Rewriting the record books: Danville’s Dampier named Athlete of the Year after record-breaking season, career
Zach Dampier remembers the first time he showed up for offseason weight lifting with the Danville football team.
He was a skinny little eighth grader at Bate Middle School, feeling out of place among the bigger, stronger, faster high schoolers.
“I think I went only for a week or two before baseball started, but it was weird because I was so much younger than everybody, I was just trying to not make anybody mad, just get my work in and go,” Dampier said. “By the end of that season, everybody was warming up to me, they liked me. Then as the years go by, you progress from being the guy in the corner to being the guy holding the team together.”
According to Admirals football coach Clay Clevenger, it didn’t take long for Dampier to become a part of the Ads culture and find his way. Now more than five years after that first time in the weight room, Dampier is the school’s all-time leader in every passing category and The Advocate-Messenger Male Athlete of the Year.
“He just kind of has it all, just as far as the intangibles as a coach you want out of a player — hard working, coachable, respectful, a passion for the games,” Clevenger said. “All the things that make a kid fun to coach, he pretty much has.”
Dampier entered his freshman year as the third quarterback on the depth chart just based on who the Ads had coming back. Clevenger said it became apparent that Dampier was the player they needed at the position.
“As we went through some intersquad scrimmages and we had a our first scrimmage at Anderson County, he went from third on the depth chart to, Look, he’s probably going to be a kid we can build around,” Clevenger said. “I popped him in there the very first game and we never looked back. There was something about him. He had an air of confidence about him, even as a freshman.”
Dampier saved the best year of his historic career for the last. He completed 242 of 355 pass attempts for 3,574 yards and 43 touchdowns — all of which rank his senior season as one of the best in Kentucky history.
For his career, he completed 595 of 959 passes for 8,868 yards and 98 TDs, which put his career in company among the best in state history as well.
Dampier’s numbers weren’t just empty yards and points as he helped lead the Admirals back to prominence on the state level. As a junior, the Ads went 12-2 and made the Class 2A state semifinals. They improved on that last year, going 12-3 and advancing to the 2A state championship game.
“I always tell our players if you’re the best player and the hardest worker and the coach can get on you, nobody can really say a lot at that point,” Clevenger said. “When we needed to, we got on him and it didn’t bother him. Coming up, he was that guy for those couple of classes.”
Dampier played up in age coming through youth leagues and in middle school. As an eighth grader, he was playing junior varsity baseball. He said there was always an indication these last two classes of Admirals could accomplish great things.
“In youth league, my team had me, Russ Yeast, who is a freshman at Louisville, then Ellison (Stanfield) and Don Harris, and people would be watching the games, saying, ‘You’re going to UK,’” Dampier said. “We always had a feeling that we’d be pretty good and we always give the work to get better.
“Setting these records and getting to the state semifinal and state championship games, I wasn’t always sure it would happen, but I did my best to give the team the opportunity to get that far.”
While football was the key for Dampier, he wasn’t a one-trick athlete. He played basketball as a freshman and sophomore before returning to baseball the last two years. He hit .365 as a senior, and he threw 34 1/3 innings, allowing 30 earned runs on 45 hits with 44 strikeouts.
“Even without playing, he could be playing baseball at Campbellsville, Georgetown, places like that even with taking a couple years off,” Ads baseball coach Paul Morse said. “… I knew when he was in middle school, we were excited about him. His junior and senior years, he had great years and we were glad he came back out because he’s been a major part of our team the last two seasons.
“I know that we hated that he didn’t play those two years.”
Just because Dampier was playing baseball, football or basketball didn’t mean he was focusing only on that sport. During baseball season, he was lifting in the morning, and during football season, he was at Morse Baseball Academy hitting off a tee.
“You really just can’t ever put it away and stop worrying about it,” Dampier said.
There was never a time Dampier wanted to only focus on football because “it seems like it would get boring.” Plus, playing multiple sports kept him mentally and physically sharp.
“They work the different muscle groups better,” Dampier said. “Lifting during football made me a better baseball player because I got stronger so I could throw farther, hit harder. Baseball, the swing and everything worked the muscles differently so you could get more out of it.”
The day after the Ads lost in the Class 2A state football championship game, Morse found Dampier at the academy, working on his swing.
“On of his biggest assets is his work ethic,” Morse said. “He’s got good size, he’s a good athlete, but there are a lot of good athletes that aren’t successful. The number one reason he is successful is that hard work.
“That’s what it takes to be good, especially if you’re a multi-sport guy. There’s no rest of the weary. You’ve got to go from one to the next, and even when you’re playing one, you’re working on the other. If you want to be successful, that’s what you have to do. Not many kids are, but he’s been one who has been willing to do that.”
Dampier, who was named the 2A State Player of the Year, leaves a legacy few others in Danville football history can match. He’s going to Georgetown College in the fall as one of ten quarterbacks on the roster, but he said his experience at Danville will prepare him for the expectations a premier NAIA football program places on its players.
And when all that’s done, he’ll have more time to reflect upon what he did in high school.
“I’m not really an individual-type guy,” he said. “It’s nice that whenever I’m older, I’ll be able to show my kids what I did, I was a decent football player in my day. Of course, when I’m older, my yards will probably triple and I’ll have quadruple the amount of touchdowns.
“What I’ll remember more are the teams, the accolades we got together, the tough wins, how far we got.”
Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn
Dampier by the numbers
Senior season: 242-of-355 passing, 3,574 yards, 43 touchdowns
Career: 592-of-959 passing, 8,868 yards, 98 touchdowns
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