At the conclusion of the 2018 high school football season, Graves County defensive coordinator Nick Kemp didn't know he was the program's next head coach.

After all, he'd served on the Eagles sideline for the past seven years and had become a trusted hand of longtime skipper Lance Gregory.

Even when Gregory stepped down in January, Kemp knew he was going to be an assistant for an eighth season underneath newly-minted skipper Morgan Cruce, who toted a young-but-experienced resume into the fold.

But when Cruce about-faced before the summer due to personal reasons, Kemp got the call and accepted the "interim" tag on May 30.

At the top of his tasks? Try to find time for his wife and newborn daughter.

Next: find an answer at quarterback, following the graduation of four-year starter and phenom Ryan Mathis.

Next: find an answer at wide receiver, following the graduation of breakout star Drew Cooper.

Next: embrace the new expectations of being a head coach, instead of being a coordinator.

Next: somehow navigate the season's opening four-game stretch, which consists of Murray, McCracken County, Paducah Tilghman...and then crosstown rival Mayfield.

An unenviable to-do list for any head coach, much less a brand new one. But that doesn't mean Kemp isn't up for it.

"There is a different feeling when everyone is looking at you," Kemp said. "And everyone looked at Lance that way. It got to a point where he trusted me enough where, defensively, people were looking at me when it came to defense. But now, it's defense, special teams, offense...everyone is looking for that final decision, and it's mine. And that's been a little bit different.

"But I've been coaching these guys for so long that it's like family to me. Great friends. It's a different situation, but all of them have done a great job. Whatever decision I make, we all go with it. All the changes that we've had...these seniors, this is their third head coach in six months. So that's tough on them. But we're going on brotherhood, family and being there for each other."

One would think the Eagles would quickly move do-it-all senior Cody Goatley (Murray State, Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri State, Air Force offers) to the quarterback position and not think twice. After all, Goatley spelled Mathis quite nicely during the 2017 season - throwing for a school-record 401 yards in an opening-season win over Murray - and the natural running back and linebacker has a strong, accurate arm.

The issue, however, is that Goatley probably serves the team better in the backfield as a receiving threat, rushing nightmare and strong edge blocker for a guy like returning JV quarterback John Ben Brown, a guy Kemp also has at his disposal.

"I think no matter who the quarterback is, Cody Goatley is going to line up at quarterback some this season," Kemp said. "Especially with the way he can run. When he's back there at quarterback, it's hard to stop his throwing

"But it's even harder to stop the way he runs the ball. And he gives you an extra blocker. We think our team can be better when he runs the ball 15-to-20 times a game, as opposed to when he throws it 20 times a game."

Whoever the QB is, they'll have weapons around them in guys like RB Clint McKee, WR Tavis Brown, WR Nelson Browning, WR/DB Riley Thompson (Bethel, Kentucky Wesleyan, Morehead State offers) and WR Race Richards - a guy Kemp believes can become as devastating a threat as Cooper was, after finishing 2018 with 556 yards and four touchdowns on 34 catches.

"I think that the biggest change for our coaching staff is that our expectations maybe don't need to lower, but that we, as a staff, have got to realize that we don't have a guy who can just sling the ball that has been doing this for four years," Kemp said. "That position has got to be coached up more. Ryan was coached up in the past, but he knew how to do a lot more because he'd been doing it for the last four years."

Realignment redux

Following the realignment schedule, Graves County is now part of a six-team district that includes Breckinridge County, Ohio County, Owensboro, Grayson County and Muhlenberg County. It's one of only three districts across the state with six teams, and it's also one of the least centralized.

Though they play them in the regular-season finale on Nov. 1, gone is big-time district rival Marshall County after a move up to Class 6A.

Muhlenberg (3-8), Ohio (1-10) and Breckinridge (4-7) combined for just eight wins a year ago, but Grayson (8-4) and Owensboro (10-3) both topped the Eagles in 2018 on the way to playoff runs.

One of the tougher storylines in the district is the torn ACL of Red Devils' senior Imonte Owsley, suffered earlier this summer at a Purdue University elite skills camp.

Owlsey had 52 catches for 1,066 yards and 67 rushes for 712 yards with 21 total touchdowns, and he was primed for another game-breaking season in 2019.

"Obviously, anybody who's watched us play a game the last two years, his individual production will be difficult to replace," OHS coach Jay Fallin told Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer's Mark Mathis on June 25. "Monte was a very unique player, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. He was productive out of the backfield and as a receiver."

Originally at Ohio County, Grayson County's junior running back Q'Daryius McHenry had a stellar sophomore season in 2018 (1,500 yards, 174 carries, 21 touchdowns), which includes a 357-yard, six-touchdown effort against the Eagles in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs. He had seven catches, 61 yards and one touchdown in the second-round 55-21 loss to eventual state-champion South Warren, and also finished as the team's top receiver (28 catches, 475 yards, four touchdowns).

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