Friday night’s annual Red/White Game for Scott County High School was all about ritual and tradition.
Everything about the annual intra-squad scrimmage is scripted to the minute, and with a purpose. From a walk-through of pre-game drills to the final snaps for freshmen, all aspects are designed to make the Cardinals better, a day or three years from now.
Part and parcel, then, along with the requisite water breaks, are moments of constructive criticism from venerable coach Jim McKee.
Funny thing this year, though: Even McKee admitted the teachable moments were turned down a notch or two.
“We are considerably farther along than we were this time a year ago,” McKee said. “I mean the facts are the facts. We looked really good.”
The coach is adamant about giving his players six weeks off during the summer. This year, Scott County started full-fledged practice six days later than was allowed.
That schedule paces SC for its traditional grind into late November and the playoffs, but it sometimes makes meet-the-team night, the exhibition game, or even the regular season opener susceptible to lack of crispness.
If this year’s Cards are behind schedule, it was tough to tell.
“I really think we’re ready,” senior halfback Bronson Brown said. “Offense is looking good. Defense is looking great. We’re being physical.”
When SC is ahead of the curve in August, it usually corresponds to the number of seniors on the roster.
Brown is one of 31 upperclassmen, a group that also includes second-year starting quarterback Cade McKee, fullback Philip Garner, and linemen Austin Taylor and Peyton Saunders.
The opening exhibition typically looks better to the naked eye when the Cards have an experienced signal-caller at the helm, such as Clay McKee in 2013 and 2014, and Josh Davis in 2016 and 2017
“We have some key pieces. Cade wasn’t very good this night a year ago,” McKee said of his youngest son. “He really wasn’t very good until the second week of October, but he’s light years better than he was this time last year, and he’s got great command.”
Brown is back after rushing for more than 1,300 yards a year ago. He could emerge as both the home run threat and the workhorse, although Garner’s 60-yard scoring jaunt on the third play from scrimmage Friday made him look the part, as well.
As seniors, they’ll be natural leaders in a group that includes supremely talented but younger Campton Martin, Montago Jones and Jeremy Hamilton.
“Bronson was really good last year because God gave him ability,” McKee said. “He’s at a whole another level this year because he’s doing what he’s told.”
McKee cautioned that the group will need to remain unselfish with so many top dogs in the mix, but he doesn’t anticipate any problems.
“The other thing is, they’re for the most part tremendous kids, tremendous character kids from good families,” the coach said. “Philip Garner, the kid has never made a B in school, scored 29 on his ACT.”
Defense was an unknown quantity going into the team’s first public appearance, with only four starters back from last year’s unit. Rylan Reed, Sam Daniel, Tasian Stakelin and Colton Combs all played a huge role in Scott County’s trip to the Class 6A finals, and an encore is sorely needed if they’re to make a run in their inaugural 5A voyage.
“We kind of just wanted to see what we have, and what we need to fix,” Reed, a senior inside linebacker, said. “Especially on defense, we’ve got a lot of new guys coming in this year. We have four players that played varsity for us last year, so it’s going to be new for us to play with that group of guys. We have guys stepping up to fill some big shoes.”
Defensive coordinator Monty McIntyre was encouraged by the effort against SC’s experienced offense.
“We’ve got to be hard on them, and we’ve got to be patient,” McIntrye said. “What I like about them is they’re aggressive, and they’re not scared to hit. We can teach all the other stuff.”
On-the-job training is part of any Scott County defense. What the Cards see Monday through Thursday makes Friday nights look remarkably slower.
“Once you play our offense, other offenses seem easy,” McIntyre said.
While new county rival Great Crossing has been vocal about its air raid attack, similar to the spread option that has taken hold in high school and college football, Scott County will stick with the tried-and-true Wing-T.
McKee said he’s weary of talking and reading about the differences in his old-school alignment, a run-oriented approach heavy with motion and misdirection.
“The Wing-T is an unbelievable offense. We scored 778 points in one season. We scored 702 in another season. There was one point in 2017 where we scored over 30 straight drives,” McKee said. “I love what we do on offense. It’s unselfish. It’s team first. We personally are going to show some people just how good the Wing-T is this year.”
Numbers are not a concern. Even with the opening of a school and program across town, SC is at 104 total players thanks to senior and sophomore classes of 30 and up. McKee said he still wants to drum up more ninth-graders and get the current crop of 25 to that number, also.
“We are four full weeks in, and nobody’s quit the team,” he said.
The county exhibition schedule continues Friday with a pair of contests.
Great Crossing, whose starters played Madison Southern to a 12-6 first half on Friday, travels to Bourbon County, while SC hosts Louisville Central.
“They’re going to be fast and well-coached and really good,” McKee said of Central. “That’s an awesome program and a really awesome place, so we look forward to that.”
Energy is high for what is the hottest and often least appreciated part of the schedule.
“I thought we had a great turnout, a lot of help from the parents. I love football, and I especially love this group of kids, just because I’ve known them for so long,” McKee said. “So I think this is going to be a special year. It’s going to be a fun year. That doesn’t men everything is going to be perfect. We’re going to take some bumps and bruises along the way, and we might even lose some games, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.