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Four HCHS Bears find new den at UPike

Four seniors who helped rebuild the Harlan County High School football program have accepted a new challenge on the next level. Tyrese Simmons, Devon Rodridgues, Quintin Mickens and Jacob Ward signed with the University of Pikeville in a ceremony last week at HCHS.

All four were key players in the fall as the Bears rebounded from a 1-4 start to capture the school’s third 5A regional title before falling in a heartbreaker at Madison Southern in the state semifinals to finish 8-6.

Pikeville assistant coach Buck Blasco, heading into his fourth season as an assistant, was at Harlan County High School last week to make the four signings official. Pikeville finished 5-6 last season, one year after winning the Mid-South Conference champioonship.

Once HCHS graduate is already on the Pikeville roster. Cole Kidwell has played two seasons with UPike.

“He did a great job as a freshman on special teams and was in the rotation at defensive tackle last season,” Blasco said.

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Simmons, one of only six four-year starters in the 10-year history of the program, had 28 catches for 293 yards as a senior while adding 811 yards rushing and ranking among the team leaders in tackles with 60. Simmons was perhaps the most athletic player in school history as a standout in basketball while seeing action at receiver, running back, quarterback and defensive back in football.

“I have much respect for Tyrese for living up to the expectations that were put on him at an early age to be a standout football and basketball player. I’ve witnessed many middle school all-stars fizzle at the high school level and crumble under the pressure of being ‘the man.’ Ty didn’t. He actually went above and beyond,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said. “He was as good of an athlete as anybody we have played the past few years. He sure made life easier for us offensively knowing he was a threat to take it to the house on any given play. I am anxious to see how he responds in college to being with other players at the same or higher level of athleticism. I think he will rise to the occasion.”

“We love him at the slot. We want to get him the ball in space where he can make plays,” Blasco said. “He does a great job catching the ball away from his body and he’s such a great athlete.”

“I really liked the facilities and I felt at home. It felt like I was at HC,” Simmons said of Pikeville. “The coaches were nice and I felt at home. It makes it easier to have some of my teammates going. They can push me and I’ll push them.”

Simmons became the first athlete in the school to start on regional championship teams in both basketball and football.

“It feels awesome,” said Simmons of the Bears’ success. “I hope the younger ones look up to what we did and realize they can do it also.”

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Mickens led the Bears in rushing with 966 yards and 11 touchdowns and also had 64 tackles at outside linebacker.

“Q was such a dynamic football player. He struck fear in opposing offensive coordinators with his length and athletic ability coming off the edge on that weak side. Offensively, he was our workhorse. He could read and run inside zone then line up with his hand in the dirt and run power and iso in the bone,” Creech said. “Q was our emotional leader on the field and leaves some big shoes to fill in our program. The sky is the limit for him at the collegiate level.”

“We’re bringing Quintin in to carry the rock. We think he will be a great fit in our offense,” Blascoe said. “We’re a little light at running back right now, and we think he will be a great addition. We think he will be a good downhill runner.”

“I wanted to play running back in college,” Mickens said. “I think I’m better on offense and can provide more to the team on offense than defense. I’m looking forward to Pikeville. It’s close to home and I will have several of my teammates there with me.”

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Rodrigues was first in receptions last year for the Bears with 43 for 543 yards and five touchdowns. He also led the team in interceptions with five, including one late in the state semifinal game at Madison Southern.

“I think D-Rod will go down as one of the most memorable Bears in the history of the program — mostly because of his play on the field, but also because of his unique personality,” Creech said. “We watched this kid turn into an outstanding athlete right before our eyes. He has great hands, quick feet and great speed. He is almost always joking around so it is hard to really see it sometimes, but D-Rod is also a very heady, smart player. I think D-Rod has as much upside as anyone we are sending to play college ball when you consider what he will be in four years from today if he sticks with it.”

“We have a need at defensive back and we think he can be one of those guys to be able to lock down receivers,” Blasco said. “He’s an aggressive player who can make plays for us.”

“I think I can work both sides of the ball,” Rodrigues said. “Whatever they need, I will execute and do what I can. We all wanted to stick together and felt the University of Pikeville was the best choice. I will always have my heart here at HC though and it breaks my heart to leave.”

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Ward led all HCHS lineman in tackles last year with 72, ranking third on the team behind linebackers Garry Henson and Caleb Carmical.

“Ward’s dedication to changing his body over the course of the last four years is unmatched, in my opinion,” Creech said. “He had a phenomenal year at defensive tackle and later in the year as a great blocker on the offensive line. People could not move him because of his strength, and he read counter trey as well as I have ever seen. He would squeeze and make the play every time. He will knock somebody right in the mouth next year at UPike. You can take that to the bank.”

“He’ll play the defensive line for us. We’re calling him Cole Kidwell Jr. since we have him at Pikeville now and they are similar players,” Blasco said. “They are the same body type and are big, strong kids who love the weightroom. We’re excited for him to come in and get to work.”

Ward said having a former teammate already at Pikeville made the decision easier for him.

“I liked Pikeville because it was close to home. I looked up to Cole as a freshman and thought I’d like to go play college ball like him,” Ward said. “We worked out a little together at Pikeville when they were on spring break.”

Ward also feels he helped leave the HCHS program in a good place.

“I hope what we’ve done inspires other players to do the best they can do,” he said.