“Helmets only” is the KHSAA mandate from the first permitted high school football practice July 10 until the 22nd.
Due to the modern concerns about heat index and blocking and tackling fundamentals as they pertain to concussions, the state sanctioning body directs teams to build slowly for the first two weeks.
That was no problem for Great Crossing High School on Wednesday evening, because the fledgling program didn’t have access to its helmets. Nor were there any pads, orange cones, tackling dummies, stopwatches or other standard opening-day accoutrements in sight.
“I’ve had a lot of day ones, but this one’s a little bit different than all the rest,” said Rains, who now has been a head coach at eight different Kentucky high schools. “We’ve got a truckload of equipment, an entire semi, and nobody can find it. Supposedly a truck arrived [Tuesday] and things were dropped off, but we have no proof of that yet.”
No equipment, no problem, was the theme at Georgetown College’s Toyota Stadium, where Great Crossing held its initial workout because the new turf field it will share with Scott County isn’t complete.
The Warhawks had practice jerseys and plenty of cold water to offset the 91-degree conditions. They had footballs, which fans should expect to see in the air early and often.
Most importantly, Rains reminded roughly 60 prospects for the Class 5A expansion team, they had each other.
“We’ve got to work our butts off, because we’re behind,” Rains said. “We’ve never played together. We’ve got guys who are going to be playing Friday night football in front of 6,000 people that have never played Friday night football before.”
The wayward trailer full of necessities was just another speed bump for Great Crossing, which thought it hit the ground running when it hired noted program builder Jason Chappell in February.
Chappell guided the Warhawks through spring workouts before resigning in mid-May, citing difficulties selling his home in Corbin and relocating his young family.
Fortunately for GCHS, it already had Rains, owner of more than 200 career wins, on staff. He is no stranger to flip-this-house scenarios, having steered a Lexington Christian Academy program that had averaged one win per season in its history all the way to a state championship.
“It’s awesome having Coach Rains,” senior Trenton Allen said. “He gets stuff done, and no questions asked. It’s his way or no way, and I like his way. It works out.”
Freshmen represented roughly one-third of the roster for Rains’ opening session at Great Crossing. Allen, a middle linebacker, and wide receiver Bryce Hearn headline a senior class that the Warhawks hope will be double-digit strong.
Most are players who struggled to move up the depth chart at Scott County, which reached the Class 6A state semifinals every year in their career, including a berth in the title game last fall.
Great Crossing — in a scheduling quirk requested by Chappell before his departure — will debut Aug, 23 against none other than the established, cross-town powerhouse.
“It’s about time we had a rivalry,” Hearn said. “Everybody’s been hyping up the game.”
Hearn, who could be seen both throwing and catching the ball while Warhawk prospects loosened up before practice, looks forward to the team’s “air raid” style.
The pass-happy approach, which Rains said is a product of GCHS playing to its first-year strengths and away from weaknesses, is in stark contrast to SCHS’ tried-and-true Wing-T.
“It’s going to be 100 percent better, spread offense and throwing the ball more,” Hearn said.
Allen and Hearn each saw some varsity time in 2018, mostly after SC put a running clock on another over-matched opponent.
As understudies to the likes of Berk Watts and Glenn Covington at their positions, neither had much room for advancement.
“I’d say we will have probably around 10 or 12, maybe 15 [seniors]. That’s not a surprising number. Not everybody wanted to leave Scott County, but I’m glad we have some people who were willing,” Allen said. “It’s a new start. I finally get to show myself. I feel that’s going to be exciting. I think a lot of kids will turn out, knowing they’ll actually get a chance to be looked at.”
Since taking over the top job in the final week before summer vacation, Rains, who served as Scott County’s freshman coach after “retiring” from the varsity ranks at Paul Laurence Dunbar in 2015, scaled back some of Chappell’s elaborate summer plans.
He withdrew Great Crossing from several 7-on-7 engagements, staging skills camps at Georgetown Middle School instead.
It foreshadowed his Wednesday message, which was the need for the Warhawks to focus on themselves rather than opponents, wins and losses, or obstacles real and imagined.
“We’ve got to take care of what we have right here before we can take off running around,” Rains said. “Not that we couldn’t do it, but we can get more accomplished here at our own place against ourselves than we can trying to win some little trophy.”
That said, in his first official pep talk to the new team, Rains declared that his staff will prepare Great Crossing to play “championship football.”
He added that the Warhawks’ biggest enemy is not Scott County, or North Bullitt, or any of the other 10 teams on the inaugural schedule.
“It’s time. We have ‘x’ number of days between now and the first game to get ready, so we can’t waste it,” Rains told his troops. “You can’t say, ‘I didn’t have a good practice on Wednesday, so I’m going to make it up next week.’ You can’t make it up. No matter how hard you try, that time’s time gone. If you’re not here, that time’s gone.”
The loss of one coach and a missing truckload of goodies might discourage some players into a waste of that precious time on worry. Hearn, for one, simply shrugged it off.
“I feel like it all happened for a reason and we’ll be all right,” he said.
When asked what will be the team’s trademark, aside from its desire to throw the ball, Hearn cited strong team unity.
“Our bond,” he said. “We’re a family. We all stick together.”
His classmate agreed.
“People probably will be surprised how together we are, and how well we are going to work as a team and not be clumsy or anything for the first time putting a team together,” Allen said. “It isn’t going to change anything. It’s going to be a perfect unit.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.