Middlesboro leans on experienced senior class

Published 2:09 pm Friday, August 18, 2023


Contributing Writer

Over the years, the results have usually been positive when the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets have played Class A football in Kentucky.

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The Jackets’ lone state championship occurred 25 years ago with a 27-6 victory over Mayfield. As Middlesboro prepares to honor the team at the newly refurbished Bradner Stadium, the current squad hopes to add to their legacy of Class A dominance.

“The Jackets will be playing on a new field and we are looking forward to the season,” said Middlesboro coach Larry French.

Middlesboro went 7-4 last year and returns a big senior class and experience at several key positions on offense and defense that could signal a return to postseason excellence under legendary coach French.

Even though the Jackets will open up as preseason district favorites, the road to Kroger Field will be filled with challenges including multi-time district champion Williamsburg, arch-rival Pineville, and regional heavyweights Hazard and Pikeville. French knows that to achieve in Crater City, his seniors, and team have to produce.

“The players have been working hard all summer. We have had great senior leadership who must carry us through the season,” French said.

The Jackets will be led by all-state candidate Cayden Grigsby at quarterback. The dual-threat star had over 2,500 yards passing and rushing last season. Grigsby can make plays with his arm and legs and has the pieces around him to make the Jackets extremely dynamic on offense.

MHS will feature senior running backs Vincent Smith (645 yards rushing) and Jack Yoakum (253 yards). Both had big games in 2022 and will be counted on heavily in the run game.

The Jacket receiving corps is led by star senior wideout Kam Wilson. Wilson provides a game-breaking threat outside and had 687 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns. However, Wilson isn’t the only threat, as fellow receivers Rylee Foster, Case Bayless, Xavion Shehan, and Yoakum made significant contributions in the passing game in 2022.

Middlesboro also returns four experienced offensive linemen who helped paved the way for the MHS pyrotechnics offensively. Seniors Trey King, Bryce Bowling, Landon Coffey and Tristian Hatfield return to their spots up front. Senior Brandon Harrell is a prime candidate for the fifth spot.

Defensively, the Jackets will be big up front with King, Coffey, and Hatfield returning and Bowling and Harrell possibly in rotation. Senior linebacker Case Bayless will be counted on to anchor the middle of the defense. Senior Terrence Brooks is the leading returning tackler with 71 tackles, including 12 for losses.

The Jackets will miss graduating linebackers Richie Logan and Tyler Sturgill and their 173 combined tackles. Their production will be picked up by a committee of Bayless, Foster and Manning.

The MHS secondary features the trio of Grigsby, Wilson and Yoakum. Smith and Colt Bayless provide depth.

The kicking game will have to be provided by new blood due to the graduation of kicker Sopheaktra Sin. Sin made 45 of 49 extra points and was among the state leaders at 91 percent.

The Jacket schedule will feature an opening game with 5A Harlan County at home as well as dates with Shelby Valley, Knox Central, and Williamsburg in Crater City. Among the road dates for the Jackets include Pineville, Gate City (Virginia) and Garrard County.


Aug 19 vs. Harlan County

Aug 25 at Garrard County

Sep 1 at Gate City (VA)

Sep 8 vs. Shelby Valley

Sep 22 vs. Lynn Camp

Sep 29 at Harlan

Oct 6 at Pineville

Oct 13 vs. Williamsburg

Oct 27 vs. Knox Central