Greenwood maintaining its focus on road trip to Apollo with BGHS rematch waiting on the horizon


Greenwood High School’s football program is one of inclusion, where players will select game captains and senior leaders assume critical roles in the direction of the team.

That’s how fourth-year Greenwood head coach William Howard wants it, with the idea that input within the Gators’ locker room will help establish a football culture for the future.

Howard played his high school football at Allen County-Scottsville and was a starting defensive lineman at Western Kentucky University before entering the coaching ranks. Like most football coaches, from Pop Warner to the NFL, Howard will meet with his team after pretty much every practice, to take care of some game-related details while addressing the work habits of that particular practice, always keeping an eye on the big picture.

In Greenwood’s case, the big picture goes a long way beyond The Swamp. The Gators (6-3) likely have played their last home game this season, and on Thursday night, they’ll be making the 70-mile journey up Interstate 165 to Owensboro, where they’ll scrap with the Apollo Eagles (6-3), before turning the focus to the first-round KHSAA Class 5A playoff game against crosstown rival Bowling Green High School.

The cynical type would say the rivalry is more like a hammer and a nail, given that the Gators are 0-32 lifetime against Bowling Green. Greenwood was 6-1 when it squared off with Bowling Green on a rainy night on October 15, and a disastrous start doomed the Gators long before the first half came to a close.

The Purples, looking for their first victory in roughly a month, dismantled Greenwood 38-8, and one week later, the Gators turned in a better effort against second-ranked South Warren. The Spartans (8-1) still pulled away for a methodical 42-14 victory, ensuring Greenwood would tangle with Bowling Green (5-4) next Friday.

That first-round playoff game will take place at the Purples’ shining new stadium, the home of the defending KHSAA Class 5A champions. Confidence goes a long way in football, and in any other sport, and it’s Howard’s goal to get the Gators in the right frame of mind for their biggest challenge of the season.

All that starts with tonight’s road trip to face Apollo.

Greenwood junior Lofton Howard, the coach’s son and the Gators’ outside linebacker/short-yardage quarterback/receiver/deep snapper, etc., is convinced the right mental approach will pay off for the next eight or nine days. One step at a time, one day at a time, he seems to be saying.

“I think we’ve got to take the Apollo game as an important game,” Lofton Howard said, “and really take this game on its own merits. You always have to fight through adversity in football, and this Thursday game will give us a little extra time to get ready for the Bowling Green game.”

That’s why William Howard brought his squad across the street to the Gators’ practice field after Wednesday’s practice. The Gators hold a little ritual in the east end zone, where a miniature bonfire is set before Greenwood seniors can toss in some old equipment, shoes or other keepsake into the flames, an appreciation of the past with another eye cast toward the future.

Howard allowed a reporter to join his squad for Wednesday’s ceremony on the Greenwood practice field, and three of his seniors shared their thoughts on the season heading into tonight’s game at Apollo.

Senior quarterback James Salchli said the Gators are trying to compartmentalize this final regular-season game with the playoff game against Bowling Green looming on the horizon. The Purples (5-4) play host to St. Xavier (8-1), the Commonwealth’s third-ranked Class 6A team, on Friday night.

Salchli has completed 52 of 121 passes for 1,017 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s also scored two rushing TDs while throwing six interceptions, in his first season as the Gators’ starter.

“We really try to look at everybody week by week, regardless of the opponent,” Salchli said. “I think we’ve learned we have to count on each other to succeed. We’ve lost our last two games and this game will give us a chance to straighten some things out before we go to Bowling Green. We’re looking forward to it.”

Senior defensive tackle Ed Manasa said the Gators have encountered “a lot of adversity” over the course of the season, which began in the intense heat of mid-August with a home game against Spring Hill High School from Columbia, Tennessee. Greenwood won that game going away, 55-32, and the Gators were sporting a 6-1 record when they tangled with Bowling Green the first time.

That’s what gives senior linebacker Paul Smith a special incentive for what’s left of his football career. Smith is a strong, disciplined run defender, and he could probably play at the FCS or the NCAA’s smaller divisions if he desired. Instead, Smith plans to attend WKU or the University of Kentucky to pursue a bachelor of science degree in pre-medicine.

Smith can’t wait to square off with Apollo, and then take his best shot next week against the Purples.

One day at a time.

“I’ve heard some of my older teammates phrase it from time to time,” Smith said. “My brother, Aaron, was a fullback and linebacker at Greenwood a few years ago. They tell me, ‘You’ve only got so many games left, and the rest of your life to heal … as far as effort goes.

“That’s the way I’m looking at the next couple weeks.”

Kickoff at Apollo is at 7 tonight.