Henry Clay football was so good for so long, it seemed winning was in the Blue Devils' DNA, passed from team to team, year to year.
But success isn't immune to complacency, and that might explain why, after 13 consecutive winning seasons, Henry Clay went 3-8 in 2011 and 5-7 last season.
Sam Simpson, in his 21st season as the Devils' coach, said this year's team is committed to finding a cure before losing becomes contagious.
"There's a respect for work with this group," he said. "We don't have to plead or negotiate to get them to practice. They're willing to sacrifice and work hard to get where they want to go."
Senior running back Elijah Bell flatly stated, "Things will be different this year. I promise."
Austin Black, a senior receiver/safety, already sees a difference. "The biggest thing is locker-room chemistry. It's so much better. It's all about the team, not certain players. We're willing to work together to accomplish our goals."
Henry Clay's attitude adjustment should enhance the team's physical talents.
"The pieces are here to have a good football team," Simpson said.
The Devils' offense is loaded at the skill positions.
Bell was one of the most electrifying players in the city last fall when he ran for 1,857 yards (averaging 10 yards a carry) and 16 touchdowns.
Davion "D.J." Jackson ran for 550 yards last year.
Sammy Carter returns at quarterback. Last season he threw for 1,193 yards, 11 TDs, and 14 interceptions.
"Sammy's strong and he's a leader," Simpson said. "He'll do a good job distributing the ball for us. He understands we can't force the ball to one player."
The Devils' receivers include Black (36 catches, 567 yards, four TDs), and 6-foot-3 Colby Barnes (27 catches, 481 yards, five TDs). Bell and Jackson (30 catches, 421 yards, three TDs between them) are adept at catching the ball out of the backfield.
"Every one of those guys is capable of out-running you and taking it to the house," Simpson said.
Providing the blocking up front will be veterans Griffin Brixey, Sullivan Simpson, Justin Rawlins, Blair Mercer and Jordan Vaughn.
As good as its offense is, Henry Clay's success will hinge on its defense. Last year the Devils gave up an average of 40 points a game. Scott County scorched them for 69 in the regular season, and 70 in the playoffs.
Black said the defense will be "20 times better" under new defensive coordinator Derrick Thomas, the former Paul Laurence Dunbar coach.
"The defense is beating the offense in practice some, which is very unusual for Henry Clay," Black said.
"We're simplifying things and taking advantage of our speed on defense," Simpson said.
Sophomore safety Davonte Robinson, a standout sprinter (10.75 in the 100 meters) personifies that speed.
The secondary also has the fleet feet of Devin Byrd, Sydney Hugle and Rhoman James (also the backup QB).
Simpson said linebackers Lakwon Givens, Quentin Gay, Jacob Snelling, Nathan Moore and Clark Dupree "are the most athletic corps I've had."
The defensive line will include nose guard Maurice Gibson, and ends Michael Walker and Elijah Barnett (son of former UK player and current Henry Clay assistant Oliver Barnett).
The roster is well-stocked, the coaching staff has new blood (Thomas, Sinclair Jordan and Jacob Noger), and everybody is determined to return Henry Clay to its winning ways.
"I think we're a top 10 team again," Simpson said. "Now we have to go out and play like it."
Aug. 30 x-Pike Central, 6 p.m.
Sept. 6 CLARK COUNTY
Sept. 13 TATES CREEK
Sept. 20 at Boone County
Sept. 27 LAFAYETTE
Oct. 4 at Madison Central
Oct. 11 SCOTT COUNTY
Oct. 18 at Paul Dunbar
Oct. 25 at Bryan Station
Note: Games at 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Home games in capital letters.
x-Pike County Bowl at Belfry.
The Blue Devils
Coach: Sam Simpson (21st year, 194-113 overall)
Last year: 5-7 (lost to Scott County in second round of 6A playoffs)
Top players: Elijah Bell (RB), Davion Jackson (RB/S), Austin Black (WR/S), Sammy Carter (QB), Colby Barnes (WR), Rhoman James (DB/QB), Devin Byrd (DB), Griffin Brixey (OL/DL), Blair Mercer (OL/DL), Sullivan Simpson (OL), Jacob Snelling (LB), Elijah Barnett (DE), Davonte Robinson (S), Lakwon Givens (LB), Quentin Gay (LB), Nathan Moore (LB)
Mike Fields: (859) 231-3337. Twitter: @MikeFieldsNotes. Blog: fieldsnotes.bloginky.com.