When Ray Graham says it's vital for his Lexington Christian Academy football team to stay healthy, he speaks from painful experience.
The Eagles ended last season with their top two quarterbacks on the shelf, and because of assorted other injuries, they had only 19 players suit up in a lopsided playoff loss to Somerset.
With a thin (36 players) roster again this season, LCA is still at a disadvantage in the numbers game. But that doesn't mean the numbers can't add up to success.
"We've got a really solid group of guys," Graham said. "We've got a good bunch of seniors and a lot of experience. If we can stay healthy, we can be a pretty good football team."
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LCA senior slotback/strong safety Dylan Lancaster is optimistic.
"We have eight starters back on both sides of the ball, and we probably have the best senior leadership that we've had in a long time.
"Since we don't have a lot of players, our philosophy has to be to stick together, and fight together."
LCA will have a new look on offense. Wes Johnson, a former head coach at West Jessamine, has helped install the run-and-shoot.
"I think it's going to be perfect for our personnel," senior receiver/defensive back Colin Duzyk said. "It's more of a run-based offense and it caters to what we have — a small line, great running backs like Nick Whitman, and receivers good at running routes that'll get us open."
Whitman, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior, is a power back. "He's a hoss," Graham said. Logan Messner and Daniel White also fit that position.
The 5-10, 195-pound Lancaster is strong and fast. He'll be used mostly in the slot, where the Eagles are especially deep, with Nathan Brittain, Jack Drake, Chandler Sneed and Erick Mills.
Duzyk heads a reliable receiving corps, a group that includes Adam Smith, Sam Arnold and Ryder Brown.
Dima Ballard, a 5-10 junior, returns at quarterback. He threw for 1,526 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. He passed for more than 600 yards as a freshman.
Ryder Brown will be a capable backup at QB.
Bradley Dickinson, whom Graham considered the team's best blocker last year, is back on the offensive line, along with Clay Ach and Josh Weber. The Eagles expect Walker Sabourin, a transfer from Lafayette, to be solid up front.
"We were lacking on offense last year," Duzyk said. "But we should be a lot better this year. That'll take some pressure off our defense."
"Pretty much every year I've been here, our defense has been our strong point, and that'll be the case again this year. But our offense will be much improved."
LCA's defense is stocked with veterans, led by Whitman, Duzyk and Messner at linebacker, Smith and Brittain at corner, and Brown and Lancaster at safety. Sneed will be a valuable utilityman.
Ach, Dickinson, Sabourin, Weber and White will see action on the defensive line.
Lincoln Henzman, one of the Eagles' most versatile and talented players last year, underwent elbow surgery during baseball season. He hopes to contribute as a kicker this fall.
The Eagles, who won a Class A state title in 2009, moved up to 2A in 2011. That's made for some tougher competition, but they've adjusted to the change.
"I feel we've gained respect from teams in our district (Danville, Middlesboro and Somerset)," Lancaster said. "I think this year we can make a run for the district title."
Graham thinks that's possible, but with one qualifier: "We have to stay healthy. That's the bottom line," he said.
Aug. 23 at Louisville Christian
Aug. 30 at Estill County
Sept. 6 LINCOLN COUNTY
Sept. 13 at North Oldham
Sept. 20 NELSON COUNTY
Sept. 27 FRANKFORT
Oct. 11 at Middlesboro
Oct. 18 SOMERSET
Oct. 25 DANVILLE
Nov. 1 at Walton-Verona
Note: Games at 7:30 p.m. unless noted. Home games in capital letters.
Coach: Ray Graham (fourth year, 219-138 overall)
Last year: 6-6 (lost to Somerset in second round of 2A playoffs)
Top players: Dima Ballard (QB), Logan Messner (OL/LB), Dylan Lancaster (RB/S), Adam Smith (WR/DB), Nick Whitman (RB/LB), Ryder Brown (WR/S), Bradley Dickinson (OL/DL), Josh Weber (OL/DL), Colin Duzyk (WR/DB), Chandler Sneed (WR/OLB), Jack Drake (RB/LB), Clay Ach (OL/LB), Nathan Brittain (WR/DB), Walker Sabourin (OL/DL).