French hopes for quick turnaround in first year with Jackets

Published 8:57 pm Sunday, August 18, 2019

A clean slate has been established for the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets for the 2019 season. After a 2018 campaign in which the Yellow Jackets went 1-10, first-year head coach Larry French is hoping for a quick turnaround in his inaugural year.

“I came here because I like to be challenged,” French said, “and I’ve certainly got a challenge ahead of me. If we can get the players, the parents and the community as whole to buy in to what we’re trying to do, there’s not a doubt in my mind that we will win our fair share of ball games.”

French, who was introduced as the new Middlesboro head coach earlier in the year, ranks sixth in Kentucky history in overall wins with a record of 312-159, including two state championships in his 40 years of coaching.

Email newsletter signup

At his last stop at Southwestern High School in Somerset, French’s teams went 47-17 in five seasons, including three district titles and four regional championship games.

French has yet to name a starting quarterback for the 2019 season, but says that both players that are competing for the spot are pushing each other to be better.

“We’ve got two right now,” said French. “Both Eric and Taveon are working hard right now. One day, one looks good, the other day the other one looks good. They’re pushing each other to be better by competing for the spot.”

Last season, the Yellow Jackets struggled through the air, amassing only 400 yards of passing offense and two passing touchdowns, averaging only 36.5 yards passing per game.

“It’s still up in the air on which one we are going to start,” said French. “They both have good features that you look for in a starting quarterback. Taveon can run the ball a little bit, which helps open up our offense. Eric has an understanding of the offense, and probably has a little better of an arm.

“They’re both young and they’ve got some learning to do, but they make up for what little deficiencies they have with their work ethic. They’re both great young men and very hard workers.”

Along with woes at the quarterback position last season, Middlesboro struggled at the receiver position. With both leading receivers, Sebastian Wagoner and Alex Mason graduating last season, French will be looking to athleticism at receiver to help move the ball this season.

“Jabari Kyle is a senior that we have on the team this year,” said French. “He hasn’t played organized football in a long time, he’s still learning a little bit, but he goes up and gets the football real well. He has a lot of speed and a good skill-set, as well as a nose for the ball. We look for good things out of him this season.”

“We’ve got Jay Tyler who has some good size to him,” said French. “He’s only a sophomore and we need to be patient with him sometimes. Sometimes he looks like a veteran out there, and other times he looks like a rookie. He’s learning and gives us a great effort and will probably play on both sides of the ball for us.”

“We’ve got ‘E’ (Zach Evans) out there, who has good hands and works real hard,” said French. “We’ve also got a player in Craig (Brock) who is a good tight end with good hands and a good skill-set. They’re both great players. We’ve got several guys that can catch the football well, and I think we will be fine at the position.”

Allowing 462 total points last season, while scoring only 152, French is looking to develop both the offensive and defensive lines, as well as defensive back, to allow for success on either side of the ball.

“The game of football in won and lost in the trenches,” said French. “We’ve got a long way to go on both lines. They’re getting better each day. We are getting some consistency out of them as we progress further, as far as coming to practice and knowing what to do and where to be. It’s a learning process for them, so we are taking some baby steps with those guys and hopefully that leads into some quicker progress down the road.”

“We’ve got a lot of skill position guys that will play on either side of the ball for us,” said French. “We’ve got guys that have a lot of talent and football i.q. that will help us on both sides. We don’t have a lot of players, but we have some very athletic players that will be able to play both offense and defense.”

On special teams, French will rely on athleticism in the return game, and plans on making special teams a point of emphasis.

“We’ve got some inexperience in that area of the field,” said French. “We’ve got some really speedy guys that are going to be returning kicks for us this season. We’re hoping to be doing too much scoring to worry about punting, but if we have to, we are hoping we can utilize our special teams to help us out in field position.”

With his first season with the team right around the corner, coach French is focusing on developing a commitment-minded team.

“The biggest thing we are trying to instill in these guys is commitment,” said French. “They have to commit to what we are doing and they have to learn a little bit about the game of football. Our terminology, the speed and the work ethic are what will lead us to winning football games, we just have to commit to it.”

“We don’t want them to pace themselves,” said French. “We want one-hundred percent effort in everything we do. They’re adjusting, they’re working and they’re learning. If we had one weakness thus far, I’d say that it is adjusting to the speed of the game.”

We’ve got to teach the speed of the game to them, we’ve got to teach them how to make proper contact, how to make blocks, how to make proper tackles and how to run the football. It’s a process and we are back at the basic fundamental levels of teaching. We’re going to work hard and take this one baby step at a time.”

French says that community support has been fantastic and will help lead the Yellow Jackets back to where they want to be.

“This is a great community full of great people and great athletes,” French said. “I think we can get this program back to where it needs to be, as long as we all buy into the process.”

Middlesboro will not play in-county rival Bell County this season, for the first time since 2010.

Aug 23, 19 Garrard County (A)

Aug 30, 19 Williamsburg (H)

Sep 6, 19 Lynn Camp (A)

Sep 13, 19 Harlan (H)

Sep 20, 19 Pineville (H)

Sep 27, 19 Breathitt County (H)

Oct 4, 19 Leslie County (A)

Oct 11, 19 Morgan County (H)

Oct 25, 19 Knott County Central (A)

Nov 1, 19 Martin County (H)