The Berea Community football team made a massive turnaround last season.
After losing 43-games straight, the Pirates opened the 2019 season on a six-game winning streak and finished with a 7-4 record -- it's first winning season in a decade.
Those seven victories
were the most for the program since 2008 and the Pirates also earned their first postseason appearance since 2014.
Berea also won its first home game since 2014 when they topped Caverna, 44-21.
On Wednesday, all that hard work led to another first in a very long time.
Two players signed letters of intent to play football at the collegiate level.
Senior wide receiver Cody Moore signed to play football at Kentucky Christian University, while senior center Matthew Crutcher signed with Union College.
"There is not way to put it in words how proud I am of those two," Berea Community football coach Aaron Stepp said on Wednesday. "To be in the situation we were in -- We didn't have a field and people were clamoring to shut down the program and we didn't have enough players to even field a team. We went from that and in just two years, we could see the signings of maybe six kids. Things have changed … it's probably been six years since Berea has had a football signee."
Moore and Crutcher were big components of the change at Berea.
"Both those kids were integral parts of the turnaround process. Both of those kids had multiple opportunities to not be here and they chose to stay and work. They give the younger kids something to look up to. Those two are the type of character guys and program-building players you need on a team in order to be successful," Stepp said of Moore and Crutcher.
The coach said he is still in awe of their dedication to the program over the years.
"To me, it's a testament to what kind of players they are. To go 43 games and not win a game and still continue to go out there again and again. To lose that much, you tell me what your motivation level is going to be. Those guys got hit in the mouth 43 times and got back up and again for a 44th time," Stepp said.
Crutcher played all four years and went through some lean times in his first three years on the team.
The Pirates were 0-10 when he was a freshman and a sophomore and were just 1-9 his junior year.
The senior admitted he thought about quitting all-together two times during his high school career.
A broken collarbone sidelined him for much of his freshman year and then he considered transferring to Madison Southern.
However, even as a freshman, Crutcher kept showing up every week.
"I was still at every practice after I broke my collarbone. I was filming every game in the cold and the wet. It was not fun," the senior recalled. "I thought about transferring, but I just couldn't do that. I couldn't walk away like that. I loved this school and I wanted to stay here."
It's been a long journey for a kid who didn't even want to play football in the first place.
"My mom forced me into it," Crutcher explained with a laugh. "I was really nervous about it. Before football, most the time, I just sat at home all day. She signed me up in fifth grade and I went out there and loved it ever since."
Crutcher said he couldn't imagine life without the sport.
"What's not to like?," the senior said grinning. "You get to hit people and get away with it. Football made me better. It made me want to do better in school and go to college. It kept me out of trouble and has given me opportunities."
Crutcher said he considered the University of Pikeville before choosing Union College, where he plans to major in business.
"I didn't like the location of UPike. It was too far away. Union is a small school and they have small class sizes and has a big ol' lake surrounding it. It's very similar to Berea and I really liked it there," he explained.
Crutcher served as a team captain for the Pirates and was named to the all-district team in 2018 and 2019.
Stepp described the senior as a "silent warrior" on the field and one that led by example.
"He was an integral part of what we did offensively and on defensive end. We ran behind Matt 60 to 65 percent of the time and everyone knew that, but still couldn't do anything about it. That tells you what kind of player he is," the coach said of the lineman.
The senior said he is proud of what the Pirates accomplished his final season at Berea.
"It felt like more of a family this year. We were more together. You can't have a team unless everyone is together and look where it got us… I hope what we did continues. My advice is to not give up and don't listen to nobody -- just listen and trust yourself. Everyone else is going to out you down and they did. Just come together and prove them wrong," Crutcher said.
Moore already knew a thing or two about being underestimated when he transferred to Berea from Madison Southern his sophomore year.
"I've always been smaller. I was really small until I hit a growth spurt. Now, I'm 6-foot, but I'm still kinda small. It was hard to compete with the bigger kids. I had to use my speed and my knowledge of football to try and get past them," Moore explained.
The senior took that same determination to the field every Friday and said he was determined to prove the Pirates could win.
"We've always just been that team that every one thinks they can walk all over us. Just coming up and making a difference has been really special. Our coaches have been great. Coach Stepp and came to this program and told us we were going to change. Coach Thacker has been with us through it all. The coaching staff, they believed in us and we believed in them. We stuck with that promise of change and it happened," Moore explained.
However, even the Pirates early season success, took Moore by surprise.
"Coming up from the struggles, we had expectations to win a couple of games this season and last. We just wanted to break the streak. Then we won six straight and it was just amazing. That win streak will always be my favorite memory," Moore said.
Moore said he was proud of how his team banded together and stepped up the past two seasons.
The senior was sidelined his junior year after he broke his ankle and missed out on the last six games of the 2018 season, but was determined to come back his final year and make a difference.
In his senior year, Moore had 647 all-purpose yards along with five interceptions on defense and served as a team captain for the Pirates.
Stepp described the senior as a vocal leader and extremely athletic.
"He is only going to get better. He will continue to fill out and grow. He is a great athlete," the coach added.
Moore said he continued to put in the work because he loves the game.
"I'll never quit football. It's why I wanted to continue to play at the next level. It's not like any other sport. It takes 11 people and if everyone isn't doing their job you all fail. I learned that here," Moore said.
Moore said he chose Kentucky Christian University, where he plans to major in nursing, over other schools such as Union College and Lindsay Wilson.
"No other visit was like the one to Kentucky Christian. They have really nice facilities and I know they are going to get me to where I want to be. I liked the coaching staff, they reached out to me and made me feel like they wanted to really want me to be part of the team," Moore explained.
The senior said he hopes Berea's success last season inspires his younger teammates and others who have gone through struggles.
"Anybody can make it happen, you just have to dig deep. We are proof. We had more kids committed to the team the past two seasons. More that put in the work. You can make it happen if you come together," Moore said.