dr martens rose Hoptown loses football giant Herb Covington
When it comes to the evolution of the Hopkinsville High School football program and the moments that have led to its tradition rich history, there may be no one person more important to the story than Herbert Covington.
Known affectionately as “Herb,” the former Hoptown standout died early Tuesday morning at the age of 72. memorial service this afternoon he’ll have his ashes spread at the 19 yard line on the field at Walnut Street Stadium.
The specificity of Covington’s final wishes were evaluated Friday by Dr. Rusty Nunn Covington’s longtime best friend and former teammate at both HHS and Memphis State University.
“I think I’m the only one who has figured out why, and I think he knew that I’d know,” Nunn explained. “It’s the spot where the only really bad thing ever happened. He also said, “We’d have won if I didn’t fumble the damn ball,’ and I’d say, ‘Herb, the reason we lost is because I called the wrong play on the extra point.”
The spot on the 19 correlates with Hopkinsville’s game against Caldwell County on Oct. 19, 1963. With the game tied at 7 all and 4 minutes remaining, in a game that would decide which team advanced to the playoffs, Covington went to gain extra yardage, as he typically did during a rush, but had the ball knocked loose.
Caldwell recovered and followed a 71 yard pass play with a 1 yard touchdown run, giving CCHS a 13 6 victory. Covington scored in every game of that 7 3 season, racking up 23 total TDs and becoming Hoptown’s first All American under head coach Fleming Thornton, but it was the fumble that Covington remembered.
That was the nature of a student athlete who always wanted to be the best for those around him.
“He was the greatest teammate you could ever want. But also the best friend you could ever want,” Nunn said. “As we know, that’s a lot more important.”
Following a stellar career with the Tigers, which led to his No. 22 jersey being retired by the program, Covington went on to have another impressive run with the Tigers of Memphis State. There, Covington accumulated 1,236 rushing yards, which still ranks 23rd most in Memphis program history.
Covington also remains tied for the second longest run from scrimmage at 92 yards.
He and Nunn visited MSU together on a night when the Tigers came from behind to defeat Mississippi State at the Liberty Bowl. Nunn said that Covington immediately fell in love with the atmosphere and the campus. In addition, the program wasn’t as “high pressure” as some of the other major Division I schools that were recruiting Covington.
“The only reason I got to go to college is because every school in the Southeast wanted Herb, and all of them offered me a scholarship so he would go,” Nunn admitted. “There were no caps (on the number of scholarships awarded) except for the University of Kentucky.”
After Memphis, Covington was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the 14th round (359th pick overall) in the 1968 NFL Draft, but a knee injury ended his football career prematurely.
While he didn’t get to play to his full potential professionally, it was with his hometown team where Covington truly made a name for himself. A team co captain with Nunn during his senior season in 1963, Covington was named All State First Team by the Courier Journal and to the All Western Kentucky Conference Team.
A decorated letter winner in basketball and track, it was the gridiron where Covington shined. He was a one man gang on the football field, creating excitement in town. Nunn said the Tigers never played a home game in front of less than 3,000 people.
“He’s the most important athlete I can remember in my time,” Nunn shared. “He took this place and it was like ‘Friday Night Lights.’ All week, people in town talked about the games. Our booster club was huge they even bought coach Thornton a car after his second year.”
Covington grew up with his grandmother and sister in a small house on Durrett Avenue. He didn’t have much, according to Nunn, which made his drive to succeed even stronger. After Covington graduated in 1964, Hoptown won its first ever district championship the next season, then went on to win back to back state titles.
“We sort of laid all the ground work for those state championships,” Nunn said. “I’m glad they won.”
Running back Pete Moore, who was integral to the Tigers winning those crowns, transferred to HHS from Caldwell County to play in the program in which Covington created excitement. Moore went on to become an All Stater in his own right, and eventually a successful player at the University of Alabama.
With a three TD performance on Sept. 21, 1963, Covington helped Hopkinsville snap a 19 year losing streak against Clarksville. Against Fort Campbell on Sept. 28, 1963, he carried the ball just eight times, but racked up an astounding 210 yards and two touchdowns.
Those honors led him to being voted the team MVP “nearly unanimously,” according to a quote given by coach Thornton to the Kentucky New Era in 1963.
“Herb will tell you that it wasn’t all him, but he was the one that got us over the hump. He was the most important athlete,” Nunn said. “I don’t think our program had any chance to reach the level it did without him.
“He’s the best ever and that’s what I’m going to say (at the memorial) tomorrow,” Nunn continued. “You could argue for Curtis Pulley, Keith Tandy, Deontey Kenner, Pete Moore but that’s what makes sports fun. You can’t be wrong and we can all sit around and talk about it.”
Nunn went to visit Covington inside his hospital room last Saturday at Tri Star Centennial Medical Center in Nashville. The two exchanged pleasantries, just as they had a thousand times before, during the hour long visit.
“We could talk about stuff nobody else could talk about, and we just sort of laugh,” Nunn said. “We’ve been best friends since middle school. He was always there if I needed him, and I was, hopefully, always there if he needed me. We just had a history.”
Covington had retired as Supervisor of Special Events from P Distributing a wholesaler of Anheuser Busch product but was recently working at the Christian County Road Department, assisting with draft lines and possessing no interest in slowing down.
He is survived by his wife of 30 years, Sheila West Covington of Hopkinsville, a sister, Martha Covington of Hopkinsville, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Memorial contributions in Covington’s name may be made to the Christian County Animal Shelter, 2935 Russellville Road, Hopkinsville, KY 42240, or to the Herb Covington Memorial Hopkinsville High School Tigers Football Scholarship fund, 430 Coffman Drive, Hopkinsville, KY 42240.