With 19 of 22 starting positions filled by underclassmen during the 2015 season, youth was often a topic of discussion when analyzing the Harlan County football program.
The few seniors on the HCHS roster did their part in helping the Bears improve from 2-9 in 2014 to 4-7 last year, including an impressive late-season run to a runner-up finish in District 8 and a home playoff game. A pair of seniors who will move on to the next level played a big part in the turnaround.
A signing ceremony was held Friday at HCHS with tailback Dylan Cornett announcing his decision to play at the University of the Cumberlands and lineman Cole Kidwell announcing that he will play at the University of Pikeville.
Cornett slowly worked his way into the HCHS lineup, becoming a starting running back as a junior before developing into one of the best running backs in eastern Kentucky as a senior when he ran for 1,214 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“Dylan Cornett defined the word patience,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said. “I hope our younger kids realize the patience he showed waiting for his opportunity and how that paid off for him. He was not a varsity starter until his junior season. He had a great career at HCHS, but his senior season was really impressive. Dylan played hurt the entire 2015 season, but never missed a practice or asked to come out. He carried the load for us last year. We will miss Dylan and the rest of this senior class.”
Kidwell started his high school career as a tight end but a lot of time in the weightroom turned him into one of the top defensive lineman in the region.
“Cole was a huge part of our football program for the last four years,” Creech said. “Versatility was a strength of his as he played tight end, guard and tackle on offense while also playing defensive tackle as a senior. He really worked hard on developing his body and overall strength. Cole was a great leader this past year. We will miss him.”
Kidwell said one trip to Pikeville was enough for him to decide that is where he wanted to play.
“I love the way they play defense. I love the way they just play football in general,” Kidwell said. “I love the equipment, the indoor facilities they have, everything about them.”
Cornett wanted to find a program that played to his strength — power football.
“I like their style of offense, it’s smash-mouth football and that’s my style,” he said. “The coaches told me I had a chance to play next year at slotback. They are primarily a running team.”
The big senior season proved to be something of a reward for Cornett’s perseverance as he battled through numerous injuries.
“I didn’t know if I would make it through the whole season, because I was accident prone,” said Cornett, who suffered a broken ankle as a sophomore and then tore his MCL as a junior and missed four games.
Both players are proud of the improvement the Bears showed this past season.
“It was put on our shoulders and we ran with it,” Kidwell said. “This past season was the best year I had.”
“It was the best season I’ve had. We’ve got it going the right way,” he said.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134