Great quarterbacks to be honorary captains Friday
By Jim Turner


Posted on November 5, 2014 10:32 PM



Seven quarterbacks who had great careers as Russellville Panthers will serve as honorary captains Friday, as the Russellville football program concludes its salute to 75-year-old Rhea Stadium. They not only had impressive statistics themselves but led their teams to some outstanding accomplishments.

This will be the Panthers’ sixth home game of the season and most likely the last. This week’s opponent is Kentucky Country Day of Louisville, which finished third in Class A, Region I, District 2. The Panthers are at home because they placed second in District 1. For Coach John Myers’ team to get to play at home again, one of two things would have to fall into place, either Fulton County winning at Louisville Holy Cross in the first round or Bardstown Bethlehem upsetting Mayfield in the second round. Neither has much chance of happening.

Since 2014 is an even-numbered year, the state semifinals will be at the Region 2 home site, so Russellville, Mayfield or Holy Cross will have to go on the road.

For each of the six home games this year, honorary captains have been named and recognized before the games. They all had outstanding careers playing their home games at Rhea Stadium. Among them were quarterbacks Bobby Dawson, Johnny Guion, Larry Johnson Sr., and the late Benny Cox, who was represented by his brother, former Panther kicker Roland Cox.

Now seven more will signal callers will join them. They are as follows, in order of the years in which they played:

Freddie Atkinson was a member of RHS’ first two state finalist teams. He was one of Benny Cox’s backup QBs on Coach Waymond Morris’ 1964 team. As a senior two years later, he quarterbacked Coach Stumpy Baker’s Panthers to the championship game at UK. He was honorable mention all-state in 1965 and 1966, All-WKC Class A both those years, and All-SKY and captain as a senior.

In his senior season, Atkinson led the Panthers to a perfect 9-0 regular season, the first undefeated season for a Panther team since the great 1950 squad. Atkinson threw three touchdown passes against Crittenden County and scored two rushing touchdowns in a Tobacco Bowl victory over Trigg County. He rushed for 73 yards on 16 carries in a 13-12 win over Murray.

In a 34-6 win over state favorite Frankfort in the semifinals, Atkinson and the late Garry Todd scored two touchdowns each. In the crowd were former Lt. Governor Doc Beauchamp of Russellville and then-governor Ned Breathitt, who was there to see his son play for Frankfort.

In the state championship game against Dayton, a defender came through gaps created by injuries to lineman Chris Watson and fullback Ricky Stack to block a punt off the foot of Alan Neal, one of the greatest punters in Panther history. Dayton scored as a result.

The Panthers came within a foot of winning the state. Atkinson completed a 72-yard pass to Todd down to the Dayton eight. Atkinson ran on the first two plays and passed toward Todd on third down, but on fourth down Todd was stopped inside the one. Dayton won 6-2 over a Panther team that finished 11-1.

Virgil Benton quarterbacked Coach Baker’s 1969 team which reached the regional finals and Coach Jim Gladden’s 1970 squad which made it to the state semifinals. He was honorable mention as both a Prep All-American and an all-stater. Most dangerous when he was returning kicks, Benton was All-WKC overall.

He quarterbacked Baker’s final team at RHS to an 8-2 record before the Panthers ‘lost’ a scoreless tie at Tompkinsville in the regional finals. During the season, Benton and fullback Tommy Threlkeld did most of the scoring, and the defense did the rest. Highlights were a Benton-to-Threlkeld pass for the winning points in a 12-6 win over Trigg County, and 14 points in each game in wins over Murray and Bowling Green.

1969 was the only year the KHSAA used a statistical tiebreaking system in the playoffs. The regional championship game was at a tough place to play, T’ville. Neither team was ever going to score, especially since Baker and Assistant Coach Jim Michaels had decided to go to a platoon system. Back Randy Cowan was the only Panther to start both ways. The Bears had three star defenders in future New Orleans Saint Elois Grooms and the Brothers Bushong, Paul and Johnny. Russellville had a pair of great tackles in Barry Parrish and the late Larry Duffy. The Bears gained more yards on their possession in overtime than did the Panthers, especially after RHS had to kick over because of a dog on the field.

Gladden’s first RHS team also went 8-2 and reached the state semifinals the following year. Gladden inherited an outstanding senior class that included all-stars Billy Costello, Bobby Tattitch, Bob Flowers, Tony Stokes, Barry Parrish, Scott Neil and Benton along with speedy receiver Keith Northern, Ralph Parrish, Cowan, and Mark Sasson.

Benton pulled off the most memorable play of the season at Rhea Stadium. He returned a punt 71 yards for the only touchdown in a win over highly regarded Fort Campbell, which featured future UK star and college coach Mike Cassidy. Lt. Gov. Wendell Ford was in the crowd watching that game at a rain-soaked Tobacco Bowl.

Benton and sophomore Michael Gough scored touchdowns in a 27-18 win over a Trigg County team that won state championships the next two years. Neil caught the winning touchdown pass from Benton in a 14-8 decision over Murray after Tattitch and Carl Grinter combined for 219 yards rushing.

In the regional championship game, Campbellsville came to town. One of the captains for the visitors was a guy named Leon Smith, who is now the Russellville superintendent. His predecessor, Roger Cook, was also a member of that team. The Panthers won 34-0 at Historic Rhea. Ask Superintendent Smith about it.

The next week, Bardstown beat the Panthers 7-6 in the semifinals. The RHS touchdown came on a pass from Benton to Neil. Bardstown’s point-after conversion was good. Russellville’s wasn’t.

Virgil Benton also had an outstanding basketball career for the Panthers, playing for coaches Denny Doyle and Wayne Mullen.

Jimmy Smith was the starting Panther quarterback three straight seasons in the mid-70s, playing first for Coach Wayne Shewmaker and then for Coach Ken Barrett upon his arrival at Rhea Stadium. Smith completed almost a mile in passing yardage, over 4,400 yards, and threw 37 touchdown passes. He was Class A All-State as a senior and was All-WKC and All-SKY twice.

As a child, he had been an area Punt, Pass & Kick winner and the starting pitcher for the first all-star team representing newly sanctioned Russellville Little League. He had a good baseball career in high school for the Panthers.

His breakout football game came as a sophomore when he threw for 223 yards and touchdowns to Phil Todd, Greg Meacham and Jeff Ashby against Allen County-Scottsville. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 162 yards in a season-ending win over Bowling Green.

As a junior, Smith threw a pair of TD passes to Meacham in a win over Todd Central, and a 52-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Sydnor for the winning score against Warren Central. With tutelage from assistant coach Floyd Burnsed, who went on to coach NFL quarterbacks, Jimmy Smith had thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns by the end of his junior year. Tight end Jerry Allen caught 61 of those passes their junior season and pulled in 109 receptions over their last two years. Twins Terry and Tim McKenzie were among his favorite receivers in his senior season.

Like Benton, Smith went to Liberty College on the East Coast to play after graduation.

Keb Barrett was the starting quarterback on Russellville’s first state championship team in 1980, playing for his dad, the man for whom Ken Barrett Field is named. Keb was All-WKC and honorable mention all-state as a senior.

Keb was a natural leader and made the players around him better. Two of his favorite pass targets were Tim Smith and Kevin Fruits. He utilized the running of backs Bernard Bellamy, Randy Smith and the late David McCormick. The defense was led by a trio of outstanding juniors, Tim Williams, Dickie Shifflett and All-South performer Tommy Wilkins, a future two-year UK captain.

In a 14-7 win over Trigg County, Barrett connected with Smith for a touchdown and threw to Fruits for the two-point conversion.

Russellville won the state with all three playoff games on the road, winning 10-0 at Tompkinsville, 28-13 at Owen County, and 16-0 over defending state champion Bellevue with Barrett completing seven passes, including a touchdown pass to Fruits, who pulled in five of them.

Keb Barrett was also a key basketball player for the Panthers.

Andy Woodall was the starting quarterback on the 1983 state championship team, considered by many long-time Panther fans as the greatest team of the modern era. He also was on the team which had won the state three years earlier. He was All-WKC in both 1982 and ’83.

When long-time coach and former Panther great Buddy Linton was asked a few years ago if he could have any former Panther quarterback under center for a meaningful game, he said without hesitation, “I’d have to go with Andy. He was a winner.”

This was a run-oriented team. Woodall handed off to three great running backs in All-Stater Jonathan Cage, Rodney Gordon and Clay Parrish. Brian Fruits could back up all of those positions. The defense was led by All-Stater Oscar York, who was also a tight end.

These Panthers were hardly challenged the last half of the season in winning that second state title while setting an RHS record with 13 victories. They beat defending state champion Cumberland 42-13 in the state championship game at Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium.

The most memorable game came in the state semifinals at Rhea Stadium when the Panthers won 19-7 over Paris, which came to Russellville with a national-best 38-game win streak. Woodall was in control throughout that game.

Andy Woodall is best known now as one of the lead play-by-play broadcasters for WRUS radio.

John Markham quarterbacked Barrett’s 1987 Bunch to the state championship game as a junior. Known as Russellville’s greatest baseball pitcher ever, he was captain of the 1988 football team.

Three great running backs were in the backfield with Markham—Darwin Washington, Phillp West and Dante Wells.

Markham is best remembered in football for leading a remarkable comeback in the state semifinals at Rhea Stadium, again against the Paris Greyhounds.

The next week in the state championship game, the Panthers were overwhelmed by Pikeville, which resembled a prep school or a junior college instead of a high school team.

The next spring, John Markham led Coach Lou Kendall’s baseball Panthers to the regional baseball finals with Washington among those making significant contributions. He went on to pitch for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.

Larry Johnson (Jr. or ‘Little Larry”) had primarily been a defensive jewel most of his high school career, but Coach Barrett’s moving him to quarterback for his senior season in 1990 proved to be the difference for the Panthers’ third state championship in 11 seasons. He was named All-WKC in both his junior and senior seasons.

He was a super athlete manning a position in which he could touch the ball on every offensive play.

That state championship squad 24 years ago was not deep, even though they were able to play all year without potential all-star lineman John Paul Cates, who was injured early in the preseason. The line was anchored by Andy Britt, who became a starting guard for UK.

Joining Johnson in the backfield were a pair of great backs, speed merchant Andre Morris and bruising inside/outside threat Onassa Duncan. Morris went on to be one of America’s best collegiate sprinters.

Another great Panther quarterback, Mikie Benton,will be on the field. The two-year starter at safety at UK for Coach Joker Phillips is now an assistant coach on Coach John Myers’ current Panthers

And there you have Friday’s honorary captains—seven of the greatest quarterbacks in the glorious history of Russellville football and of our 75-year-old friend, Rhea Stadium.

Honorary captains at the Mayfield game played for the Panthers in the late 40s and early 50s. James Holman is seated. Standing, from left, are Alderson Clark, Huey Hinton, Dr. Pat Kirkpatrick, Harold ‘Tub’ Hinton, Bobby Dawson and Bob Ballance. Photo by Donna Wilkerson Brown




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