Lafayette Coach Eric Shaw has grown weary of what he called “the extra.”
The Generals, motivated by last year’s loss to Male in the state finals after becoming the first Lexington public school to play for a championship this century, are good enough to get back to Bowling Green. They’ll get a chance to prove it when they take on Scott County in the Class 6A semifinals Friday night.
Shaw’s team has been subject to some unfair criticism outside the program, and worse, the fourth-year head coach alleged this week, including what he says are in-game targeting from opposing coaches, players and officials that goes beyond the rules.
He mentioned Alex Simpson, a senior lineman who’s out with a knee injury suffered when a defender undercut him on an extra-point attempt during a game that was out of reach. In another game a few weeks ago, Shaw said, a defender clipped Walker Wood, a quarterback committed to the University of Kentucky, from behind and tried to roll his legs.
“People call us the bully, but every time we go out on Friday night teams are trying to provoke and attack our mental stability and be the bully themselves,” Shaw said. “And my guys are not going to back down from that. ...
“We get the short end of the stick because the refs believe that we’re cheap, and my kids just play hard. That’s it. They ain’t trying to hurt nobody. They’re trying to bury you, but they ain’t trying to hurt nobody.”
Jedrick Wills, a five-star offensive tackle who last week committed to Alabama, has been called “classless” by some for not picking UK and by others for playing aggressively against overmatched defenders. Reckless, undisciplined, unsportsmanlike — all have been used to describe the Generals.
Extravagant talents like Wills, and Landon Young last season, are in a no-win situation, Shaw said.
“They’re gonna play hard because if they didn’t play hard people would be saying, ‘They’re big and soft and they’re not aggressive. That’s a shame,’” Shaw said. “So we can’t win for losing over here in the public eye, and that’s OK. ... If they had their way and they had a chance to have them on their team? They’d want ’em doing the same stuff.”
Lafayette has developed something of a bad reputation because of players’ willingness to engage in social-media banter leading up to games and flare-ups during games. Shaw acknowledged that his team isn’t innocent went it comes to trash talk, which he called a reality of every game at every level of play, and that the Generals have crossed the line sometimes.
I ain’t breeding a bunch of thugs even though I look like one. ... You can’t go in any other school and say that their kids are perfect, cause they’re not. My kids are like anybody else’s.
Eric Shaw, Lafayette football coach
While he believes much of it to be misplaced, Shaw values the criticism lobbed from behind computer screens by anonymous posters on forums like BluegrassPreps and BlueGrassRivals. He likes to print it off and post it in the locker room to help his players self-evaluate and gain an understanding of why those things are being said.
It can reach a point of irony, though.
“There are people in this area that’ll come up and talk to me and smile and say, ‘You’re doing a great job’ then get behind this computer screen and start attacking the kids and attacking me,” Shaw said. “They can attack me all day, but when they start attacking individual players?”
He expects for his players to stick up for one another, especially when actions take place or things are said that have no place on a football field.
“This is a family, and any time you attack a family you’re gonna have the whole family coming at you,” Shaw said. “And I want people to understand that piece of it. This is not about me being over here teaching everybody how to be dirty. I tell my kids to be seen, not heard. Let your play be seen and talked about, not what comes outta your mouth ’cause that doesn’t mean anything.”
Family transcends everything for Shaw, who had a rough upbringing in Pensacola, Fla., and constantly refers to all of his players as sons. He was a high school football star who went on to play three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, which he called “a very hard time in my life” upon being hired at Lafayette in 2013.
“I ain’t breeding a bunch of thugs even though I look like one,” Shaw said. “I ain’t always been on this side of the fence, either. ... You can’t go in any other school and say that their kids are perfect, ’cause they’re not. My kids are like anybody else’s.”
He challenged naysayers to come hang around and see what Lafayette is all about.
“These kids love each other, they love this coaching staff, and they love this school,” Shaw said. “Most of the time, 90 or 95 percent of the time, they’re respectful. But we’re still dealing with kids. If they came in here and spent a day with them to get to know ’em, their mindset would change.
“You can tell I’m a little tired of the extra.”
Class 6A state semifinals
Scott County (11-2) at Lafayette (12-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday