NICHOLASVILLE – The Northern Middle School football program had a huge day on Saturday with two state championship titles in the championship games of the Kentucky Middle School Football Association State Football Tournament.
The Northern Middle sixth-grade and seventh-grade teams both came away with state championship trophies within two hours. The Northern sixth-graders downed Hazard 14-0 for the program's first-ever sixth-grade football state crown. The sixth-grade Maroons also finished the 2021 season with an undefeated record. The Northern Middle seventh-graders won their state crown with a 44-0 win over Robert D. Campbell.
The Northern Middle sixth-graders defeated Union (1-0), Bell County (16-8), South Laurel (32-8), and Perry County (16-6) prior to their KMSFA State Tournament championship game win. The Northern Middle seventh-graders defeated Harlan County (40-0), Corbin (18-6), North Laurel (30-8) and Woodford County (56-20) prior to their KMSFA State Tournament championship game win.
For Northern Middle School fifth-year head football coach G.J. Wooldridge stated the two state titles was a welcome relief after making it to the KMSFA State Finals four of the last five years – with state runner-up finishes in 2017, 2018 and 2020.
"We had practiced on the last day of the middle school football season every year since I had been here, but every season ended in a loss," Wooldridge stated. "We finally ended the season with a win, and we were fortunate enough to win two of them on Saturday. All three of our teams have had a lot of adversity off the field, and I think that has only made us closer."
Even after winning the two state crowns, GJ Wooldridge still felt a little empty with his dad not there to celebrate with him. His dad (Glenn Wooldridge) had passed away earlier in the year.
"For me it was sort of bittersweet winning these two state titles with my dad not being able to be here to see it, but I know he is proud of me," Wooldridge said. "I could hear my dad in my head saying 'You are never done working and keep going. Don't overthink it and don't overdo it'."
"I always put notes on my playsheets every game, like 'You know he (dad) is watching you', 'Handle your business' and 'Take a minute for yourself if you need it'," Wooldridge explained. "These were things he always told me on our pre-game conversations. My dad coached me at this age level, he had a huge impact on my life and because of him I am coaching football now. I am thankful for the 36 years I had with him, I learned so much from him, I miss him every day, and I know he was out there on the field with me on Saturday."
The two football state title teams will go down in school history, but Wooldridge will long remember this group of football players for their compassion and team unity.
"I am so happy for these kids for what they accomplished this season, but I will always remember them for having my back at my weakest point after my dad died," Wooldridge stated."That is a testament to them."
Wooldridge explained that he knew he had a good seventh-grade and eighth-grade team, but his goal for the newly-formed sixth-grade team was just to get them on the field and give them that extra year of experience. Little did he know that the sixth-grade team would go undefeated and win it all.
"This was the first sixth-grade team at Northern and an unexpected change for our football program." Wooldridge explained. "At first we were worried that we might not be able to coach three teams (6th, 7th and 8th), but the same staff coached all three teams and it allowed some additional younger kids to play football. We had to break up our practices, but we thought it would be worth it to give these kids an extra year of middle school football."
"Of course everybody wants to 'win it all', but our realistic goal for this inaugural sixth-grade team was to get them out on the field and get them accustomed to how were did things at this level," Wooldridge explained. "We had some great leadership with Will Adams and Blake Taylor on this team, and those two guys played a huge part on the seventh-grade team too."
"Once the sixth-graders got out there and started competing, it was like a snowball effect. They started winning and they refused to lose," Wooldridge laughed. "We were always the smallest players on the field in almost every game, and I think we played one game with only 15 kids. So our numbers were low and our size was small, but the kids made up for it by the way they competed on the field.
Members of the undefeated Northern Middle School state champion sixth-grade football team was Brayden Green, Will Adams, Connor Lewis, Hayden Johnson, Xavier Wooldridge, Gavin Morrison, Zachary Baker, Ethan Ball, Ethan Moody, Miles Strunk, Charlie Turner, Brody Coleman, Jaxon Reynolds, Blake Taylor, Hayden McQueary, Blake Gifford, Connor Blevins, Tate Cordell, Tristan Clark, Jace Arnett, snd Gage Turner.
Wooldridge knew he had a good chance of winning a state title with his seventh-grade team. They had experience and talent. According to Wooldridge, the coaches just stayed out of their way and tried to just help them improve throughout the season.
"The seventh-grade team was an experienced group and they all loved football," Wooldridge said. "This team brought effort, energy and a great work ethic everyday in practice and in games. This was a good group of players. As coaches, we tried to get out of their way, let them play, and try not over-coach them. We tried to help them get better and not over-complicate it. Also, a lot of these kids played on the eighth-grade team and that helped them a lot in the seventh-grade games."
"I don't think there was another team in the state that worked as hard as this group did and they were a tight-knit group," Wooldridge stated. "They all loved each other and they all would do whatever they had to do to win."
Members of the Northern Middle School seventh-grade state champion football team was Will Adams, Chris Dezern, Kasen Brock, Boone Godby, Bryton Burton, Zach Benedict, Zachary Baker, Hayden Johnson, Tyson Hooker, Layne Woster, Skylar Stringer, Stefan Cress, Storm Cordell, Braxton Haggard, Braden Baker, Hunter Woster, Brayan Ramirez, Blake Taylor, Aiden Stringer, Dylan Whitaker, Brady Hull, Conner Blevins, Stephen Moore, Alex Inabnitt, Brevyn Hughes, RJ Noble, Seth Fox, Gavin Morrison, and Mason Payne.
Wooldridge has been pleasantly surprised with the football program's success and the number of kids that want to come out and play on the team.
"We want kids to be a part of something special, but nothing is given," Wooldridge stated. "We are going to teach them how to work hard. We have a great group of coaches here that know how to motivate kids and they have a special relationship with each player. We love these kids and we love being around them, and that makes practices fun, it makes workouts fun, and it makes it all worth it when you win titles like this."
The Northern Middle School football coaching staff included GJ Wooldridge, Chad Girdler, Daryn Meece, Jackson Mobley, Josh Roberts, Jabriel Siler, Logan Starnes, Jeff Benedict, and Scott Cordell.
The Northern Middle School eighth-grade team was eliminated in the KMFSA State Tournament semifinals. As seventh-graders last season, they were KMFSA state runners up.
Members of the Northern Middle eighth-grade state Final Four team was Toby Wright, CJ Whalen, Zak Anderson, Boone Godby, Bryton Burton, Luke Martin, Cohen Finley, Zach Benedict, Kyndel Reynolds, Brody Johnson, Connor Flynn, Drew Lawson, Tyson Hooker, Storm Cordell, Bentley Zeller, Samuel Cobler, Jett Mckeown, Levi Beshears, Kolten Cain, Brayan Ramirez, Keegan Keith, Dekker Wheeldon, Brady Hull, Conner Blevins, Jadon Goodin, RJ Noble, and Michael Marcum.
STEVE CORNELIUS is the CJ Sports Editor and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CJSportseditor.