As the old saying goes, "What starts out sinking seldom stays afloat." However, such was not the case with Owensboro Catholic last year, as the Aces turned their early season scars into late season stars, making it deep into the Kentucky playoffs.
Early season injuries, not the least of which to starting quarterback Lincoln Clancy, appeared to doom Owensboro Catholic in 2021, as the perennial power stumbled out to an 0-5 start. However the Aces recovered to real off seven straight wins, making it all the way to the Kentucky 2-A quarterfinals.
"Battled through adversity probably I've had any team had to battle through," says Owensboro Catholic Head Coach Jason Morris. "We didn't put our heads down and we came to work every single day and got a little bit better every single week."
"Our record wasn't showing how a good a football we were playing. Then we got into 2-A football, and really started rolling after that," Morris says.
No one benefitted more from the early season adversity than quarterback Brady Atwell. Thrown into the fire after Clancy's injury on opening night, the freshman survived an eventually thrived under center.
"I felt like last time was a really good year by those seniors that led us. Really helped us to grow to this year. And we had a good playoff run. It didn't end how we wanted to, but I think it really helped us grow overall as a team," Atwell says.
"We had Lincoln as our first one and we all supported him. Then when Brady came in, he was a little bit younger," adds Owensboro Catholic's senior Offensive Lineman/Defensive Lineman Tyler Simone. "He had a pride to him. And that was nice to have on the team. So all the linemen love him. We even have a whole group chat for him."
Atwell says, "It was different, man! Nothing you can explain, really. But how the seniors brought me in, how everybody just excepted me in my role as a team. It was just great. I love all these guys and it's just greatest experience I've had."
Atwell isn't the only seasoned starter on offense, as his bodyguards on the Aces forward war bring tons of experience.
"We have five offensive linemen, who are all seniors. Big, strong, athletic linemen. Real excited about what we have up front," Coach Morris says.
"I love all those guys. I know they've got my back and no matter what, they're going to protect me," Atwell said. "That's one thing I'm trying to push this year. Me, being a sophmore, going into my first year as a quarterback is having all those older guys being my linemen. Having my trust and them trusting me."
As for weapons at Atwell's disposal, gone is leading receiver Braden Mundy and the talented Everet Munsey. Catholic head coach Jason Morris believes a bigger corps of targets can make up for the loss.
"We have eight or nine kids out there receiving. We feel like we have good depth. We might not have the Braden Mundy type athlete that we've had for the last four years, but we're going to be able to combat that with good depth," Coach Morris said.
While the Aces offense will be a work in progress early in the season, the a well-seasoned defense is poised to carry the load early.
"We feel like the defensive side of the ball is where we return the most experience, which to me is most exciting," Morris said. "In our secondary, we have three or four defensive backs who are seniors, leading the secondary there. So, we feel like our defensive secondary and our defensive line, having good senior leadership there is very important."
"We put a lot more time in the weight room than we had last year. We now have almost 750 pounds just on the main line, and we have good rotators, with faster players which offers us a lot of good plays for speed blitz," Simone says.
This Aces team knows what it has going into this season. Now the goal is to avoid the slow start that nearly derailed them a year ago.
"It was kind of a different mentality this summer," Atwell says. "It was more of a 'everybody get in the weight room Everybody do their job,' But hopefully we come out this summer with a different mindset than we had last year. And we just start out strong and hopefully lead it on into the playoffs and make a deep playoff run."
"You can just flip the lights on in November and expect to be where you want to be," Coach Morris said. "We're trying to take that next step. We're down to the final 8 last year in the regional finals and we feel like in Western Kentucky, if you can win that game, you can win it all."