‘He made us champions. On and off the field’: Johnson Central football to carry Jim Matney’s legacy back to the field

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 7:09 PM EDT
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PAINTSVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) -With the death of Johnson Central head football coach Jim Matney comes a lot of questions for the team and the loved ones he leaves behind.

When students first heard the news, as they prayed for Matney’s recovery from COVID-19, they were in disbelief.

“It’s not true. Like, it can’t be true,” said senior Reece Goss. “It’s so hard to hear.”

As a post from social media lit up their phones, the school got darker for the team Matney led.

“Then Coach Arms got on the intercom and asked all the players to come to the locker room. That’s when I realized it was real,” said senior Keygan Pelfrey.

As the hours passed and the community heard the news, the response was immediate: prayers and messages filled the school as fields across the state lit up in Matney’s honor.

“You could just see how many people he’s impacted,” said Goss. “Not only like a coach. He was like a dad to so many people.”

The district asked the schools to wear gold and black in Matney’s honor Wednesday, to color the town in his memory- which spread to several areas including the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, where staff shared their support on social media.

“He’s a champion in football, champion in wrestling, but he’s a champion in life,” said offensive line coach John Blair.

That support, according to Blair, was something Matney garnered by sharing his character with everyone he encountered.

“He taught our kids there’s more than sports,” said Blair. “He really wanted them to succeed in life.”

And, though he is not here to take the lead Friday night, the team plans to hit the field as if he is still at the helm. Because, in many ways, he is.

“He made us champions. On and off the field,” said Blair. “We still have Central on our helmets, on our jerseys, and you’ll see the same Johnson Central. As long as myself and our coaching staff work here, this is Jim Matney’s program.”

They say his devotion to family, football, and faith is why the Golden Eagle always flew a little higher. Now, they plan to keep that character alive for generations to come.

“He is Johnson Central football,” said Blair.

In place of flowers, the family says you can donate to the college funds of his sons, Dalton and Carson, through City National Bank at 632 Jefferson Avenue in Paintsville.

Donations will be evenly distributed, all you have to do is mention the Matney boys when making the donation.

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