2020 was a banner year for the Owensboro Red Devils, only they didn't take home a banner. Head coach Jay Fallin's squad went 8-and-0 in the regular season, rolled up four postseason wins, earning a trip to Lexington and the 5-A state championship game. However, playoff nemesis Bowling Green denied the Red Devils the crown, 17-to-7.
"Last year was a very successful season for us," says Fallin. "Had to overcome a lot, like everybody did, in terms of Covid protocol. But the kids persevered. First undefeated season we've had here in 27 years. Made it all the way to the state title game, came up a little short. But very proud of the work and the accomplishments of those guys. But when you do come up short, it does fill you with a hunger, a desire to finish. But we don't talk about that every day. We don't think about that every day. We're just trying to get better every single day.
If the Red Devils hope to re-ascend to the top of the Kentucky high school football mountain, you can't find a better leader on the field than Gavin Wimsatt. The highly-recruited quarterback finally committed to Rutgers in the off-season, leaving the state crown as third-year starter's singular focus.
"It's a big relief," says Wimsatt. "It's a huge weight off my shoulders. There's a lot of pressure on you, more than people know, when there's more than one college looking at you. It just gets stressful."
"He's been great," says Fallin. "He's a leader for us. He's entering his third season as a starting quarterback for us. So, he's got a ton of experience under his belt. He's seen just about everything you can see on a varsity football field. He's a very calm presence. He brings a very even keel, an even demeanor to practice every single day. To have an arm like his. You don't see that in high school a lot. The defense has to defend the whole field. He's also very mobile and can take off at any point."
Now, with the exception of Khalil Rogers, Wimsatt will have an entirely new set of targets to throw to. However Owensboro does have a strong offensive line to protect Wimsatt, as well as to open holes for the Red Devils' "Running back by committee".
"A lot of guys are taking reps at that position right now," says Fallin. "Javius Taylor, Kenyatta Carbon, Tramel Barksdale, and Zander Early are all vying for reps with the varsity group. They all do a great job and they all have different skill sets. It's good to have competition at every position, but especially that one. It's tough to play running back. You're going to get more carries and touches than anyone on the team. You're also going to get impacted more than anyone else, contact. So you want to have depth there, as much as possible."
The defense is another story, where plenty of old hands return on a unit that held opponents to seven points or fewer in five games last season.
"Got a lot of experience on defense," says Fallin. "Trying to get seasoning on two inside linebackers, a junior and a senior, Zander Early and Kendrick Williams are taking the lion's share of the reps right now and their doing a nice job. Two very intuitive kids. But we've got a lot of experience in the secondary and the defensive line."
"Tough guys," says Wimsatt. "They're dogs. They're pushing us as much as we're pushing them. Just going hard every rep, getting us better."
The results of a hard-worked summer won't be long in coming, as the Red Devils open up at home this Friday against perennial power Louisville Saint Xavier.