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Merrick brings familiarity to Marshals post

By Daniel Paulling dpaulling@paducahsun.com

DRAFFENVILLE - After going through three head football coaches in eight years, Marshall County hopes Evan Merrick will provide years of stability.

Merrick was named the ninth head coach in program history Monday and replaces Ron Barnard, who resigned in February with a 16-28 record over four seasons.

The Marshals have struggled of late, going 20-44 since 2007, when they went 9-4 and reached the third round of the Class 6A playoffs. Merrick believes the lack of a long-term head coach is partially to blame.

"Each coach brought their philosophy into the program," he said. "My hope is we can have a framework that's consistent year in and year out to get things back on track."

Merrick has had a perfect view to diagnose what's ailed the Marshals after serving as an assistant coach eight seasons, including as defensive coordinator last year. His familiarity with the program, athletic director Jeff Stokes said, helped him earn the job.

"We felt like he knew the kids better than anybody else," Stokes said. "He's going to be dedicated to the program. We're looking for somebody to make this space their home and make a long-term commitment to Marshall County football."

Twenty people applied for the position, and nine received an interview. Merrick, who played linebacker at Campbellsville University to finish his 13-year playing career, was offered and accepted the job Sunday night, achieving his career goal of becoming a head coach.

Now comes the process of building his team. He said he plans to continue with the same offense but wants to switch to a four-player defensive line after using just three last season.

The Marshals went 1-9 in 2013 and lose some of their top players to graduation: leading rusher Nolan Nichols, who had 11 of their 19 rushing touchdowns and 1,184 rushing yards; Clay Allen, who passed for 661 yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns; and leading receiver Austin Spicer, who had 656 yards and six touchdowns.

They'll return quarterback Cole Barnard, who went 72 of 165 (43.6 percent) with 1,038 passing yards and seven touchdowns, and receiver Lane Roberts, who had five touchdowns.

The Marshals will move down to Class 5A in 2015, meaning they'll play similar-size schools. But there's one Class 5A school Merrick, a 2001 Graves County graduate who played tight end and linebacker, is looking to play: his alma mater.

"A lot of times we're on the short end of the stick," Merrick said. "That's something that's been a sore spot in my time here. (Beating Graves County) is a goal of mine."

Call Daniel Paulling, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8662, or follow on Twitter @DanielPaulling.

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