PREP FOOTBALL: Meade looks to grow with returners in 2020

Meade County’s Austin Oppel led the Green Wave’s rushing efforts in 2019 with 873 yards and 12 touchdowns. This came off playing just seven games because of an injury. Oppel is back and hoping to put up more strong rushing numbers this year.

A lot has changed since Meade County High School football’s 2019 season ended in a 42-30 loss to Central Hardin in the first round of the Class 6-A playoffs.

Not so much has changed with the team itself. The Green Wave have multiple quality players coming back this fall.

It’s the world around them that’s changed and made the future look somewhat uncertain as to what football will look like later this year.

Like every other program across the state and across the country, Meade County has had to adjust its offseason workout plans because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With no spring practice because of in-person academic and athletic cancellations, Coach Larry Mofield and his team have had to adapt to this temporary new normal and make safety a top priority.

“That was a big loss, I’d say, for everybody,” Mofield said. “Spring practice is something we’ve had for several years and it’s been a plus in high school football in the state of Kentucky, but obviously we needed to cancel it this year. It was the right decision based on everything that happened.”

Mofield, who’s coached the Green Wave since 2003, described spring practice as the best way to evaluate returning players and observe who can best step into a larger role. This routine offseason evaluation is just something else that’s had to be adjusted now.

At times like these, there still has to be some room for positive thinking. Mofield hopes that could be his players’ mental approach once they get the all clear to head back onto the field.

“Our kids were in the weight room just like everybody else’s kids were in there and grinding away for two-and-a-half, three months and they got a break. I’m hoping that when they come back, they’ll be hungry. They won’t be burned out,” Mofield said. “We’re hoping that maybe by being away from something they hopefully love that they’ll come back hungrier.”

In the meantime, the coaching staff has tried to emphasize the importance of trying to get some individual workouts in while they can’t all be together.

Some of the Green Wave players have made an effort to email or text Mofield and the other coaches to let them know what they’ve been doing to keep at it. This has ranged from just lifting at home to going for a run.

“They probably had to get creative,” Mofield said. “The good thing is, to keep yourself in shape, you don’t need a lot of equipment. Really, you just need the discipline to do it.”

It can be hard to have the discipline to stick to an individual routine like this, especially when there’s a global pandemic as a backdrop.

Prior to the shutdown, the team had seen large numbers of players in the weight room for workouts. Mofield hopes this commitment will continue for his players individually and when they can get resume workouts.

“We felt like it was going really good, then this thing kind of blindsided us. Our participation in the weight room was good, numbers wise, was good,” Mofield said. “I felt like we were making some gains in the weight room and that’s probably one of the more frustrating things, because you spend that time and it really takes a while to get that level of strength back. As long as they’re doing some things, I think they won’t lose all of it.”

It’s still hard to say what practices will look like when teams are allowed to meet again. Mofield wouldn’t be surprised if certain guidelines were put in place, such as limiting the number of players on the field at a given time.

Still, the gradual reopening of many states, including Kentucky, that recently has begun has him hopeful there is a way to get things going safely.

“I do think things are looking much better probably today, just seeing what’s going on around the country as far as opening back up,” Mofield said. “I would’ve thought a month ago, I don’t know. I would’ve been more pessimistic, but now I think I’m more optimistic.”

When the Green Wave players get back to work, the coaching staff will be looking to develop a plan and hopefully turn things around. Last year’s team went 4-7 with the aforementioned 42-30 loss to Central Hardin in the first round of Class 6-A playoffs bringing its season to a close.

Meade County heads into 2020 looking for its first winning record since 2014’s 11-3 team that lost to Louisville Trinity in the 6-A semifinals. The year before that, the Green Wave went 12-3 and was the 2013 6-A state runner-up.

“It’ll be kind of an evaluation period,” Mofield said. “I think that makes it a little tricky because you would’ve gotten a chance in spring practice to see some of that stuff and then now you’re gonna get a little bit later of a start on that. It’;; be evaluative and I think you start with conditioning and then you probably start installing stuff.”

There are many quality players Mofield has returning that don’t need much evaluation to understand what they can do for the Green Wave this year.

Among these is running back Austin Oppel. As a junior, Oppel led Meade County with 873 rushing yards and 12 of the team’s 27 rushing touchdowns. Oppel also had 157 receiving yards.

Oppel recorded these numbers while playing just seven games due to an injury Oct. 4 against North Hardin that kept him sidelined for part of the season. The junior was able to come back late and play one more game before the season ended.

“The impressive thing about him, he’s physical, he loves the game and last year, when he got injured in the North Hardin game I would’ve thought he would’ve been out the rest of the year,” Mofield said. “The next thing you know he’s wanting to get back on the field, so I think that says a lot about him.”

Fellow rising senior JJ Richardson also returns with high expectations. The wideout led the team with 200 receiving yards and one of the team’s two receiving touchdowns in 2019.

A member of the Green Wave secondary on defense, Richardson brought in five of the team’s eight interceptions last season.

“I thought he was starting to progress in the weight room, as far as developing some leadership,” Mofield said of Richardson.

JT Godsey comes back as a solid piece on both offense and defense. As a junior, Godsey rushed for 210 yards. Defensively, he picked up one of the team’s three fumble recoveries and two of its five sacks.

“JT Godsey’s a kid that played a lot for us as a fullback. He also played some outside linebacker,” Mofield said. “He’s got the physical tools and we need a kid like him to step up and run the football and take the pressure off (Austin Oppel), because if you hand it to Austin 25 times a game, you need somebody back there.”

Rising junior Kyle Parker returns as another piece that can play both offense and defense. Parker saw time at quarterback and threw a team-high 348 yards and one of the team’s two touchdown pass completions.

As a defensive back, Parker brought in an interception and 32 tackles, 22 solo and 10 assisted.

Meade County’s second returning quarterback is fellow rising junior Gavyn Heiner, who suffered a leg injury that cost him about three-quarters of the 2019 season.

“We don’t know what his status is going to be going into this year,” Mofield said. “Hopefully, he’s better, but you’ve got (Parker and Heiner) at the quarterback position.”

On defense, Bryant Rhoades looks to capitalize on a junior season in which he recorded 49 tackles with 34 solo and 15 assisted. Rhoades also recorded a sack and a fumble recovery.

“(Rhoades) really started coming into his own last year at inside linebacker. He’s a kid that’s really strong. He’s worked hard in the weight room, made himself into a good football player,” Mofield said. “I think he might be able to help us on offense too. I don’t know, but we’re probably gonna give him a look at fullback maybe, or tight end.”

Linemen to watch include Marshall Jackson, who Mofield said returns in 2020 measuring in at 6’6” and 240 pounds. Last season, the junior picked up 38 tackles, 21 solo and 17 assisted.

“Marshall’s got something you can’t teach,” Mofield said regarding his size. “He played well as a defensive end, played well as an O-lineman. He really can play anywhere on the offensive line. He can play center all the way out to tackle.”

There’s also Eli Ridgeway, who Mofield expects to be an important part of the Green Wave offensive line.

“Really I thought last year, week-in and week-out on the offensive line I felt like he always drew the toughest assignment to block,” Mofield said. “The thing I really like about Eli is he didn’t back down from it. He went in there. You can just watch film and film of him fighting his read end off against typically the best defensive linemen on the other team.”

Lineman Cole Knoop was recognized as a quality player who could step up on both sides of the ball.

“We’d like to keep our linemen from being two-way starters if possible, but there are times when you’ve gotta have them on one side of the ball or the other,” Mofield said. “He’s gotta get himself in condition to play both ways I think and if he does that then he could have a big year for us.”

For many Meade County players, the last couple of months may have been hard because of the closure of schools, sports and non-essential businesses. Parents may be out of work and friends may have been harder to see.

Mofield hopes this experience will only make football players at Meade County and elsewhere appreciate the sport and the opportunities it provides.

“A lot of times, sadly, kids as seniors have a season-ending injury and can’t play again. A couple months ago, potentially this looked like a season-ending pandemic. Who knows? But right now, I’m keeping hope that we’ll be able to play,” Mofield said. “Let’s say everything gets started back up here in the next month. It could still be taken away in the middle of the season depending on if this thing flairs back up. I think you sell your kids from the standpoint of ‘Hey, this is a precious time. Make sure you make the best of it,’ and hopefully those kids will.”

Matt Tyson can be reached at 270-505-1754 or mtyson@thenewsenterprise.com.

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