HEBRON ESTATES - It wasn’t the worst of times for the North Bullitt football program in 2009, but it could have been a better.
The expectations were not high for this group and head coach Brett Newton said when the season began that he just wanted to see improvement each week for him to be a happy camper. Midway through the season the coach was happy, but then things began to stagnate.
North Bullitt stood 2-2 at one point, but then the improvement curve began to decline. There were few bright spots down the stretch as the Eagles lost seven straight games including games to their two county rivals. The season came to an end in a 24-8 loss to Western in the first-round of the Class 4-A play-offs.
Over the two previous seasons, North Bullitt had reached the third round of play-offs. Each of those teams graduated roughly 20 seniors each time. Those numbers will eventually catch up with a Class 4-A program. That was the case this fall for the Eagles.
In the end, the team had just six seniors and only four of those players were seeing serious playing time.
The hope now is that this past season was just one of rebuilding and that in looking back in a few seasons that this campaign will be remembered as one that laid a solid foundation for future successes.
Because of the huge senior classes the past two seasons, there was very little varsity playing time available for the players on this year’s team.
“We thought that this group of kids did a good job at the junior-varsity level last year,” veteran North Bullitt head coach Brett Newton said recently. “This year they started out as a good JV team. There were only a few with varsity experience. You could tell it was the first time playing on Friday for a lot of them.”
Still, in three of the first four games the Eagles gave up less than 13 points on defense. Even in a 28-19 loss to Woodford County, the green and gold were competitive against a good team.
“After Woodford County we felt we had turned the corner,” Newton said. “Then, from that point forward, we didn’t improve a lot.”
Newton and his coaching staff installed a completely new offense this season. They dumped the primarily rushing offense for a spread look and went without a huddle, trying to speed up the tempo of games. It worked in stretches early, but then became a problem when opposing defenses figured out that junior quarterback Dalton Hadley was going to throw it when he was behind center and that when senior Travis Ridley was under center, that the Eagles were going to run it.
Hadley struggled with his passing to the point that late in the season the Eagles put Ridley in a shotgun formation and let him run the ball. Ridley was the team’s best athlete and he was just not getting the ball often enough when he played wide receiver. Ridley gave Bullitt Central and Western fits with his running, but it wasn’t enough to inspire the offense to greater heights.
“I think through the fourth or fifth game we were building things,” Newton said. “We got what we expected. Then after that point we our struggles and the offense struggled. At the end of the year we got a little away from it - at least the passing aspect.
“We saw early on that we weren’t getting the ball in his hands enough,” the coach added. “He makes things happen. With hit at quarterback it solved some things. We felt he gave us the best chance to win.”
North Bullitt’s defense allowed 270 points in 11 games, but that was a touchdown less than Bullitt East allowed and that team won twice as many games. The defense got a passing grade most of the season.
“Our defense played well at times and we put them in some bad situations,” Newton said. “We made a lot of turnovers on our end of the field and we had a lot of three and outs. From that perspective the defense played pretty well.”
The best news is that the Eagles will return nine starters on defense next season along with seven on offense.
Because so many of the younger players were filling key roles on Friday nights, the North Bullitt junior-varsity team was not very strong. They finished with less than a .500 record.
The better team was the youngest as the North Bullitt freshmen posted a 6-3 mark. That group had 31 players and Newton feels that a good number of those players will continue on and fill vital roles in the program over the coming years.
“The good news after the year is part where we got in the weight room and we’ve already had over 70 kids in the three classes lifting. Both the coaching staff and the players will be more focused in the off-season.”
With that large group ready to be back and the incoming freshmen, Newton is expecting over 100 players in he program next season. The coach feels that most of the 21 juniors in the program this fall will be playing next season along with 17 or 18 sophomores and 31 freshmen.
Newton is not ready to scrap the new offense at this point, but the quarterbacking job is up for grabs.
“Even when we threw it well, it was still 50-50,” Newton pointed out. “We found some things we liked and some things we didn’t like. We feel we have the kids with the ability to do those things. We just need to find the right people to pull the trigger.”
Hadley will get a shot, but JV quarterback Jake Exton will also get a chance as will freshmen QB Patrick Egnor, although, he is more a running quarterback.
With so many returning players, Newton plans to conduct a full spring practice in March. That will include full contact.
“We have 70 kids who have experience and need to hit,” Newton said. “We know it will be an exciting few weeks.”
And the future looks brighter.
“It’s kind of like catching a cold in the middle of the winter,” Newton said. “You shut down and then comeback stronger.
“We had three good years and good players,” the coach added. “Now people will see that we will have a more experienced and disciplined team next year.”