The Covington Buccaneers put together another unbeaten season in 2016, but like so many other years, there was playoff disappointment. Now, a young group of Buccaneers look to take the program to even greater heights.
Covington—It’s hard to argue with the success of the Covington Buccaneers football program.
Yet, some do.
Since 1999, The Buccs have won 83% of the games they have played, including 11 unbeaten regular seasons. During that time, they have captured 14 Cross County Conference titles and made the playoffs 17 of 18 seasons, missing out only in 2004.
The reason for criticism? Seventeen of the Buccs’ 35 losses in that time span have come in the playoffs. They have won just 11 post-season games in that span and have never advanced past the regional final round.
“I hear about that a lot,” conceded second year head coach Ty Cates as he relaxed in the Buccaneer weight room Tuesday morning. “I think some of our opponents are more mentally tough because they have been there before. We have to get over that hump, and we’re going to work on that. We have won playoff games here, and most of the teams that have beaten us are perennial powers.
“Our league is getting better. We have changed our schedule (adding Minster in week two and league newcomer Fort Loramie in week three) and that’s the toughest opening schedule we have had in years. The big advantage the MAC schools have right now is they play competitive games every week. Their kids are used to playing four quarters. Lots of times, our starters only play a half or three quarters. That’s a big difference at playoff time.”
Cates’ first year in Covington was a rousing success. Despite putting in new systems on both sides of the ball, despite injuries to several key players, Covington went 10-0, drubbed Hillcrest Academy in the playoff opener, and played Fort Recovery straight up for a half before faltering in the second half in the regional semifinals.
“Our kids put in a lot of hard work last season,” Cates said. “That senior group was the best that I have worked with. The reason they have had so much success here is that the kids believe they’re going to win every time they take the field. There are high expectations here every year, and no class want to be the one that lets the community down.”
The coach, who recently got married, has been battling his own health issue. After surgery for a torn achillies tendon, the wound became infected and has resulted in four additional surgeries.
“Twice it was almost completely healed, then it flared up again,” Cates said with a wince. “It’s been a nightmare. It’s almost completely healed, and for the most part, the kids haven’t given me too much grief.”
Covington barely escaped in week 5 at Troy Christian last year, stuffing a two-point conversion try to preserve a 27-26 victory. Afterward, it was difficult to tell that the Buccaneers had won.
“They take it seriously, and that’s good,” Cates acknowledged. “We don’t want to lose that. But I want the kids to have fun too. I told them that night, ’hey, you won. You’re 5-0. That’s something to be excited about.’ I’m still working on that. We tell them as coaches that we love the fact that they want to get better. They are perfectionists, and they always want to perform at their best. But at the end of the day, it’s ok to be excited that you won the ballgame. Work to get better but enjoy the wins.
“The ultimate goal here at Covington is to win a state championship, and the kids know they have to play at a high level to accomplish that. We laugh about it as coaches. We beat somebody by 40 and the kids are upset about the way they played. I would rather them be that way than the opposite way. We want to do well so bad, sometimes we don’t take time to appreciate what we have accomplished.”
Two words sum up the 2017 Buccaneer squad that begins practice next week—VERY YOUNG. Of 51 players currently on the squad, 36 are sophomores and freshmen. Those numbers don’t phase Cates in the least.
“We have a lot of young kids, but they are very talented. We want to give our players time to develop, but we need to be ready for Friday nights. Practices are going to be even more important, because we have to make sure they’re getting enough reps so they can handle whatever may come up during a game. We have to throw them to the fire and see how they respond. We have to find out who can play and who can’t. We have 4 or 5 really solid seniors coming back, so our season will really depend on how many young kids step up.”
Ethan Herron and Tyler Freeman are two seniors that Cates and the Buccs will be counting on. Herron is a running back and linebacker coming back from knee surgery, while Freeman will replace record-setting Nathan Blei at quarterback.
“Last year I would get angry when things didn’t go well, and made some rash decisions,” Freeman said. “This year, I have been working on staying calm, making better decisions throwing the ball, just playing ball with my friends and making sure that everyone is on the same page.
“I’m comfortable with the system, And I feel comfortable leading the team. I’m excited about Friday nights. Just thinking about running out on that field under the lights, in front of our fans, gives me chills. I am really looking forward to the season.”
“This town is all about work ethic,” said Herron, who injured his right knee against Bethel. “If you want to be a leader on this team, you have to work. Give it everything you got in the weight room and on the field.”
The senior to be said the knee has held up so far.
“It’s been a test mentally and physically. My right knee is stronger than my left honestly. Mentally has been the toughest. It feels fine, it’s just re-building confidence in it. I know that it could happen again and I have to get past that. It’s been tough.
“I have worked really hard because I want my senior season to be the best it can be. Friday nights here are special, and you only have so many of them in your career. Even if you play in college, it won’t be anything like it is in your hometown.”
Cates said his team is in good hands with Herron and Freeman.
“Ethan is a great kid, as talented a back as I have been associated with. He is very good in open space, and is a very good leader. I do worry about his knee, but he is one o the best running backs around. He is a football-smart kid. He does little things that you can’t teach. He just gets it.”
“Ty is just a great athlete. He has done a great job this off-season of maturing and we need that out of our young kids too. Ty is very gifted. He has a very strong arm, and he can play every skill position on the team. On defense, he is the best cover guy we have and he will hit you. We look for both of them to have strong senior seasons.
“We also have Zach Parrott coming back at receiver. He’s tall at 6-3 and very athletic. So those three and Bowen Swank coming back on the line gives us a good foundation.”
Cates, who played high school ball at Arcanum and coached at Twin Valley South before coming to Covington, is eagerly anticipating his second season as leader of the Buccs.
“There really are no words,” he said enthusiastically. “I just really feel blessed. With my health issues, I am aware that sometimes we take for granted what we have. To be here in a football community, what coach wouldn’t want to be a part of that? This community is awesome. They will get you anything you need. Ethan and Ty talked about the chills they get just thinking about running out on the field on Friday nights. The work ethic of the kids, the tradition, the high expectations, it’s just phenomenal. I thank God every day that I am here.
“Our goal right now is to simply get better every day. We tell the kids that the only thing you can handle is today. Take it one day at a time, and try not to get overwhelmed by the fact that we are so young. Just believe in what you do, work hard, and good things will happen.”