The Xenith Live Your Game Spotlight is our bi-monthly feature covering the great schools and football programs across the country, taking an in-depth look at how teams from different regions train, play, and live their game.
HARRODSBURG, KY - "Love your players first." That was the advice given by Jimmy Sharpe, former Virginia Tech head coach and Bear Bryant's assistant coach at the University of Alabama, to David Buchanan in the summer of 1986, and it was advice that he took to heart. 34 years of coaching later, Buchanan, head coach of the Mercer County Titans, still believes in that approach.
"I've been very fortunate to be around these young men, and these communities," Buchanan said of what coaching means to him.
Located in Harrodsburg, KY, the Mercer County Titans who have been coached by Buchanan since 2015, opened the season on the road, in a non-divisional match-up with what Coach Buchanan described as a "very good" Boyle County team. After dropping the opener 51-7, Mercer County has caught absolute fire. They have now won seven in a row, improving to 3-0 in their league, and 7-1 overall. They have outscored their opponents 260-171 on the year.
While the season, record-wise has been great, it hasn't all been smooth sailing for the Titans this year. Like most around the country, and even the world, Buchanan and his team have had to deal with the pressure and restrictions of the global pandemic. He credits the incredible effort put forth by the parents of his players for their commitment to the program's success.
"It's been exhausting," said Buchanan. "We screen every player and every coach before every workout and practice."
Despite the restrictions Buchanan went on to say that his team has "great chemistry" and that the most exhausting part of the season has been encouraging his players to do things that are "counter-intuitive to building a football team." He noted the team wants to hang out outside of the field, but the locker room can't be utilized like it once was, or really at all due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Restrictions and pandemic aside, Buchanan remains focused on the task at hand, which is winning a State Championship. He's noted since the beginning of the season, he and his staff have harped on "whoever handles COVID the best is going to give themselves the best chance to win a state championship."
With Sharpe's advice forever in mind, and his message of handling the pandemic, it seems Buchanan's approach has permeated not only his players, but the parents and the community around him. He noted that there have times where parents have had to get their kids to the practice field by 5:45am, pick them up to take home to shower after practice, then get them back to school before the first bell of class begins.
"I credit the parents a ton," said Buchanan. "It's really taken the entire community to pull this thing off...everybody's pulled together because we want our kids to have this opportunity."
The work is tiresome, and relentless. "I hear six feet apart like every minute," said Brayden Dunn, Junior running back and outside linebacker for the Titans. Buchanan's message has not only resonated with the community, but also, and even more-so, his players.
"When we're in practice, or the games, we give it everything we got... enjoying it, because we know every game could potentially be our last," said Dunn.
As the season marches on with still a heavy air of uncertainty, Buchanan has continually pushed his message. "Quit getting so torn up over the things you can't control," Buchanan said. "Because the reality is, there are so many things you can't control." Buchanan admits this is an area of coaching he is continually working on, especially in the unorthodox year of 2020.
While putting distractions out of his mind is an area of opportunity for the coach and his team, putting his players first and preparing them for success comes second nature. Buchanan notes that coaching runs in his family, as his father coached the school back in 1974 and '75. He also let us know that his father, who is also his favorite coach of all time, put his players first.
The Titans finished the regular season 7-1 capping the year with a convincing 59-22 win over Anderson County, they had a week off, and this Saturday (11/20) take on Henry County in the first round of the KHSAA Playoffs in their pursuit of a Kentucky State Championship.
"We are just trying to take it one day at a time and saying today is about us getting better."
Xenith is proud to have Coach Buchanan and Mercer County as a member of the family, and wish them all the best in the upcoming playoffs, and all their seasons to come in their storied football program.