By Chris Parsons / Staff Writer
The 2012 football season is not one that will go down in the history books for the Lynn Camp Wildcats just yet, but it may eventually be considered as the year the program turned the corner in an effort to return to relevancy.
First-year head coach Phil Russell led the team to a 3-8 season and a playoff appearance before falling in the first round to Harlan.
What's more important is that the Wildcats returned to the win column after a nearly two-year absence, dropping 13 straight decisions which included going 0-11 in 2010.
Russell said he felt like the season could have been better if not for the grueling schedule, but he said he was happy with the effort his team gave all year long.
“I was tickled to death that we were able to win a few games, especially our season opener and my first game as a head coach,” Russell said. “These kids came out and did what I asked them to do and that's all you can ask for.
“I do think had it not been for the South Laurel's, Madison Southern's and Whitley County on our schedule things may have been a little different in the end,” he added. “I'm all for playing a solid a schedule, but when you're as small as we are you just can't come out every week and get your kids beat up.”
The Wildcats started the season with a 40-14 win over East Ridge as things looked to be on the up swing for Russell and company. Back-to-back losses to South Laurel and Madison Southern sent the Wildcats to 1-2 on the season as they looked to recover against Pineville.
A solid defensive effort, along with a few trick plays improved the Wildcats to 2-2 on the season, but the momentum was stalled the next two weeks with losses to Harlan and Whitley County.
Once again though, Russell was able to rally the troops and pick up a hard-fought win over Berea (28-26) at home, keeping the Wildcats hopes for a home playoff game live for the time being. As was the theme for the season, Lynn Camp just couldn't keep the momentum going forward, dropping the final three games of the regular season to Campbellsville, Williamsburg and Middlesboro.
The good news for the Wildcats is that Russell's team was a young one this season, which means he will have a good nucleus of talent returning next season, including quarterback Aaron Mills and leading rusher Tommy Hatfield.
“The best part about this whole season is the fact that our kids got some experience and really took some lumps, which I know will help prepare them for next season,” Russell said “We have the majority of our skill players back in Aaron Mills, Tommy Hatfield and Jordan Steele, while we also have some young kids who will be able to step up as well.”
When all is said and done this season, despite the wins and losses, Russell said the thing that stood out most to him was not what his team did on the football field. He said in the classroom is where he is most proud of this year's team.
“We carried a team grade point average of 3.3 this season and I couldn't be more proud of these kids,” he said. “I have stressed discipline and academics from day one to the kids and they have really bought in to that.
“I want them to know that if you are successful in the classroom, you are going to be smarter on the field, which will lead to good football,” he added. “Hopefully we can continue good academics next season and if we do, I know we'll get better at football.”