Culture and expecations are two traits that didn’t surround the Fort Knox football program for a long time.
That’s changed — completely.
Entering the 2019 season, the Eagles are fired up and ready to get going and have high hopes for their campaign. There’s a positive vibe scattered throughout the fieldhouse and on the practice field. There’s now a culture — something that had been missing and has taken time and work to get back.
“When I took over a year ago, it was in a pretty rough state around here,” second-year Fort Knox coach Wes Arnold said. “Numbers were low and kids just really weren’t in to playing football. In one year we’ve got ’em all excited – and it’s taken a lot of time and effort on our part as a staff – but we’re happy.
“They all get along, the culture’s good and I’m really excited about how eager they are to learn. They’re a fun bunch and I really like ’em.”
Unlike most schools, it takes Fort Knox longer each season to see what it’ll have on its roster. Being a military base, families are constantly moving in-and-out, thus consistently adding and removing players from the Eagles’ football program.
Depsite that usual pattern, Arnold’s second squad sports the fullest roster the program’s had in years. After having around 30 players in 2018, Fort Knox currently has 46 guys going through practice and ready to roll for Week 1 of the season, which is a huge step forward.
“This place is unique,” Arnold said. “Because of the military lifestyle, we’ve got kids in about a week ago and got other kids in about two weeks ago. The whole team’s only been together about three weeks, so you have to ease your expectations a little bit. But I’m excited about the culture and how it’s shifted, which is really great.”
Trey Rowsey — a senior quarterback who’s spent all four years of his high school career at Fort Knox — reiterated how beneficial it is to have more guys on the roster for the season.
“The last week of summer we had 30 guys out here and now we’re at 46, so we’ve had 16 guys come in the past few weeks,” Rowsey said. “We’re a full team now, and it’s the most we’ve had in a long, long time. The energy is really high in the locker room and everyone has high hopes for the season. There’s a lot of expecations.”
In addition to Rowsey, a versatile, leader-first quarterback who passed for 564 yards and six touchdowns in his first year at the position, Fort Knox also returns leading wide receiver Sidney Gradney, a senior who made 11 catches for 197 yards and earned all six of Rowsey’s touchdowns a year ago.
Gradney also was seventh on the team in tackles with 39 and gives the Eagles a leader on the defensive side of the ball.
Looking at Fort Knox’s roster overall, it contains seven seniors, nine juniors, 14 sophomores and 15 freshmen.
“We’re young and very athletic,” Arnold said. “We’ve always had good athletes here. It’s just gonna take these guys game reps, but we have as much athletic talent as anybody in 1A, and I really believe that. I’m really excited.”
With all of the pieces the Eagles have, and with the revamped culture, positive vibes and standards, everyone involved in the program’s transformation are focused on one main thing: taking the next step forward.
“That’s what our goal is,” Arnold said. “We haven’t had a winning season since 2002, but we were close last year. We haven’t beaten Fort Campbell in 16 years, but we were close last year on that. We haven’t had a home playoff game since 1997, but we were close on that, too. The goal this year is to get over that hump and get that sixth, seventh win. There’s so much positive momentum going right now and I just wanna keep that going.”
Fort Knox kicks off its season Aug. 23 on the road at Paris. The Eagles host Todd County Central in their home opener the following the week.