Dan Weber's Just Sayin': A Look at Beechwood's Recipe for Success
Dan Weber writes a sports column for The River City News. Contact him at email@example.com.
Noel Rash didn't take long to decompress last Friday from months of what is necessarily an all-encompassing football-coaching mode. His Beechwood Tigers had just edged Lexington Christian Friday evening at UK's Kroger Field, 23-21, giving Rash his seventh state title (in eight championship games) - and his first-ever perfect season.
But if you think Rash was out celebrating the Tigers' 15-0 record the rest of the weekend, forget it. He was back home in Northern Kentucky that night and "in my pajamas" and fast asleep "by 10 p.m.," he says. "You are so wired for so long . . . " And then, suddenly on maybe one play, it's over.
"You feel such a sense of the need to get it right for your players and I love that," Rash says, especially when they do.
This wasn't about him, he says, but about all those young men - and the Ft. Mitchell school's fans, alums, administrators, and assistant coaches and staff - who have been believing in this program since at least its first state championship - of a third-best-in-the-state 16 now - way back in 1984, 38 seasons ago.
As for that perfect season, "It literally means nothing to me," Rash says. So when his sophomore star lineman Xavier Campbell asked him how it felt, Noel asked him back whether this year's state championship felt any better than last year's, when the Tigers had two losses.
"He said it didn't," Noel says, because that's been the goal each - and every - year. Win it all. And so once again, Northern Kentucky has a state title. "It's great for our fan base and I love how it makes our players feel," but as for the coach, it's all about where his team ends up.
Of the last seven state football titles for Northern Kentucky since 2016, Beechwood has won five under Rash with CovCath the other two (2017, 2019).
And in a pair of matchups against an unbeaten Lexington Christian program that is, year after year, one of the state's best in terms of talent and coaching and schedule despite its 2A classification. At the end, once again, Beechwood was the team standing alone.
There are lots of reasons why. "I don't say it's any one thing," Rash says. "It's a multitude of things . . .
As for the way these two state title games turned out at the very end, with Beechwood winning this year on an end-game field goal and last year, on a blocked extra point and a missed field goal, Rash sees a pattern here against the LCA talent with maybe more college-bound players than Beechwood.
"Our kids really enjoy finishing people off," he says, "all of our teams have been physical but this team took it to another level," and in the end, that difference in physicality is the final payoff.
But so was this. Having "such a great kid" as Jake Conrad stepping up and hitting that game-winning 36-yard field goal in the final minutes. It made prophetic what Noel had said a week earlier when he did the same thing from the same distance to beat the halftime clock in the semifinals against Mayfield.
That would be one of those under-pressure experiences "that you can't duplicate in practice," Rash said then. You never know, it might come back when it matters even more.
As it did. So it's not a surprise that Rash, a former defensive end at Lloyd and safety at Thomas More who arrived at Beechwood in 1998 from an assistant coaching spot at Cincinnati powerhouse Moeller, is now 7-1 in state championship games. That's the second-best championship game record in Kentucky history (to Trinity's Bob Beatty who was 15-2) for coaches with more than five appearances in the title game.
"It's the community and administrative support," that makes it possible for Beechwood to perform like this, Rash says, "that consistency of excellence, a collective value system of wanting to be excellent. It's something we captured, you can feel it."
Despite its classification as a 2A school with an enrollment of just 468, the Beechwood-LCA official attendance of 7,679 was second-best of the six-class finals, behind only the 8,173 at the 6A finals between the largest Louisville schools - Male and St. Xavier.
*** TMU’s Mohs NAIA All-American: Senior outside hitter Emily Mohs, a senior from Cincinnati’s Seton High School, has been named an NAIA second-team All-American, adding to her honors as the AVCA Southeast Region Player of the Year and Mid-South Conference Player of the Year after finishing up her career as the all-time TMU kills leader with 1,657 in leading the Saints to a 26-6 record.
*** NKU looking for a new soccer coach: With the resignation of Stu Riddle as men’s soccer coach after five seasons and a 37-36-5 record, the Norse program will “commence a national search for its next men’s soccer coach,” says AD Ken Bothof. Northern’s history, facilities including the NKU Soccer Stadium as well as fan and alumni support should help the Norse here, Bothof says.
*** Kentucky’s 2023 recruiting class could be “best ever”: Premier High School Sports Podcast, in looking at the next two years of Kentucky basketball prospects, has some strong words for the quality of next season’s crop of recruits. “While the senior (2022) class is not elite, the 2023 class may be the best Kentucky has ever produced. Reed Sheppard (North Laurel), Kaleb Glenn (Male), and George Washington (Christian Academy Louisville) are all rated in the Top 100 nationally, with Sheppard (Kentucky) cracking the Top 20 in some rankings. Glenn (UofL) and Washington (Ohio State) are also elite players. The Class of 2023 also features Colin Porter (Ashland), Evan Ipsaro (Cov Cath), and now Jerome Morton (George Rogers Clark) after Morton reclassified from 2022 to 2023.” We might note how quickly that Ipsaro, the New Richmond, Ohio, product who now lives in Edgewood since last year, has gotten on the national radar.
*** How about a Sweet 16 preview in December in Louisville: To follow up on that 2022-2023 prospect outlook, the Premier people say you can catch six of Kentucky’s top eight teams – including No. 2 CovCath -- at the King of the Bluegrass Tournament at Louisville’s Fairdale High School Dec. 17-22. In addition to CovCath, Ashland (No. 3), Louisville Male and George Rogers Clark (tied for No. 4), Reed Shephard’s North Laurel (No. 6), and Paul Laurence Dunbar (No. 8), are the featured teams here. Worth the trip for sure.
*** There’s even a Reed Shepherd watch: Thanks to Kentucky Sports Radio, you UK fans can catch up with the Wildcat commit at all these venues throughout the season: Sheppard will be at, as mentioned, the King of the Bluegrass as well as the Holiday Tournament at Lexington Catholic the week after Christmas, with four other Top 10 matchups: including Jan. 8: No. 1 Ballard (Location and time are not currently listed on KHSAA website) and at No. 2 Covington Catholic (game may be moved to a larger venue). Don’t rule out NKU’s BB&T Arena for this one.