After three dismal and less than stellar seasons, Letcher County Central hired highly respected and successful Breathitt County football coach Mike Halcomb to engineer a turnaround in Cougar football fortunes.
Since the retirement of former coach Hillard Howard in 2009, the Cougars struggled to 3-7 and 4-7 records in successive years under coach Mike Whitaker. Paul Raines took over the Cougars last season. LCCHS limped home with a 2-9 record and Raines then bolted to a new coaching position in Lexington.
Halcomb, who led Breathitt County to three Class AA/AAA state titles in his more than two decades of coaching, inherits a program that has required him to rebuild both interest and player participation from the middle school up. The good news is that he appears to have reignited interest in football from both players and the talented adults who formerly served as assistant coaches.
While renewed interest and enthusiasm may make this season’s team more competitive and exciting, the reality is that this season’s team will have to overcome numerous obstacles related to depth, talent and size to be competitive in the Class 5A District 8 that includes Harlan County, Perry County Central and Whitley County.
This season, the Cougars will face eight teams who made the play-offs last season with four of those teams either making it to their regional championships or to their state semifinals.
The Cougars open their season with back-to-back home games beginning with Class A Berea, a team that finished 2-9 last season, followed by Class 3A McCreary Central on August 30. McCreary Central’s lone victory last season was at home against Knott County Central.
In weeks three and four, the Cougars take to the road. LCCHS visits Class A Hazard on Sept. 6, and Class 3A Pike County Central on Sept. 13.
The Hazard Bulldogs, state champs in 2011, lost in their state semifinals last November to unbeaten Fairview and finished at 9-4. The PCCHS Hawks wound up 8-4 last season after losing 54-18 in the second round of the playoffs at Breathitt County.
The Cougars return home for weeks five and six to host Class 3A Sheldon Clark and Class 2A Somerset.
The Sheldon Clark Cardinals, who finished 4-7 last season after losing 59-14 at Breathitt County in the opening round of the playoffs, visit LCCHS on Sept. 20.
Somerset wound up 11-3 last season after losing 27-18 at home to Newport Central Catholic in state semifinals. The Briar Jumpers play at LCCHS on Sept. 27.
After an open week, the Cou- gars face their three district rivals in the last three weeks of October. LCCHS travel to Harlan County on Oct. 11. The Black Bears lost 17-7 at home to Cooper in their state semifinals last year and finished 11-3. Harlan County has won at least 11 games in each of the past three seasons.
The Cougars host Perry County Central on Oct. 18. The Commodores and Cougars enjoy a fierce rivalry that started more than a decade ago and now has renewed interest because the ‘Dores second-year coach is Justin Haddix, a former allstate quarterback at Breathitt under coach Halcomb and the guiding hand in the Bobcats’ back-to-back Class AA state championships in the mid-90’s. Perry County Central finished 4-7 last year after losing 37-36 at Madison Southern in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Cougars’ final district matchup is a visit to Whitley County on Oct. 25. Whitley County finished 7-5 last year after losing 28-13 at Pulaski County in the second round of their playoffs.
Letcher Central wraps up its regular season with a matchup against coach Halcomb’s old school. The Breathitt County Bobcats were unbeaten at 12-0 last season under Halcomb, before losing 12-6 at Belfry in the state semifinals. Belfry lost 12-6 to Louisville Central in the 3A state finals.