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Breathitt Football – A Tradition Like No Other

JACKSON – November 28, 2019 – Casey Allen – BSN

It is Thanksgiving Day, and I’m sure most of you and your family have Thanksgiving traditions. Many of you may gather with your family to feast on turkey and dressing, or maybe you have family competitions such as a backyard football game known as the “Turkey Bowl.” Nonetheless, traditions are something we are all familiar with. That said, there is one tradition that is oh so special to all Breathitt Countians – Breathitt County Football.

Breathitt Football began 46 years ago in the year of 1973. Through the 46 years of the program’s existence, Breathitt County has become accustomed to winning. Winning District Championships, Regional Championships, and making the trip to the Semi-State and State Finals. The Bobcats have been to the State Finals four times, bringing three Class AA state titles back to Jackson in 1995, 1996, and 2002.

The program has also became a pipeline for collegiate athletes. Eastern Kentucky has not ever seen many of its athletes get recruited or have the opportunity for College careers. Breathitt Football was a pioneer for Eastern Kentucky recruiting. Many athletes have graduated from Breathitt High and played college football. A tradition in its own right.

When you ask the Breathitt Faithful what Bobcat Football means to them you usually get the same answer . . . Breathitt Football is everything to this Community and County, and a source of unity and pride. Fridays in the fall usually mean gathering at the Mike Holcomb Athletic Complex and cheering on the Bobcats. Monday through Thursday often consists of conversations about who the Bobcats are going to play and predicting the final score. Off-season tradition involves discussing what the Bobcats have coming back, and what new faces the Breathitt Faithful will see move up from the Middle School.

To any former Breathitt Bobcat, the Mike Holcomb Athletic Complex is a sacred place. The tradition of Breathitt Football means so much to all of us. It has opened doors for so many of us. When I began thinking about what Breathitt Football meant to me, I immediately thought about the guys I played with, looked up to, and idolized as a young kid. I thought about the memories I made while wearing the Blue and White, and the lasting friendships I have made. Even today, as I have been given the prestigious opportunity to be on Coach Kyle Moore’s coaching staff, former Jackson mayor, Mike Miller will embrace me with a hug, and share pleasantries. Breathitt Football is a tradition like no other. The love affair between the community and it’s team is truly special, I am beyond blessed to have played and now coach here.

Speaking of coaching here, I began to think about what Breathitt Football meant to others who have played here. Then I began to think about all the former players who have went on to become coaches of the game and give back to the sport that had such a huge impact on them. Players like Coach Kyle Moore, Kenneth “Shorty” Combs, Brad Allen, Rob Hounshell, and Brendon Miller came to mind. All great in their own right, all leaving a lasting impression on the Breathitt Program as players, and all have went on to coach and contribute to the program and continue to have an impact. So I picked up my phone, and texted each of these guys and asked them what the Tradition of Breathitt Football meant to them.

Lets start with my brother, Coach Brad Allen. Brad was a 2nd -Team All-State in the Blue during his Bobcat career from 1998-2000. Brad then went on to play at Pikeville College (UPike) where he has now been inducted into the UPIKE Athletic Hall of Fame not once, but twice, as both an individual and a team member. Brad has since went on to be a head coach at East Ridge High School, before coaching in two state championships winning one as an assistant. Brad currently serves as the Offensive Line coach and Run Game coordinator for Pikeville Independent who are playing in the semi-finals this Friday as well. “To me, Breathitt Football is a major factor in where I am today. The coaches I played for were my father figures. My teammates were my brothers and Debbie Holcomb was our second mother. It was truly a family atmosphere that I will always cherish. The importance of those things never crossed my mind while playing, but I am so thankful I experienced what it’s like to be a Bobcat. I’ve played college football and coached in tow state championships, but there’s something special about being on the River Bank in Jackson on a Friday Night.”

Next, we have Rob Hounshell. Rob played for the Bobcats from 1992-1995 and was a huge part of the 1995 State Title team and has since taken a role coaching at the elementary level with the NorthFork Lumberjacks. Rob is a huge reason that the Bobcat feeder program has made a comeback. The Lumberjacks have dominated their opposition for the past several years, and those same Lumberjacks are starting to trickle into the High school program. Rob also serves as the color commentator for BSN’s weekly broadcast of the Bobcats. When asked what Breathitt Football meant to him, he had this to say. “Driving through the BHS parking lot mid-day, two days before the 2019 semi-finals I am filled with pride as I see a field full of Bobcat Blue practice jerseys. As a state champion alumnus, I know the feelings and anxiousness of getting to play on Thanksgiving weekend. There is a lasting brotherhood that has formed on that field and is coming full circle over the next few days to come. That is exactly what Breathitt Football means to me. The excitement and fan fare cannot be matched anywhere and the brotherhood of a group of boys that become one on Friday Nights where practices and games become stories that will be told over and over for the rest of their lives.”

Speaking of BSN’s weekly Breathitt broadcasts, BSN’s Owner and renowned sports photographer, Brendon D. Miller played for Breathitt High from 1984-1987 and was an All-State Kicker and Punter. Possibly the best combo punter/kicker in the program’s history, Brendon went on to play at Union College where he led the Nation in Punting his Senior year and was named NAIA First-Team All-American as a punter in 1991 and is the only player to ever be named First-Team All-Mid-South Football Conference on both offense and defense as punter and kicker. In 2018, Brendon was inducted into the Union College Athletic Hall of Fame for his excellence on the field, and has accomplished much off the field has he has practiced law in Jackson for over 20 years and is now in his fourth term as Breathitt County Attorney.

I asked Brendon what Breathitt Football meant to him and this is what he had to say. “For me Breathitt Football can be summed up in one word….PRIDE. From the day I walked into the Den as a freshman, till the last Friday Night I walked off the field my senior season, Coach Holcomb always drilled into my teammates and I, the concept of pride. That is not sinful pride, but for us to take and have pride in everything we did, our play, our assignments, our responsibilities, and as a heart of the team as a whole. I have carried that with me to this day, through college, law school, and professionally in Law and now with BSN. Coach graciously allowed me to contribute as a volunteer assistant from the time I returned from Law School in 1996 through the 2004 season when I stopped as Evan was born. I was on the sideline during much of our school record 42 consecutive wins and have 2 state championship rings on my dresser. From those highs, to the lows of our program being dismantled during state management of the school system earlier this decade, playing Thanksgiving football for the first time since 2008, means that the pride is back in full force, for the players and our beleaguered community. I say this as an elected official in our community, a former Bobcat, a program supporter, a parent of a player, and a media member. I am so PROUD of Coach Kyle Moore, this coaching staff, and these fine young men for bringing that PRIDE back to our Program and our County!”

There may be no one who has exemplified Bobcat Pride more than Kenneth Shorty Combs over the years. Shorty wore the blue and white from 1992-1995, and played a massive role on the ’95 state championship team. After high school, Shorty attended Eastern Kentucky University and as a defensive end for the Colonels was an absolute beast on the field. If you see Coach Combs, ask him about the time he sacked Tony Romo! Shorty also earned a state championship as an assistant coach in 2002 with the Bobcats. Combs has since helped rejuvenate the feeder program coach both the Lumberjacks and Middle School Bobcats. As one of my heroes I had to ask him what Breathitt Football meant to him. Here is what he said, “Football is much more than a game in Breathitt County. Some say it’s life or death for kids. It’s whether they graduate from high school, get a job, and can raise a family. It is learning teamwork skills that it takes to succeed in the real world. It teaches us how to win, but more importantly how to lose. For anyone who has played, high school football, they value the lessons they received from the game. I am sure I speak for thousands of men when I say, I would not be where I am without Breathitt Bobcat Football. Good luck against the Jumpers!!!!”

Shorty often says games are not won on Fridays, but rather in the preparation on Monday through Thursday. Which brings me to Coach Kyle Moore. Coach Moore, who played at Breathitt from 1995-1998 led the Bobcats to a state championship in 1996 his sophomore campaign. I can remember as a young boy hearing people doubt him, and saying he wasn’t ready. If you ever get a chance to talk with Coach Moore, ask him about how his father pushed him to be successful, and you will understand why doubting him was and is a mistake. He also took the Bobcats to the semi-finals his senior year, losing to Danville by one point on the River Bank. Danville would go on to win the State title that season. Kyle then went on to star at Morehead State. They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and I tried my best to be Kyle Moore growing up playing football at the playground. Kyle is now the leader and face of the program. So when thinking about Breathitt Football tradition, it was a no brainer to ask the leader of the program, and one of the best to ever put the blue and white on. Here are Coach Moore’s thoughts, “Our Football program is one of the things that makes me proud to be from Breathitt County. When you tell people where you are from, they usually say…. Breathitt County? You guys have a good football program.” Coach Moore went on to say, “Our program/tradition emojifies what it is to be a Breathitt Countian. We have had success by embracing our culture of being a tough and hardworking people. That’s how our tradition has been forged in my opinion. Many times, other teams have had bigger, faster, stronger players but the toughness in Breathitt County and the will to do whatever it takes to get the job done is what has given us an edge.”

Danny Back was Breathitt’s first ever First-Team All State in the 70’s, and also starred at Moreheas State. Danny follows the games now through BSN’s telecasts. Danny has this to say about the program and this year’s team, “Breathitt footballers are the toughest head splitting gang of young men in the mountains. It is a honor to be in the alumni of so many great ones and all those that sacrificed to raise the bar to be the best! We are known throughout the state to be tough and winners of three championships!! We are on our way to number four! This is a very talented Team. Dig down deep and show the state your heart your toughness and that talent. It means a lot to a bunch of old goats to watch the dynasty re- emerge that started the program at the Jackson armory’s 80 yard field lol!”

It is safe to say that Breathitt Football means a lot to a lot of people. The tradition that is Breathitt Football has touched the lives of so many. It doesn’t matter if you played together, or 10 years apart…. Once a Bobcat, always a Bobcat, and we are all family.

When I think of Breathitt Football, that’s what comes to mind, Family. Its Mayor Mike giving me a hug, its Jamon Halvaskz firing the Thunder Across the Mountains, its being able to tell Debbie Holcomb we love her, it’s sitting in the coaches office talking about the good ole days. Even more important than that, Breathitt Football is a tradition of producing quality young men, who go on to be great Husbands and Fathers. Just look at the few people in this article for example…. Brad Allen has three kids and a wife, Kenneth Combs has three sons (who will be Bobcats) and a wife, Brendon Miller has two sons (one a current one one a future Bobcat) and a wife, Rob Houndshell is happily married and has helped raise several children, Kyle Moore has two beautiful daughters and a wife, and I have three children and a wife. All of these men are great husbands and fathers. You see them at dance recitals, football practices, elementary ball games, cheerleading competitions, the list goes on and on. The foundation of hard work and dedication was learned while playing at Breathitt and is part of what makes these gentlemen such a great husbands and dads. Breathitt Football teaches you how to be a man, both on and off the field. Coaches will be judged by wins and losses, but the true measure of success, lies in the quality of men you help develop. What a tradition to be a part of!!!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in Bobcat Nation!!! Live and Love this Tradition, it truly is like no other!!!

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