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Former HCHS standouts headed to Cumberlands

A year away from football helped former Harlan County football standouts Christian Hall and Jacob Branson realize just how much they missed it. The two HCHS 2018 graduates signed with the University of the Cumberlands on Wednesday to continue their football careers next fall.

“I found out how much I loved the game and how much I missed it,” Hall said. “I wanted to give it another shot.”

Both also had to get healthy after suffering multiple injuries during their high school careers. Branson suffered a torn labrum and injured his rotator cuff. Hall suffered a torn left ACL during basketball season as a sophomore and a torn right ACL during the Bears’ regional championship win in 2017.

“For me, it was a year I needed to get healthy and get my mind right,” said Branson, who will earn an associate degree from Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in the spring. “I felt like I wasn’t ready before, but that time off gave me some time to mature. I did miss it though. I think I only made it two games this year because it was so hard to watch.”

“I feel better than I ever have,” Hall said. “I think I’m faster than I was before the injuries.”

Both players had to battle injuries late in their high school football careers but played key roles as seniors when the Bears won seven of eight games after a slow start to win the Region 4 title in 5A. Branson played quarterback until a shoulder injury moved him to receiver. He also started in the secondary.

After moving into the starting lineup as a sophomore, Branson completed 47 of 80 passes for 662 yards, with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He was tied for fourth on the team in tackles with 45.

Branson had his best season as a junior when he was healthy all season. He completed 89 of 167 passes for 1,618 yards, with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Branson completed 18 of 35 passes as a senior for 196 yards.

“Jacob played a huge role in our success in 2017. He currently holds almost every single passing record in HCHS history,” Harlan County coach Eddie Creech said. “He battled through the adversity of his injury to become one of the best defensive backs in the region. Jacob has great instincts and possesses all the skills needed to play at the next level. With his increase in size and strength, I wouldn’t be surprised if they play him at a hybrid outside linebacker/strong safety. He is very physical and very heady. Quarterback is still an option, I’m sure, if that is what he decides to do.”

“I told coach (Cumberlands assistant coach) (J.B.) Donahue I would play anywhere, so I’m going down there with an open mind and ready to work,” Branson said. “I’m ready to play wherever I’m needed.”

Hall played a variety of roles with the Bears, including running back and receiver on offense and outside linebacker and safety on defense.

“Christian Hall played almost half of a semi-state football game with a torn ACL. If that doesn’t show the world the toughness and dedication he possesses, I don’t know what would,” Creech said. “Christian was, like Jacob, a pivotal part of our 2017 run. He was a vocal leader and a very aggressive player on the field. He has really dedicated himself to the weight room alongside Jacob and Colby (Cochran) this winter, and I really feel he can be a solid player for UC wherever they put him.”

“They have told me they are looking at me as a safety/linebacker hybrid. I will be playing a nickel or down in the box,” said Hall, who is now 6-2 and 205 pounds.

Branson said former Cumberlands and Harlan standout Frank Shope played a role in helping him continue his football career.

“He played with (Cumberlands) coach (Matt) Rhymer and talked to him about me,” Branson said.

Creech said both players had provided outstanding leadership throughout their high school careers.

“Both young men have recently dedicated their lives to the Lord. In our program, we do our best to “Live Above the Line” and in the end, I am more proud of their walk with Jesus than I am any trophy or accolade they get,” Creech said. “Coach Rhymer runs a clean, Christian program down there and the transition for these young men should be smooth. ”