PDT Sports Contributor
LLOYD, Ky. – Three years ago, Chris Mullins was the head coach of a Greenup County Musketeer football team that finished the 2011 season as a beaten up and broken down 15-man football roster.
However, Mullins did not let his inaugural season at the helm of the Musketeers get the best of him. Instead, he rose above two winless seasons in 2011 and 2012 by scouring the Greenup County High School hallways in an effort to get more players to come out for the Musketeer football program that he cared for so dearly.
The Greenup County alum’s patience paid off in 2013 as the Musketeers picked up their first victory in nearly three seasons in a 22-20 victory over Fleming County on September 6th and followed that performance up with a 60-35 drubbing of West Carter on September 20th to push their record to a 2-3 mark after the first five weeks of the KHSAA football season.
However, as with the prior two years, injuries caught up to Greenup County, and the loss of star running back Ryan Byrd to a torn ACL in a 54-0 loss against Johnson Central tempered some of the momentum that the Musketeers had gained throughout the season. Greenup County, however, finally had something to build upon.
As the 2014 football season begins, there are high expectations once again in Lloyd. Those expectations consist of two goals: a playoff berth, which has not been obtained by the Musketeers since 2010; and a winning season, which has been notably absent from the Greenup County record books since 2002 – a dozen years ago.
Additionally, Greenup County has won seven games or more in a season just four times since its KHSAA Class 4A At-Large Championship in 1977 (the highest classification in the state at that time).
Mullins, however, isn’t backing down from the expectations that have been set for his football team. In fact, he expects the Musketeers to come out with a vengeance this season.
“We have much higher expectations,” Mullins said. “(Last year), we felt like we kind of turned the corner. We had a chance to win seven games last season and ended up losing five games by nine points or less, all of which came down to the final quarter, but we showed a lot of heart and competitiveness in all of those games.”
Byrd will be the main cog in a Greenup County offense that did just about whatever it wanted to do on the ground last season. Byrd was one of the big stories last season when the 5-foot-10-inch, 175-pound junior came out of nowhere to rush for 169 yards and three touchdowns in the opening contest against Lewis County, where he assumed a starting tailback slot for good. Byrd then made good on the promotion by rushing for over 1,000 yards in just six games, including a 447-yard, four touchdown performance in the West Carter victory.
“We’re very excited (for Byrd),” Mullins said. “His rehab was kind of like Adrian Peterson’s. He was back really quickly, within about five months or so. He’s not 100 percent as far as his own speed and his quickness, but he’s cleared to go and gets all of the first-team repetitions on offense. He just has phenomenal field vision, and we’ll take Ryan Byrd at 80 or 85 percent if that’s where he’s at right now.”
Joining him in the backfield will be Matt Lawson, who adds four years of experience to the Greenup County backfield, and Jacob Wright, who is a scatback-type runner that can give Byrd or Lawson a blow if need be.
The quarterback position also features an experienced starter in Jared Hunt, who showed growth and promise throughout the season as Hunt and returning receiver Rusty Wells connected on many deep balls throughout the year.
“They’ve developed a very good rapport with each other,” Mullins said. “Jared has done a phenomenal job. He knows every route, he knows his progressions, and he knows pre-snap reads on coverages. Basically, he’s an extension of me out there, which is very comforting to know.”
Greenup County’s biggest losses from last year came on the offensive and defensive lines, as five of the eight seniors that graduated from the 2013 squad played in the trenches.
At the same time, Mullins does not expect much of a drop-off since most of the starting linemen this season had to replace the seniors in spots due to various injuries.
“We have more depth at the skill positions than we do on the lines, but we had a lot of injuries, so most of our linemen have played as freshmen and have good experience playing in a varsity contest, and they already know the offense and the speed of the game,” Mullins said.
The back seven, however, is expected to be a strength this season, as all starters will return in the secondary, including Lawson, who could move to linebacker.
Due to the recent realignment changes that were announced for the 2015-2018 seasons, the Musketeers will actually have less problems to deal with as Fort Thomas Highlands and Covington Catholic (two potential playoff opponents) will move to 5A next season. However, Mullins is eager to prove that the Greenup County football program has arrived this season.
“We really want to make our presence known,” Mullins said. “We want people to start saying, ‘Hey, that program’s definitely going in the right direction. They’re not going away.’”