By the 1980s, the Wildcats' days of dominance appeared over. Evarts had losing records in seven of eight years and hit rock bottom with an 0-11 mark in 1985.
A slow resurgence began under coach Ron Johnson and took off when Bill Musick arrived in 1989. The Wildcats won their first and only regional championship in 1990 with a team led by all-state running back Scotty Russell, who set the state rushing record in 1991.
Tim Browning was the starting quarterback in 1991 and 1992, leading the Cats to playoff appearances both seasons. Current Evarts coach Ovie Canady was a standout guard in the early 1990s and was a teammate of Browning's.
Browning was an even better basketball player, starting three seasons, before going on to play at Berea College. He eventually graduated from Eastern Kentucky University and moved on to Gallatin County where he began his teaching career.
Now, Browning has his own football team as coach of a Gallatin County program that began its first season of varsity competition last month. He said he couldn't pass up an opportunity to return home when he and his former teammate discussed the possibility last winter.
“I talk to Ovie a lot, and he's helped me with questions I've had about certain situations in games,” Browning said. “He asked if we had an open date, and we were able to work it out.
“It's a great opportunity for me to come back home and coach on that field. It's a dream of mine.”
Canady is also looking forward to the homecoming.
“We all had a good relationship, and we're looking forward to seeing him come home,” he said. “I think the world of him, and he's got them going the right way. They've won more games than we have.”
Browning has many fond memories of his years at Evarts.
“There are so many people to talk about, like the coaches I had there - coach (Bill) Musick and coach (Bill) Cole and coach (David) Parks in basketball,” Browning said. “They've had such an impact on me.
“And playing with teammates like Scotty Russell, Brad Kirby and Ovie and some of those great athletes I had a chance to play with. It will be great to come back there and, hopefully, see some of those people.”
Browning sat out his sophomore season, missing the Cats' regional championship run, but he immediately took over at quarterback when he returned in 1991, replacing the graduated Benji Coleman. Browning became part of history when he handed the ball off to Russell for his record-breaking carry against Williamsburg.
“That whole season was unbelievable,” Browning said. “Teams were keying on Scotty, and he was getting 200 yards almost every game. It was amazing to watch him, and our line was very good, even though they were undersized. He was a great athlete and the hardest working player I've ever been on a team with or coached.”
Browning helped start the Gallatin football program with a youth league in 2001. A middle school team was formed three years ago, and a junior varsity team began play last year. The school's original plans included two years of JV before beginning varsity competition, but a 7-0 record last year prompted a decision to go ahead with varsity competition in 2006.
Gallatin got off to an unusual start for a first-year program, winning 7-6 at Carroll County in the school's first game
“We had a lot of success with our JV program last year, and I thought we'd be competitive, but I sure didn't think we'd win our first game,” Browning said. “It's amazing the way our community got behind us.”
Gallatin returned to earth after the win, falling to Owen County (26-6), Spencer County (46-16) and Trimble County (52-20) the past three weeks.
J.R. Davis, a 6-4, 210-pound tackle, is a leader on the Gallatin defense and is one of only three seniors on the team.
Sophomore quarterback Jesse Florence and sophomore halfback Jared Carlton lead the offense, along with junior wide receiver Scott Brown, who also has a Harlan County connection. Brown's mother, Debbie, led the Harlan Lady Dragons to the 1987 state tournament. Florence has passed for 510 yards, completing 28 of 59 passes with four touchdowns and eight interceptions. Carlton has rushed for 224 yards on 62 carries, and Brown has 15 catches for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
“We've had to throw out of necessity lately,” Browning said. “I like to run the ball, but we haven't been able to do that the last couple of games, and our quarterback has stepped up. We had some drops last week, or he would have had better numbers. We have some guys at our skilled positions that have some speed, and we're going to have to try and get outside with them.”
“They run a lot of stuff like we used to run when we played, just raise up and throw it to a wideout on the sideline,” Canady said. “They have a nice receiver, and the quarterback isn't bad. They also have a running back who is pretty quick.
“Their inexperience shows, but it's not like Letcher High a couple of years ago. These kids grew up playing together under Timmy. They know what he's trying to do, and they're pretty good at it. It won't be a cakewalk, that's for sure.”
Evarts fell to 0-3 with a 30-18 loss last week at Cawood, and Canady knows the Cats are running out of time to turn their fortunes around before entering the heart of their district schedule.
“Just getting a win under our belts would be a big thing, and, hopefully, we can get Jimmy (Pike) back next week,” he said.
“I know they are down a little bit and lost some key seniors from last year's team,” Browning said. “But I know they'll play hard. Every team I've ever played for or watched at Evarts has always played hard, and they'll hit you. That's what we'll expect from them.”
Canady promises some changes this week in an effort to help the Cats build momentum.
“We're having open tryouts (Tuesday) for positions. We're going to shake some things up on the lines and at linebacker,” he said.
“We're not giving up on the season. We've got seven weeks left. I've never been a quitter and don't intend to be. We're going to do everything we can to salvage this thing, and I hope we can still get in the playoffs.”