SOUTH AIMIN’ DUE NORTH/Tradition-rich Spartans turn focus to home opener against Henderson County


They endured a long wait on the South Warren High School campus.

Nine months and change, in fact.

A lot of time to process last year’s 6-6 season, just one year removed from a KHSAA Class 5A state championship.

The Spartans had all kinds of time to think about the road ahead.

Last weekend, South Warren made the short trip to Campbellsville High School’s Dave Fryear Field, and the Spartans’ Opening Day game against North Hardin.

And South meant business.

“On the ride up there,” junior South Warren quarterback Bryce Button said, “it was pretty much completely silent … Everyone’s getting locked in, and getting their minds right to go out and play some ball.”

Then Button went out and completed 25 of 37 passes for 403 yards, and three touchdowns, and the Spartans knocked off a stout North Hardin squad, 48-38, to get off on the right foot for the 2023 season.

The bus ride back to Bowling Green was considerably different.

“On the way back, even though we were very tired, we celebrated with each other on the bus. Had a good time,” Button said.

That’s the beauty of high school football, of course, the ebb and flow, the weekly challenge, the journey as well as the destination.

The Spartans were equal to the task.

Now they’re getting ready for Friday night’s home opener, against a big, physical Henderson County squad, a team that likes to line up and challenge opponents, between the tackles, with the running game.

Old school.

“They’re big, and they like to run the ball,” South Warren linebacker DeShawn Bridges said.

Veteran South Warren head coach Brandon Smith likes a versatile offensive approach, but the former WKU quarterback doesn’t mind airing it out, if need be. Particularly early in the season, with limited practice time, it’s a good way to open up the game, to keep the opponent guessing.

South Warren amassed more than 500 yards total offense against North Hardin, with junior running back/linebacker Ethan Reynolds having a banner day.

Reynolds, the Spartans’ football/baseball star, rushed for 71 yards and a touchdown against North Hardin, but he did most of his damage out of the backfield, as a receiver. Button had two rushing touchdowns himself,

Reynolds had six receptions for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Bailey Shoemaker had seven receptions for 67 yards, and Button got the ball to senior wideout/safety Dameon Rigsby and junior tight end/linebacker Colton Veltkamp, too. Rigsby had four receptions for 50 yards and Veltkamp, the younger brother of WKU quarterback Caden Veltkamp, had three catches for 41 yards and a score.

When South was boat racing its postseason opponents on the way to the school’s third state championship, in 2021, Caden Veltkamp was adept at spreading the ball around the field, finding multiple receivers to keep the opponent’s defense on its heels. Button served his apprenticeship as Veltkamp’s backup that season before moving into the starting role last year.

Colton Veltkamp and Ethan Reynolds each had two tackles for lost yardage against North Hardin, and South coach Brandon Smith likes versatile players who can contribute on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Smith tries to trot out two 11-man units, offense and defense, but he’ll pick his spots in getting his best players on the field at crunch time.

“We had more than normal, kids playing both offense and defense (against North Hardin),” Smith said. “Typically, you give them breaks on offense.”

Smith was particularly impressed with how the Spartans bounced back from a double-digit deficit against North Hardin, how they kept grinding until forging a substantial lead of their own.

“I think our kids handled the adversity really well,” Smith said. “Last year, there was a tendency to fold up shop, when we fell behind … They fought through the adversity. Bryce had a lot of big-time throws. Nice ball placement on the routes. I was really proud of Ethan; he makes big plays on offense and defense.

“We played in the afternoon, so we got a dose of what to expect with the heat (Friday night).”

South Warren linebacker DeShawn Bridges, who has aspirations of playing college football at a Power Five conference school, said the Spartans had the right mental approach in their opening game. He’s optimistic they can do the same against Henderson County in their home opener.

“We played as a team,” Bridges said. “We were down, and we put together a three-play drive right out of halftime. We know (Henderson County) is going to be a tough, physical game. That’s what we like.”

Henderson County, a KHSAA Class 6A school, opened the season with a 35-34 victory over Meade County. Junior quarterback Trajdon Davis did it all for the Colonels, completing 9 of 13 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 125 yards and three touchdowns. Henderson County teammate Anthony Burrus added 110 yards on the ground.

Henderson County coach Josh Boston and South Warren’s Brandon Smith both like to put together challenging schedules; the Colonels will face the likes of heavyweights Paducah Tighlman, Mayfield and Owensboro High School, outside of district play.

South Warren quarterback Bryce Button said the Spartans understand what’s in front of them — a typically tough schedule, too, including opponents such as Southwestern High School, Logan County and Louisville’s Manual High School … in addition to the meat grinder district slate with Greenwood and archrival Bowling Green High School.

“Last week’s game was a dogfight, for sure,” Button said. “We got down, at a couple points, and came back … We trusted each other. ‘Lean On Me.’ That’s kind of been our motto this year. Count on each other.”

The Spartans will be leaning on each other Friday night.