Once upon a time, a future No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick and a five-time Grammy Award winner met on the gridiron. Scratch that — thrice upon a time Chris Stapleton and Tim Couch went head-to-head on a football field in Eastern Kentucky.
Before Chris Stapleton was a household name in the world of country music, he was a linebacker for the Johnson Central Golden Eagles. In his sophomore season of 1993 he began a then-school record streak of 41 consecutive starts, three of which were against the biggest star in the state at the time, Tim Couch.
The Daily Independent in Ashland revisited those three matchups. The first meeting produced a defense that held Couch to a career-low in passing yards. Former Johnson Central head coach Bill Musick recalled the game plan that starred Stapleton.
“All the defensive coaches had the defensive players in there and they were going over the game plan, and they were Xing and Oing on the old chalkboard, and they stayed in there literally over two hours,” Musick said. “They finally got the perfect game plan and they said, ‘Well, what do you think, coach?’ I said, ‘That’s great, that looks good, but you’re gonna have to figure out how those referees are gonna let you play 12 men.’”
Johnson Central defeated Couch and Leslie County 24-20 in 1993. The 1998 Heisman Trophy finalist would not let that happen again.
As a junior Couch set the state record for passing yards against Johnson Central. Phil Fulmer was in the stands at Leslie County as Couch threw for more than 300 yards, five touchdowns and only two incompletions, a pair of drops, in the blowout victory.
The rubber match between Couch and Stapleton’s squads in 1995 was the most dramatic. The future country music star’s defense held Couch scoreless until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Of course, Couch played the role of hero, connecting for a 39-yard touchdown pass with only three seconds remaining to escape with a 12-6 victory.
Twenty-five years later, it’s hard to believe that two of the Bluegrass State’s best products once went toe-to-toe on the football field. It’s even more remarkable that each game featured so much drama. See how each unfolded in great detail by reading the feature from The Daily Independent.