in with the mindset that we want to be a tough football team and we want to play for four quarters and get after people, and that’s what we’ve been concentrating on. We’re still not where we want to be, but we’re getting there.”
Who is Lucas Ford?
The Lakers’ new head coach might be new to Russell County, but he’s not new to the area, nor to coaching. The Somerset native competed against Russell County both as a player and a coach for Somerset High School, where he served two stints as an assistant. He was the head coach at McCreary Central for four years and for one season at Caverna.
“I’ve been between those three schools, kind of bounced around,” Ford says of his coaching career.
Ford’s familiarity with Russell County as an opponent—particularly the community’s support of the program—inspired him to apply for the position.
“I knew that this is a program that’s always had a lot of support,” Ford explains. “I’ve played here and coached against Russell County, and every time we came here it would be a packed house. I have not been disappointed by that, because I can tell that the community is behind us. I felt like it would be a good place to build a program, so when the job came open, I put in for it, and I was lucky enough to get it.”
Friday night opener at home
The Lakers will face their first test of the season tonight, lining up against rival Adair County at home. The Indians went 7-4 a year ago, and will look to spoil Russell’s plans for a statement-making first game.
“I think it’ll be a hard-fought battle,” Ford says. “They’re big and physical and they like to get after it. I know it’s a rivalry game, so I expect to see their best and hopefully we show up with our best effort too. We’re excited about it.”
The team’s schedule and roster are both available here, courtesy of KHSAA.org.
The County Line’s Russell County sports coverage is brought to you by Blake Aaron—Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance.