LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Josh Carter lost his father in June when the helicopter his dad was testing crashed in Afghanistan.
Antonio Andrews' father is scheduled to be deployed either to Afghanistan or Iraq this week, and the Fort Campbell junior wears a dog tag that reads, "I love you Daddy" with a photo of his father on the other side.
Junior quarterback Antonio Andrews rips off a run in the state title game.
Trust Davis was playing high school football in Germany this time last year and had to transfer back to the United States - to a team that was coming off a state title victory.
You probably know what a second consecutive Class 2A title means to the Fort Campbell squad, its community and the Army installation on which it's located. If not, you'll have to wait a minute before coach Shawn Berner can tell you.
Right now – minutes after the Falcons beat Newport Central Catholic 26-23 in the Kentucky finals, the second consecutive year Fort Campbell defeated the Thoroughbreds – he's too emotional to speak about it. Right now, he's having a hard time finding the words in a throat that rapidly is closing. It's too hard right now to tell you what this moment means to Fort Campbell.
"Yeah, it is," Berner said. "A lot. A lot."
Fort Campbell is an unusual place to attend school, an unusual place to find such high quality football.
The school is located on an Army base in southwest Kentucky, and a handful of the players' parents are deployed overseas with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). There, they face danger every day while their children try to live life in the U.S. as normally as possible. Invariably, new students transfer to Fort Campbell each year and others transfer away.
Somehow, the football team continues to win.
"It's always an issue," Berner said. "The thing about our kids is they accept everybody that comes in. It's just a part of the military lifestyle, the discipline in the kids. I tell you there's nothing like those kids."
There was nothing to prepare Carter - a senior linebacker who has committed to Western Kentucky - for this season. On June 5, James Carter, a Chief Warrant Officer, died in a helicopter crash at Kandahar Army Airfield. He left behind a wife and three children. Since then, Josh Carter has moved off the base. But he stayed with the football team. Against Newport Central Catholic, he recorded eight tackles and half a sack.
"It's been tough," Josh Carter said. "I do it for him, and I want to do it for myself also, because he wanted me to be successful. I'm just doing what he told me to do."
Josh's biggest moment of the day came on the Thoroughbreds' final play from scrimmage. After Fort Campbell took a three-point lead on a 59-yard halfback pass from JD Ervin to Andrews with 1:44 to play, Newport Central Catholic faced a third-and-16 from the Fort Campbell 48-yard line with less than a minute to play.
Quarterback Rob Kues was flushed from the pocket by Carter. Kues ran directly into the arms of Davis, who sacked him and caused a fumble … which Carter recovered.
A huge play by Carter, and a huge play by Davis – a senior wide receiver/defensive end who wasn't even a member of the team last year. That's because he was with his parents at an Army base in Germany. Still, while transferring to Fort Campbell to a team that was coming off a state championship, the Falcons accepted him like they accept every new player to land on the base.
"The coaches, when new people come in, they train them hard and get them conditioned," Davis said. "It was hard when I came in. It was really hard. But I came through and after a while, it got easier. They welcome us in, and once that happens, it's easy."
Real life, though, will continue this week for Andrews, the quarterback who gained 309 yards of total offense against the Thoroughbreds, rushed for two touchdowns, threw for another and then caught the winner. He'll say goodbye to his father and hope for the best. But Andrews can look back on Saturday's game and be proud, as will the rest of the people on the base who can celebrate – even if it's just for a minute – a great victory.
"A lot of people don't understand what it's like to be on a military post, especially in times like this," Berner said. "This means a lot."