P ull up the YouTube clip and you can still see it. Down by three with just six seconds left and sixty yards of field in front of them. A desperation Hail Mary pass arcs through the night sky, followed by the eyes and hearts of hundreds. The ball is tipped once, twice, and drops into the hands of a streaking wide receiver who jukes one defender and strides into the end zone as the crowd explodes. The play completes the most unlikely of victories for an Owensboro High School Red Devil team that no one expected to get this far.
Assistant coach Jay Fallin was on the sideline for the Red Devils during that Class 4A state semifinal game in 2014 and for the heartbreaking loss that followed in the state championship game. When time ran out on the season, there was no way to know that the next time the team took the field, Fallin would lead the charge.
But now that 2015 is here, there’s no mistake – 28-year old Jay Fallin is the OHS Head Football Coach. After former coach Joe Prince led the Red Devils to that championship game, he took a job coaching in Virginia near his family. His departure left a void that not just anyone could fill.
“We discussed it as assistants, if anyone was interested in applying,” Fallin said. “We wanted to be open and honest with each other – we’re very close as a staff.” In the end, Fallin put his name in the ring and emerged as the clear successor.
“I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to take on a program like this,” Fallin said. “I learned a lot of great lessons from Coach Prince.”
While he knows expectations are high following last season’s magical run at the title, Fallin tempers the dreams with realism. Last year’s finals loss provides fuel for grueling two-a-days in the summer heat, but “you can’t get caught up in trying to win the state championship in July,” he said. “You take it one day at a time and get better every day.”
A large senior class graduated, but a good nucleus returns, including nine of 11 starters on defense. These players and assistant coaches are family to Fallin – in fact, he says he would not have applied for the job if it weren’t for them. “I have an unbelievable support system,” he said. “They gave me the chance to be successful.”
Fallin, who has been married to his wife Allison for two years, grew up around football (his dad was a coach) and played for Hancock County High School and for Kentucky Wesleyan College, where he also earned a teaching degree in 2010. He wanted to coach college football, but was placed for student teaching at Owensboro High School during his last year at KWC. Assistant coaches at OHS encouraged him to give coaching high school a shot, and he fell in love with teaching, coaching and the school. When a job opened that summer, he applied and was hired as a social studies teacher and assistant football coach.
“I’m a teacher first,” he said. “Coaching is a lot like teaching. You build relationships with young people and help them achieve more than they thought they could. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
With 85 players in the locker room, Fallin leads a large family. “They’ve all got their own lives,” he said. “You try to mentor them, talk to them about what they need to do. Football’s a great way to teach life – just like in life, there are hard times and you’ve got to bounce back. We are absolutely a family. Everyone (on the coaching staff) has their own unique ability to connect with kids.”
Fallin and his staff will need every ounce of that ability if they hope to duplicate last season’s success. OHS has moved up in class to the 5A ranks and will face a tough schedule of perennially great teams, including Bowling Green and Christian County. “You have to get a little lucky to win the big ones,” Fallin said. “We try to take one game at a time. If we do that, we have an opportunity to play deep into the playoffs.”
For a tradition-rich school that has been playing football since 1895 and reached 700 wins last year, a 28-year old coach might be perceived as a risk. But Fallin’s hands feel like the right place for the program. “There’s no place I’d rather be,” he said. “Owensboro Public Schools is one of the few independent school districts left. We create a family-type atmosphere. I plan to be around for a long time.”
While Fallin downplays the hype surrounding his team and correctly talks about the need to focus on one day at a time, his demeanor cannot entirely hide his inward fire – he wants to hit the field as much as anyone. Just visit the OHS Football home page and you’ll see a countdown clock ticking through the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the first game of the 2015 season.
“Last year’s run has definitely left us hungry,” he said. “It left us with the desire to go back.”