More than winning games

Jerry Lucas talks with the Collins High football team following their win over West Jessamine.

Collins High coach Jerry Lucas follows his father’s footsteps impacting lives

By John Herndon,

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — It’s not just about wins and losses to one of Kentucky’s most successful high school football coaches.

The only head football coach Martha Layne Collins High School has ever known, Jerry Lucas has won a state championship and had a state runner-up finish. There have been four regional championships in the school’s short history. But he seems as enthused about working with his current team, which stands at 2-7 going into the regular season finale against Oldham County Friday night, as he did with the 2013 team that defeated perennial power Highlands in the state Class 4A championship game.

He was all smiles as he addressed the Titans following their 55-22 win over West Jessamine Friday. Collins clinched a four seed in the state playoffs, but are not considered a threat to make an extended run in the tournament.

Collins coach Jerry Lucas watches the action.

It didn’t matter. Even though Collins has gone just 3-17 since advancing to the state semifinal round in 2017, Jerry Lucas sees things differently than many others around high school football.

“We are OK with the fact that we are judged by wins and losses,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but as a coach, you don’t center your program around that. When you are coaching high school athletes, you certainly hope you are teaching them as much about life as you are in the game of football. I have always believed you are teaching life through the game of football.”

Few who have come in contact with how Jerry Lucas runs the Collins program would disagree. 

We first talked with Jerry Lucas and his oldest son, J.R., almost two years ago. The Titans had finished that season 11-3, losing in the state Class 4A semifinals at Franklin-Simpson, 42-38. Franklin-Simpson would go on to win the first of back-to-back state titles the following week.

Collins coach Jerry Lucas shouts instructions to his defense. At left is longtime assistant coach Brian Wigglesworth.

“There is nobody that took that harder than (J.R.) did,” Jerry Lucas said at the time. “As I was standing on the sidelines, I saw that was my player, my quarterback and my son.

Collins quarterback Joe Lucas looks for a receiver against West Jessamine. Lucas would throw six touchdown passes as the Titans rolled to a win.

J.R. Lucas is now playing football at the University of The Cumberlands. His younger brother, Joe, is now quarterbacking the Titans and threw for 213 yards and six touchdowns in the win over West Jessamine.

The reaction that so touched Jerry Lucas in 2017 was the natural outgrowth of how Lucas runs his program. While his teams are known for wide open offense and attacking defense, Lucas reminds them of something more basic nearly every day. When we talked in 2017, he brought up The Titan Five and The Core Four. Those basics came up again when we talked last week.

“With our kids, we talk about The Core Four, which are faith, family, future and football. Those are the things we deal with with our kids.

“And we have our Titan Five we believe in. They are do the right thing, work hard, overcome adversity, find a way and finish strong.”

Those principles have been the same whether the Titans were carrying a state championship trophy off the field in 2013 or heading home following the end of a 1-10 campaign five years later. And they are simply Jerry Lucas living as his parents, Coach Roy and Beverly Lucas, taught.

Roy Lucas coached football for 40 years in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, but the game was never at the top of his life. “I am very blessed to have two parents who made very sure, my entire life, that I was involved in church,” Jerry Lucas recalled in 2017. “That’s not always the case, but I was lucky that I was brought up in a Christian household where Jesus has always been first in our lives in everything we do.”

Roy Lucas passed away in late August, after the 2019 football season had begun. On Friday night, August 30, Jerry coached the Titans against archrival Shelby County. The following day, he attended his father’s funeral in Erlanger. “Football was such a big part of our lives, he would have wanted it that way,” Jerry Lucas says. 

While public schools must abide by rules governing  how a teacher or coach can express faith while on the job, instilling values does not require quoting scripture or sitting in a pew. Jerry Lucas knew he wanted to make a difference in lives when he was a teenager. 

Collins coach Jerry Lucas looks over a play. (All photos by John Herndon)

“When I was 15 years old, I knew what I wanted to do,” he says. “I was sitting in our living room and I was a student at Greenup County High School, where my father was coach. Two gentlemen came to our house. They were sitting in our kitchen talking and they said, ‘Coach, we have come 250 miles out of our way just to thank you for what you did for our life. At 15, you are not sure what you want to do but I knew I wanted to be a high school football coach.

“My dad, right before he passed, they had a reunion for him in Cincinnati. He had coached all these guys in West Virginia. There were guys there from California, Some from Georgia. Some from Florida. There were people from all over. There were 50-some guys who came to that hotel People from all over the country and they brought him to that hotel just to honor him.”

Jerry went on to play college football at Morehead State and West Virginia Tech. At 24, he was head coach at Western Hills High School in Frankfort and later served as an assistant coach at Scott County and Shelby County before Shelby was split to form Collins. He’s seen changes in the game and, much more importantly, in what young people experience. 

“When I started 28 years ago, there were a lot of kids who had what you would consider a normal life. Then you had a few that didn’t,” he says. “Now, I think that has flipped. There are a lot of kids out there whose main structure in life is from 8:30 to 3:30. It’s why I am such a big proponent of extra-curricular activities. It’s important they are taught they are part of something bigger than themselves.”

When we talked two years ago, Lucas was saying the same thing.

“We are at a point in society where so many kids don’t have that sense of loving and belonging and giving of themselves,” he said then.

“I talk to teachers all the time and they will be upset that a kid might not be putting forth the effort in, for example, a math class that the teacher feels he needs to. And I sit down with the teacher and I say, ‘You know, when he leaves us, he doesn’t know where he’s staying, because he has several places where he goes. The only two meals he knows he’s going to get are breakfast and lunch here at school.’ When you are trying to figure out where you are going to eat dinner, maybe math is not the first on the list of priorities.

Jerry Lucas, right, talks with Shelby West Middle School football coach Marcus Hill after Collins defeated West Jessamine to advance to the state playoffs.

“I think as coaches, we are able to get into things that others might not know about. I can tell you this: I have had kids in my program that may have a lot of money and their families may have status because of that but their lives are messed up. I have had kids that live in this community who don’t have a lot monetarily, they don’t have much of this world, but they have two parents who love them and take care of them. You just can’t judge that.”

And those young men who put on the Collins jerseys are more important than stats or won-loss records to Jerry Lucas. He seeks to build love within his teams and he wants to be a light for Christ to his team, in his school and in his community.

“The main thing I want to present to them,” he says, “is they know I love them and I care about them and I will always be there for them. I want to make a difference in their lives beyond football.”

Jerry Lucas lives in Shelby County with his wife, Ruth, and youngest son, Joe. His older son, J.R., attends The University of The Cumberlands. Coach Lucas is heavily involved in his community and has served as an elder and a deacon at Shelby Christian Church.

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