It was 2010 when Dudley Hilton last stepped onto a Bell County football field. The team had finished the season with a 13-1 record with an exit in the state semifinals against Boyle County. Fast forward just under seven years later, and Hilton has made his way back to the place where he delivered two state titles.
On Tuesday, Bell County High School Principal Richard Gambrel introduced the Hiltons back to the Bobcat family during a press conference held inside the gymnasium. His return comes on the heels of a 4-8 season that saw Bell eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
“I’ve been gone for six years. Bell County’s always been my home,” said Hilton. “I raised my two kids here. We’re excited, Jan and I.”
“We got a lot of pride here on the mountain. We had it, and I hope they still got it. If not, we’ve got to find a way to get it back. We’ve controlled the mountains for many many years, and then we kind of let our guards down and it’s gone down a little bit, they’ve said. I’m not worried about the past. I’m worried about the future, and I’m hoping I can get things going again.”
If history shows us anything, Hilton may be the coach to take Bell County back to the promised land. During his first stint as coach, he delivered the county a state title. He did the same thing during his second stint that lasted from 2001 to 2010.
During the nine-year stretch, Hilton and the Bobcats amassed a 111-20 record with the most losses in a season capping at four during the 2001 campaign.
During three of those years, Bell County reached the state semifinals. In 2004, the Bobcats were eliminated in the semifinals by Highlands. In both 2009 and 2010, Bell fell in the state semifinals to Boyle County.
The climax of Hilton’s second stint was the 2008 season. That year, the Bobcats went a perfect 15-0 and defeated Bullitt East 15-13 in the state championship game.
As for what made him decide to comeback, Hilton simply said his heart was in Bell County.
“I don’t know if you ever pinpoint why you want to do something, but it’s nothing like being wanted. The board of education, the superintendent sure…persuaded me to come back. I’ve probably turned it down 25 times,” said Hilton. “It’s just, got a lot of pride. My name is out there on the field. Bell County football means a lot to the area. My heart is here in Bell County.”
Hilton said he is not a big goal setter. He lets things come naturally and just works hard at it and goes from there.
“I don’t know what we can do. I’ll do whatever it takes to help this team win. My goal is to try and win the first game,” said Hilton. “I never dreamed I’d win one state championship, never dreamed I’d win two state championships, never dreamed I’d win three state championships. So, do you think I’m dreaming to win four? No, that’s the furthest thing from my mind. My thing is trying to get this team ready to play the next game.”
Hilton returns to Log Mountain after stints with Taylor County and the University of Pikeville. At Taylor County, the Hall of Fame coach increased his win total each year. In his first season, he went 4-7 with the Cardinals before ending his tenure at the high school with a 7-4 record.
At UPike, he took the Bears from a 2-8 record the year before his arrival to a 7-4 record by the time he decided to part ways with the program.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN