When Fort Campbell High School coach Shawn Berner resigned in January after 11 seasons, more than 110 wins and three state championships, he left behind some pretty big shoes to fill. Fortunately, the Falcons didn’t have to look far to fill the void as assistant coach of three years, Anthony Butler, took over the football program in February.
Currently in their third week of practice, Butler has kept much of the same winning blueprint while making minimal changes to the Falcons’ practice regime, supporting the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
“My coaching style is a lot similar to coach Berner’s – him and I are really on the same level,” said Butler. “I meshed [his] the style as soon as I got here. So the philosophy is about the same.”
The Falcons ended the 2012 season with an impressive 9-3 regular season record, 5-1 in region and 4-0 in district. The Falcons bid farewell to their dreams of a fourth state championship after losing to South Warren High School 24-7 in round two of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Class 3-A Commonwealth Gridiron Bowl last year.
“Preparations for this season have been going good,” said Butler. “The kids are picking up on the new schemes we’re doing. We try not to change a lot. We’ve got to get [the new players] familiar with the new style. Things are going good so far.”
The only area impacted by loss of players was the Falcons’ offensive line.
“We graduated three of the five offensive linemen we had, so right now that’s what were working on in our fall camp practices,” said Butler. “We’re focused on trying to get those guys developed.”
Even with a few losses, Fort Campbell’s expectations remain high for the 2013 season as Falcons star running back Triston Luke returns to its lineup. The junior has performed well during the summer practice schedule and could help lead his team to another state championship.
“He’s gotten a lot stronger this off-season,” said Butler. “He’s gotten faster, and he’s picked up on the stuff we’re doing. He’s making good decisions in the backfield with the football, as far as holding it – he’s coming along.”
Luke comes into the season confident in his and his team’s ability to dominate the competition.
“I’m very confident in my team,” Luke said. “We put a lot of hard work in the off season to be prepared for this season.”
Last season Luke broke the program’s single-season touchdown rushing record previously held by former Falcon Antonio Andrews, now a Western Kentucky University standout. Luke ended the season a mere 62 yards short placing himself in FCHS’ record book as the first running back to reach 2,000 yards in a season.
“This year I want to get more yards than I did last year and make an impact on defense,” said Luke.
Adding to the strong lineup is returning running back Christian Berry. The junior had an impressive season last year and hopes to improve on his performance.
“I feel great,” said Berry. “We’ve been working really hard during the off season. We’ve been running, lifting, everything. And practice has been going well – so that’s good. We’re looking forward to the [upcoming] Jamboree, to see how we come out against other teams.”
“This year our team goal is 15-0,” continued Berry. “As a personal goal, I want to be able to not focus on last play – if we mess up or anything like that – and instead focus on the next play and better myself with that play.”
Quarterback Jalen Williams also returns to the roster for a third year as starting quarterback. Junior Jonathan Jethroe, who stepped up last year after Williams suffered an injury early in the season, returns as well, giving the Falcons two experienced quarterbacks.
Also returning is linebacker Christian Noble who comes back for his fourth year on the team.
“I’m very hopeful for a great season this year,” Noble said. “A state championship is always on everybody’s mind here. I would love to go out with a bang, you know, my senior year.”
Returning with a solid core of experienced players has allowed Butler to spend time fine tuning, preparing for this season’s challenging schedule, instead of having to teach new players from scratch.
“[We have] a very tough schedule,” said Butler. “But me and coach Berner have the same mindset on this – we want to play the best teams we can, to prepare ourselves for the playoffs. We do have a tough schedule, but if we’re not playing tough opponents then we’re not getting any better.”
Looking past regular season and toward district, Butler focuses on long-range goals.
“[District] is going to be tough again,” said Butler. “Paducah Tilghman and Trigg County. Those two district games, that’s who we talk about every year.
“We focus on doing things the right way [through] hard work,” said Butler. “When we walk on the field, I tell the kids – you want to have no regrets when you walk off.”
The Falcons host a Jamboree at 7 p.m. Aug. 16 with Northeast and Kenwood high schools from Clarksville, and Marshall County.
Fort Campbell’s first season game will be against Mayfield High School at 7 p.m. Aug. 23 at Fryar Stadium.
Aug. 16 – Jamboree
Aug. 23 – Mayfield
Aug. 30 – Russellville
Sept. 6 – Fort Knox
Sept. 13 – Christian County
Sept. 20 – Caldwell County
Sept. 27 – McCracken County
Oct. 4 – OPEN
Oct. 11 – Paducah Tilghman
Oct. 18 – Webster County
Oct. 25 – Trigg County
Nov. 1 – Loretta (Tenn.)
* All home games in bold.
**All games start at 7 p.m.