H.S. football preview: Henry Clay loads up for turnaround

mfields@herald-leader.comAugust 9, 2012 

  • Coach: Sam Simpson (20th year, 150-83)

    Last year: 3-8 (lost to Ballard in first round of Class 6A playoffs)

    Top players: Anthony Lindsey (RB/DL), Elijah Gibbs (TE/DL), Cole McCarty (RB/LB), Davion "DJ" Jackson (RB/S), Austin Black (WR/S), Sammy Carter (QB), Andrew Pendleton (OL), Mark Alexander (OL), Joe Tafolla (LB), Jack Hellmann (LB), DeAarion "DA" Jones (WR), Devin Byrd (WR/CB), Logan Gross (WR/DB), Tommy Norman (DE), Jamaal Maddox (DE).

  • Blue Devils' schedule

    Aug. 17JOHN HARDIN

    Aug. 25x-Ryle (6 p.m.)

    Aug. 31At Belfry

    Sept. 7At Tates Creek

    Sept. 14CLARK COUNTY

    Sept. 21At Lafayette

    Sept. 28MADISON CENTRAL

    Oct. 5At Scott County

    Oct. 11PAUL DUNBAR

    Oct. 19BRYAN STATION

    Note: All games 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Home games in capital letters.

    x--iHigh Fayette County Football Frenzy at Bryan Station.

  • This is the second in a series of stories looking at high school football in Lexington and around Kentucky leading up to the opening of the season on Friday, Aug. 17.Coming Saturday: Lafayette

After 13 consecutive winning seasons, including 13 first-round playoff victories, Henry Clay's streak of football success crashed and burned last year.

The Blue Devils started 0-4 against a killer schedule, and wound up 3-8 for their first losing record since 1997.

But 2011 is forgotten history for Henry Clay. The Devils are determined to return to their winning ways in 2012.

"The old Henry Clay is back," Devils senior Anthony "Bam" Lindsey pronounced a few days ago.

Coach Sam Simpson sees signs pointing in that direction.

"The players have a positive attitude, a good work ethic and they're responding to coaching," Simpson said. "That's created a better environment, and I think that's an indication we'll be a better football team."

As usual, Henry Clay has its share of skilled athletes.

Davion "DJ" Jackson returns as the catalyst on offense after rushing for 1,009 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore.

"He's had a great off-season, and is bigger, stronger and faster," Simpson said.

The 6-foot-1, 285-pound Lindsey is a brute force. He'll be used at fullback, and occasionally at quarterback.

Sammy Carter, a junior who saw spot duty at quarterback last year, will move in as the starter, but sophomore Rhoman James might get some snaps, too.

"They're both looking good," Simpson said.

Henry Clay is deep at receiver. Wideouts include Logan Gross, Austin Black, Colby Barnes, Devin Byrd, Jalen Ludwig and DeArion "DA" Jones. Tight ends include 6-2, 250-pound Elijah Gibbs and 6-7, 200-pound Grant Wiese.

The offensive line will be anchored by senior veterans Andrew Pendleton and Mark Alexander.

Simpson said the Devils will look more like they did a couple years ago on offense — "More of a wide-open, spread attack."

Henry Clay must shore up its defense, which last season surrendered almost 30 points and 400 yards a game.

Lindsey and Gibbs should be tough to handle up front. "We're counting on them to eat up some blocks and make plays," Simpson said.

Seniors Tommy Norman and Jamaal Maddox will be at defensive end. Cole McCarty, Jack Hellmann and Joe Tafolla are senior linebackers.

Ludwig and Byrd will be in the rotation at cornerback, while Jackson and Jones will be big hitters at safety.

"DJ and DA bring a physicalness to the game," Simpson said.

McCarty, who was among the team's leading tacklers last season, said the Devils' failures last year were due to "bad team chemistry. The talent was there, but our minds weren't in the right place.

"We're a lot closer this year. Everybody gets along, and we're willing to work hard. Hopefully that'll mean we'll have a much better year."

The early schedule won't be kind to a turnaround. Henry Clay faces perennial power John Hardin, 6A Ryle and defending 3A runner-up Belfry before starting city play against Tates Creek.

Lindsey said the Devils learned a valuable lesson during last season's struggles.

"We can't go out big-headed and expect to win just because we're Henry Clay," he said. "We've gotta come out and fight everybody."

Simpson just wants to see steady progress. "We've got some depth and a good set of skill people," he said. "I think by playoff time, we'll be a good football team."

Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337.Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes.Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com

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