"Tradition never graduates" is Lexington Catholic's football motto.
The Knights' history certifies the boast. They have 19 winning seasons in a row. They won two state titles (2005, 2007). They reached at least the third round of the playoffs in 13 of the last 16 years, and they made the semifinals the last two years.
Tradition never graduates.
Unfortunately, linemen do. Coach Bill Letton said graduation "pretty much wiped out" his offensive and defensive lines, so a major rebuilding job in the trenches is a major challenge facing the Knights.
That shouldn't keep them from being one of the best teams in Class 4A, though.
Letton thinks Lexington Catholic's surplus of skill-position players will help offset inexperience up front.
"As far as talent and depth, I don't know if we've ever had better," he said.
Reese Ryan, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound junior, will orchestrate the offense. He got invaluable experience last fall when he took over at quarterback when senior star Kyle Bolin suffered a severe knee injury midway through the season. Ryan threw for 1,351 yards and 15 touchdowns, with most of that production coming in his seven starts.
"Reese lets the game come to him," Letton said. "He's confident in all his guys and spreads the ball around.
"He's more of a stoic presence in the huddle. It works well for him because the kids respect him and play hard behind him."
Ryan said he was "really nervous" when he stepped in for Bolin against Boyle County, but he overcame his jitters and led the Knights to a comeback victory.
Ryan already has scholarship offers from Louisville and Illinois, and is on the recruiting radar of a lot of major colleges. But he's not letting that affect him. "I'm just trying to put the team first and stay as humble as possible," he said.
Ryan has plenty of playmakers around him, including the top two receivers from last year in David Bouvier (86 catches, 1,282 yards, six TDs) and Sam Letton (25 catches, 305 yards, eight TDs).
Jordan Hatton, a 6-5 junior, figures to be a target, too, along with Justin Brownell and Andy Hickey.
Lexington Catholic's deepest position is running back.
Marcelis Logan, son of former UK and NFL running back Marc Logan, is a senior speedster (4.3 in the 40) who had 337 yards and seven TDs last season. Letton said Logan's play was "just spectacular at the end of last year," including a gutsy effort against Highlands in the semifinals.
Logan will share duties with veteran Noah Mitchell (278 yards, two TDs). Carter Gray, Malik Guidry, Kairon Snowden and Cody Mitchell will also get carries.
Marty Brown, the only experienced lineman, will be among those pulling duty on defense, too. Chase Boling, Dominic Castlen and Colin Carpenter also will be in that group.
Josh Mesmer, who led the team in tackles last season, is a three-year starter at linebacker.
"We've got a lot of holes to fill on defense, but we've got guys who are ready to step in and know what to do," Mesmer said. "We've got speed and a lot more size than in the past."
Sam Letton, the coach's son, Boling, Castlen and Noah Mitchell will be among those flanking Mesmer.
Lexington Catholic looks strong in the secondary, with Guidry, Snowden, Cody Mitchell and Braxton Couch.
The Knights open the season playing two-time defending 5A champ Bowling Green at WKU, then come home to face 6A power St. Xavier.
"We'll find out our weaknesses real quick," Bill Letton said.
Aug. 24 x-at Bowling Green, 9 p.m.
Aug. 31 y-ST. XAVIER, 8:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 LAFAYETTE
Sept. 13 at Bryan Station
Sept. 20 at Madison Central
Sept. 27 MERCER COUNTY
Oct. 4 at Boyle County
Oct. 11 TAYLOR COUNTY
Oct. 25 at Marion County
Nov. 1 BOONE COUNTY
Note: Games at 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Home games in capital letters.
x-Rafferty's Bowl at WKU
Coach: Bill Letton (eighth year, 151-111 overall)
Last year: 11-3 (lost to Highlands in 4A semifinals)
Top players: David Bouvier (WR), Marcelis Logan (RB/DB), Reese Ryan (QB), Josh Mesmer (TE/LB), Noah Mitchell (RB), Kairon Snowden (DB), Malik Guidry (WR/DB), Sam Letton (WR), Cameron Bailey (OL), Marty Brown (DL), Braxton Couch (DB), Cody Mitchell (DB)