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NKY High School Football Spotlight: Holmes

It was not a pretty season a year ago for the Holmes Bulldogs on the football season.

After beating Holy Cross in the season opener, they were only able to muster one other win the entire year. That doesn’t discourage head coach Ben Nevels, though, or his program. Nevels is determined to build Holmes football with quality people and is willing to sacrifice wins in order to assemble his team with characters he can believe in.

“Last year we were taking three steps forward and two back, but we knew where we were and we made some conscious decisions. We could cut some corners and win a few more ball games or we can stay the course and do things the right way and it’s going to take us a little while and that was the route we decided to go," said Nevels. "What was done last year, we’re looking forward to this year and we think it’s going to pay off for us.

“Last year, we had some kids that were in their first or second year of ever playing football, but when we started off with this, we decided that we wanted good kids. We didn’t care if they could play or not. We just wanted good kids because we can mold them and teach them, so a lot of the mental mistakes we had last year was part of that. When you step back and look at the big picture, you can see the silver lining that we’re going to grow from this. Just like a little kid, you’ve got to crawl before you can walk.”

He has already seen an improvement from his players this summer in terms of their familiarity with the system which translates into them playing with more confidence.

“This year with 7-on-7 (drills), we’re so much farther along than we were last year. I’ve never put much stock in 7-on-7, but what we’re able to do now compared to last year, we’ve come a long way. That goes a long way towards kids playing with more confidence and having a better understanding of expectations.”

Like most coaches, Nevels looks for a helping hand from his senior class on the roster. The Bulldogs were a young team last year that made crucial mental mistakes that led to losing games, but the experience they gained in the process has been vital in elevating their football ability. 

“This group of seniors is the one I can look back to when they were freshmen and I remember looking at them in the hallways and the way they carried themselves with their demeanor and the way they performed in the classroom and thinking those kids get it.  That is the class that I think could make some noise and now they’re seniors.”

Desean Brumsfield is one of those seniors who enters into this year as a three-year starter at quarterback, where he brings back his athleticism and his calling-card deep pass.

“He’s playing with a high level of confidence and all the other opposing coaches are highly complimentary of him. He sees the field well. He’s starting now to grasp what we’re talking about as far as reads and if he does make a bad throw or misses something, he comes back and tells us the mistake he made. He is really stepping up as far as being an offensive leader that you would want out of your quarterback,” Nevels said. 

“The deep ball is kind of his forte, which is kind of funny because he is not a big kid, but he will uncork it. I have to remind him every now and again of what the easier throw is: the 60-yard bomb or the guy right in front of you five yards away? He likes to let it loose and he knows that he has a couple of guys on the edge that can run downfield and make plays for us, so I can’t fault him for that.”

Protecting Brumsfield is a patchwork offensive line with a variety of body types and playing techniques that will put the onus on the coaching staff to form and make playcalls that best suit the starters in the trenches.

“As long as I have been here, the offensive line has always been kind of hit and miss. We have never had that big overpowering offensive line so we’re doing some things to compensate for that. This year, we’re seeing a group of eight to ten kids that we have to choose from. We have a kid, Alex Vancini that is going to lead us, who is a really great kid, good student, just an all-around good person. When you have people like that up front leading the way, it’s kind of hard not to be successful.” 

While many schools were forced to reshuffle what district they’re in, Holmes stayed put in Class 4A along with nearby Scott, but also with further out schools like Harrison County, Mason County and Bourbon County, which is a large geographic footprint for a district. While it means that the Bulldogs will rack up some more mileage to travel to these schools, for Coach Nevels it gives his team a chance to see areas of the state that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

“I like the opportunity of getting our kids out of the area. I’ll never forget the first time we went on a trip in 2008 down to Johnson Central. That was the first time our kids had ever seen a cow. I thought they were joking, but they weren’t. It just kind of broadens their horizons towards helping them grow as people.”

Another challenge a team like Holmes has to deal with is limited numbers of players which means some kids will have to play regularly on both sides of the ball.  Conditioning will be key to keeping those specific players fresh.

“Every coach would love to have the luxury of 11 on offense and 11 on defense like some teams do, but we’re not there right now. We will get their eventually, but we have to work with what we have. Come third quarter and we’re playing maybe six guys both ways, we’ve got to be able to still have reserves in the tank to keep pushing through. One good thing about our set-up this year is that we might be playing teams that have 70 or 80 guys to our 30 or 40, but the majority of the teams we’re playing this year have that similar amount so we will be fighting the same fight.”

Senior Andrew Arnold is one of those guys who play both ways. As a basketball player, Arnold exhibits a mix of power and a high motor. On the gridiron, it’s no different.

“He has an opportunity to be a really special football player. He kind of came on last year. What a lot of people don’t realize is that he never really had a chance to focus on football. He’s always been mixed between football and basketball,” said Nevels. 

To some, it may seem presumptuous for the Bulldogs to talk about winning championships after such a downtrodden year a season ago, but that has not stopped Nevels or his staff from instilling that kind of belief in their team.

“If you don’t set your goal high, you’re never going to reach it. We’ve been talking about getting to a district title. Our last one was 2010. We always speaking in terms of hosting a playoff game. The more they hear that and start believing in themselves, the better off we’re going to be.”

Story by Bryan Burke, associate editor/Photo: RCN file