Tyler Vaughn rushed for more than 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Cardinals.

The South Laurel Cardinals 2009 football season did not start the way first-year coach Larry Welch expected. It did have a better ending.

“I sort of thought of the beginning it would get off to a better start. There were some games we were right in there if we had not committed a turnover or penalty,” he said.

The Cardinals lost four of their first five games before winning three of their next five to earn a spot in the 5A playoffs. Even the last two regular season losses were competitive. Southwestern edged the Cardinals 14-8. South Laurel competed most of the game with a Pulaski County team that is playing this week for a region title.

“We finished better than we started, so that was a good thing,” Welch said.

There are a couple of factors that Welch attributes to his team’s slow start to the 2009 campaign. One reason was the wholesale graduation losses South Laurel faced on the offensive side, including most of their skill players and a record-setting quarterback. The defense also had a lot of new faces, especially in the secondary.

“Coming into it we didn’t have a whole lot of offensive experience. As the season progressed, we seemed to pick up more yardage,” Welch said. “The downside is we still didn’t seem to get rid of the turnover and penalties.”

The Cardinals were also learning a whole new offensive scheme with Welch’s running attack replacing the pass-oriented offense of Jason Chappell. The changes seemed to catch on late in the year. South Laurel averaged 13 points per game their first seven games. The average doubled to 26.25 the last four games. Tyler Vaughn, a junior, finished the season with over 1,400 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns.

“After a period of time, I was surprised we were able to gel and the offense had a lot of consistency running the football,” Welch said. “There were some individual surprises as far as offensive and defensive players. Some of the younger kids stepped up and did an excellent job.”

Welch said it is not only learning the plays and schemes involved in running the football that makes a team more successful. There is also a mindset.

“Running the football is your mainstay. You’ve got to have a mentality for it. Running the football or passing the football you are going to get tackled but you have to get right back up,” he said.

Now the task is to continue the momentum from the end of the season to 2010 and continue to improve running the ball while cutting down on penalties and turnovers. Welch wants his team to add strength, speed, and agility in the off-season.

“We’re going to work a lot on strength and putting some size on some people. Our number one priority is speed, but if you get true strength you’re going to have speed with that and agility,” he said.

The Cardinals will again have a lot of holes to fill next season with 19 players graduating. On offense, the right side of the line and the center will be gone, along with the quarterback and fullback. Most of those are two-way players, so you can flip it to the other side and replace three in the secondary, two linebackers, and two linemen. Welch is encouraged with what he saw this season that he will have players to fill those spots.

“We’ve got some people that spot started during the course of the year and some younger kids coming up that have quite a bit of speed,” he said.

The schedule will look the same next year. A Letcher County Central team that doesn’t lose many players and is still alive in the playoffs will be the Cardinals’ first opponent.

South Laurel will play Knox Central in the Cumberland Valley Bowl.

Mitch Howard can be reached at

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