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Arnold returns to Fort Knox to take over Eagles

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The last time Fort Knox had a winning football season was 2002.

The Eagles were 8-4, beat Green County, 13-7 in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs and then dropped a tough 7-3 decision to Christian Academy-Louisville.

It’s been a rough road since then.

Wes Arnold is looking to change that.

“I told the administration that my first thing is I want it to be an enjoyable experience for the kids. High school football is such a great sport,” Arnold said. “I want them to look back on this as a positive time in their lives. I want to establish that culture where they’re having fun and having a good time, and hopefully that will transition into more kids playing and more kids excited to play football; and hopefully that will lead to some more wins.

“There’s talent here. You don’t win state track championships without speed and athleticism. The five years I was here before, we were always the smallest 2-A school. That made it really tough. We were in a district with CAL, DeSales, Bardstown — at Central, we got beat by CAL. Being back in 1-A, we’re in a competitive district, but everybody’s dressing 30-40 kids. We were dressing 30 against teams that were dressing 60. There’s some great opportunities to be successful here.”

Arnold takes over for Sam Wilson, who went 8-25 in his three seasons as the boss.

“Priorities change,” Wilson said. “There’s other things in life that are more important than high school football — family. Another one is the stress of the job here. Fort Knox is a different ballgame coaching. Not the stress of the kids, but there’s other stuff that comes with it. Kids here come and go, so it’s hard to build a program here because you don’t know who you’re gonna get until July.

“Plus, I do other stuff within the community as well, so I can focus on that and watch my little grandson (7) play football. He asked me a couple weeks ago, ‘Papa, come coach my team.’ I said, ‘No, I coach at Fort Knox.’ And then it hit me. ‘Man, I’m missing a lot.’ I’m gonna focus on that.

“I pastor [Hope Temple Church of God in Christ] down in Radcliff as well. JROTC plays a big part in it, too. We can get our program back — focus on the color guards, drill team, rifle team — all those other things.”

Arnold has been inside the gates since 2010, when he was hired after graduating from Slippery Rock Univer-sity, outside of Pittsburgh. He teaches health and physical education at Scott Middle School, which will soon be attached to the high school.

“I’m really excited to get going,” Arnold said. “I’m kind of out on the recruiting trail right now getting kids out for football who are coming back to school. There are kids who have already said they’re gonna play football who hadn’t before. That’s a good thing. I told them, ‘You know who needs to be playing, so get them out here.’

“We’ve had a bunch to sign up that hadn’t played before, or didn’t play last year. They’re gonna give it a try and that’s a big thing. If we can get some success early, I think they’ll buy in and trust what we’re doing, I think it could result in a big deal.”

Wilson was on staff as an assistant coach for six years before being named head coach.

“The best part is these kids, impacting their lives,” Wilson said. “Not with wins and losses, but to give them something they can take from this high school and become better men. I love the camaraderie with the kids, building a family atmosphere with the kids. I love the interaction with the kids. If they can learn one thing from me, I’m happy with that. I believe I impacted a lot of kids’ lives in this high school.

“You can get hit hard, get knocked down, but you can always get back up again. We lost a lot of games. They came back the next game and played again. No quit in them. It’s not fun to lose. In high school you have to take what you have and try to make what you can. That’s what we tried to do and that’s what we did.”

Fort Knox is unique in that there is no summer program.

“We’re a little behind,” Arnold said. “We’re unique, too, because none of the kids are really from here, so they’re gonna go visit a mom or a dad somewhere over the summer or go on vacation or going to go to their actual home state because Kentucky is not their home. They’re gonna go to Texas or Florida or wherever to visit family. We’re gonna do stuff in June, but I’m not gonna stress about putting plays in because we’re not gonna have our full team until July, or even maybe late July. That first week of school is our scrimmage and that’s usually when things get shored up around here.

“I think I have a great perspective because it’s hard to come from outside the gate to this situation if you’ve never been it. I know what it’s like. I have experience outside of the gate and inside of the gate and can mix that. It takes a special mix to make it work here and I feel I can provide that.”

Wilson said another reason for stepping down is that he has lost a step.

“I like to be hands-on. I like to get in there. I don’t like to sit back and talk about it. I want to be able to do it. I can’t do some of the things I used to do,” said Wilson, who fractured his tibia during the 2017 season after being hit on the sidelines.

Arnold comes over after spending three years on Coach Tim Mattingly’s staff at Central Hardin. The Bruins were 28-12, including 7-3 in the postseason.

“It was a great opportunity to go learn from the best,” Arnold said. “It was great that I got to be a part of Coach Mattingly’s staff, all those region titles and wins and playoffs. More importantly, I learned how to become a better coach under those guys at Central. When this opportunity became open … things have started to pick back up here. We’re in 1A. I thought it was a good opportunity to come back and sort of come home and take over the program. This is a good situation and a good place.

“Coach Mattingly, I think, is one of the best head coaches in the state. I think he’s very underrated. He’s taken that program to unbelievable heights. His defensive scheme, which is what he hangs his hat on, is definitely something I’ll never forget. His style of being aggressive and physical, that left a lasting impression on me.

“The way he manages the team — he’s the best I’ve ever seen. The kids really respect him, but he can also joke around with them and they love him. They really respect him, but they really enjoy him. He was great on teaching all of us on how to be a head coach, learning all the intricate day-to-day things that no one else sees. He’s such a good role model. He’s had an unbelievable impact on my coaching skills and life in general.”

Not surprisingly, Arnold will implement the Wing-T with the Eagles.

“I think it’s a great high school offense,” he said. “I told the kids just about everybody in this area is running it, so there has to be something to it. I want the kids to trust and have faith that we know what we’re doing. I think that’s big. You have new kids coming out and kids coming back and they’re all learning a new system. I showed them in the meeting all the teams that run our offense and how successful they’ve been.

“I think they felt confident that this is something they can get behind and are excited about, too.” n