Lexington Christian Academy's Ray Graham is an old-school football coach who puts blocking and tackling above everything.
Graham believes players must have a positive outlook, a belief in themselves and their teammates, to compete with the fervor required to have fun with the game, much less win at it.
Looking back on last year, when LCA made the jump from Class A to 2A, Graham admits the Eagles didn't have the right stuff mentally.
"There was an uncertainty, a shock about moving up to 2A," he said. "In the off-season we didn't have a positive attitude at all."
LCA still had a few bright moments last fall, including a victory over new district rival Danville, but the Eagles finished the season 6-7, their first losing record in 10 years.
But Graham and his players say it's a whole different ball game in 2012, starting with the team's mindset.
"This year the kids have had a tremendous attitude," Graham said. "They've worked their fannies off, and they've got some confidence in themselves."
Senior lineman Josh West agreed: "We're much more settled than this time last year. We tested the waters in 2A, and now we're comfortable with it. We know we can compete and beat big-time teams."
LCA's strength is at the skill positions.
It has two talented quarterbacks in sophomore Dima Ballard and junior Lincoln Henzman, both of whom got experience last year and combined for more than 1,300 yards passing.
Ballard is the starter going into the season. He's gotten most of the snaps in practice because Henzman played baseball this summer and is under doctor's orders to rest his arm. While Ballard has the edge in technique, Henzman is the more versatile athlete.
Graham said Henzman "can play every position in the offense skill set" — quarterback, running back, receiver — and will probably do so.
Sam Maybriar is a veteran running back who'll bring toughness to the backfield, as will Robby Fuqua.
LCA has a deep receiving corps, led by Justin King, who had 34 catches for 534 yards and six touchdowns last year. Ryder Brown, Colin Duzyk and Adam Smith will also be prime targets.
Ian Kossick and Josh Weber, a pair of 6-foot-2 newcomers, will play tight end.
The offensive line will be anchored by Josh West, Kaleb Hartley, Brad Dickinson, Josh Bryant and Logan Messner. Neil Rose, a 6-6, 290-pound junior who was expected to start, has been sidelined indefinitely with a concussion.
Graham thinks he has the playmakers to light up the scoreboard, but he knows success will depend on the line. "We've got be able to protect the quarterback, and got to be able to run it."
Defensively, Hartley, Weber and Chad Castillo will be among those up front.
Maybriar, West, Nick Whitman will see action at inside linebacker, with Kossick, Messner and Austin Hill and Logan Messner on the outside. The secondary will include King, Henzman, Brown, Smith and Nathan Brittain.
Graham thinks LCA has the front-line talent to compete against anybody on its schedule, but the Eagles' depth could be a problem.
"If we're healthy, we're going to be good against everybody we play," Graham said. "But if we're not healthy ... ."
Maybriar, who has been in the lineup since he was a freshman, wants to fill the role of leader in good times and bad.
"I hope to rally the troops," he said. "I hope to tell people where they need to be.
"I want to do my best, and do whatever I can, to help my team."
That's the kind of positive attitude Graham is looking for in all of his players.
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com