D’mauriae VanCleave’s versatility playing offense, defense and special teams keyed Danville High School’s perfect championship season. Todd Adler coached Logan County to an unbeaten regular season and a playoff win, an impressive turnaround from 1-9 the previous year and 33 consecutive losses before he took over.
VanCleave’s all-around skills helped the Admirals win their first state championship since 2003 and earned the senior’s selection as Kentucky’s Mr. Football by members of the Associated Press. The 5-foot-8, 160-pounder accounted for 1,857 yards on offense and 29 all-purpose touchdowns, including four in Danville’s 35-21 Class 2A title game victory over Mayfield.
The senior prided himself on flexibility and added, “It meant a lot to me because I wanted to have an impact on my team in more than one way.”
Logan County went 11-1 in Adler’s second season and produced its first 1,000-yard rusher in Gary Hardy (1,261, nine touchdowns) before falling in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.
“My goal coming into the season was to go at least .500 and just make the playoffs,” said Adler, a 2004 graduate of the Russellville, Kentucky, school. “That was my realistic goal, and they went above and beyond that. It’s a credit to them buying into what we’re trying to coach, preach and teach.”
Admittedly soft spoken, VanCleave played wherever the Admirals needed him and let his performance speak for him.
He entered the state championship as the school’s first 1,000-yard receiver with 1,053 and 13 TDs, 659 rushing with nine TDs and three other scores as a kick returner. VanCleave followed up by totaling 218 all-purpose yards and four TDs, including a 67-yard scoring run and a 60-yard punt return TD.
He also intercepted two passes in being chosen as the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Danville earned its 11th state title a season after falling short in the championship, a disappointment VanCleave said motivated him and teammates to finish the job last fall. To that end, Admirals coach Clay Clevenger made sure VanCleave touched the ball as much as possible.
“You knew once he got the ball in open space, there was going to be a big play made,” Clevenger added. “The last half of his senior year he really turned it up another notch and led us to that championship.”
VanCleave, who played in last weekend’s Kentucky-Tennessee Border Bowl all-star game, finished the season with 1,095 yards receiving, 762 rushing, six interceptions and 29 total TDs.
“As an upperclassman, I had to set an example,” said VanCleave, who has verbally committed to play collegiately at Wofford. “My coach giving the ball so much let me know he trusted me.”
Adler’s time coaching players at Logan County Middle School eventually built the trust that eventually changed a losing culture at the next level.
He took over a Cougars program that had lost 33 in a row, then lost nine more times before winning the 2016 finale. That victory, their familiarity with Adler and off-field time learning how to become leaders eventually shifted players’ mindsets to achieve something even their coach couldn’t have imagined this soon.
With 18 starters returning next fall, the challenge for Logan County and Adler is following up. Even with a few losses along the way.
“This season was good but not good enough, because the goal of every coach and player is winning the championship,” Adler said. “And if you get one, then you want another.”