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One-by-one the Collins football players turned in their equipment Monday afternoon.
By the time it was over, helmets, shoulder pads, etc. were neatly grouped in the weight room of the Titans’ field house, where the talk wasn’t so much about closing out a banner season as much as it was about closing “the gap.”
Collins, in only its third year of existence, finished as the state runner-up in Class AAAA Friday night, when it lost, 47-0, to Highlands at Western Kentucky University’s L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green. However with just a handful of seniors, only three of whom started, the Titans appear to have all the pieces for another run to the state championship game.
“I am thrilled to death with the season these kids have had,” Collins Coach Jerry Lucas said in his office. “I think we’ve laid a great foundation for our program. I think these kids, these seniors in particular, have put us on the map. Where they’ve taken our program in a short time is amazing and we can’t overlook that…what a great season and playoff run. We got to play in a state championship game.
“But we’ve got a lot of kids coming back, I like our chances next year. We’re going to have to work harder if we want to close that gap to reach that elite status [though].”
When he says “elite” Lucas is talking about the Bluebirds and Trinity, both of whom captured their 22nd state titles over last weekend, as well as other programs like Mayfield, which won its ninth state championship last Friday, and seven-time state winner Boyle County, which beat the Titans earlier this season.
“We’re going to have to close the gap to get up there with the elite programs, but that’s our goal,” Lucas said. “We have to rise to that level in the future, but I feel like we can get there.
“We’re certainly excited about where we are and where we are going. We’re excited about the direction we are going.”
Following Friday night’s loss Lucas gathered his team around him on Feix Field.
“We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time,” he told the Titans. “But Highlands is not going anywhere. We’re just going to have to work to get our program to that level.”
That was later echoed in the locker room.
“Next year starts now,” junior running back/defensive back Dre Farris said. “We’ve got to better ourselves and better our team.”
For the Titans next year will start next Monday, when the Titans hit the weight room.
“We have to get bigger, stronger and faster,” Lucas told assistant coach William May, who is in charge of the team’s conditioning.
The Titans also must improve their depth, Lucas said, citing how Highlands sent in waves of linemen and skill position players in the 4A final.
Collins likely will need it next season, when the Titans are scheduled to play South Oldham, Ballard, Central Hardin and Anderson County, in addition to county-rival Shelby County and their district foes (Atherton, Spencer County, Waggener and North Oldham). Lucas also is looking for one more regular-season game. He asked Highlands, but the Bluebirds’ schedule for next season is already full. So the only time the Titans could possibly play Highlands next year is in the state championship game.
“They’re only going to get better and better,” senior center Cody Hardin said of his younger teammates. “I expect them to be back there next year.”
The Titans have 12 months to try to close that gap.