There was a distinct buzz of excitement in the air Friday morning as nearly 80 young football players who will make up the inaugural Frederick Douglass High School roster ran through drills on the final day of the first week of practice on their new home field.
Several players kept repeating a simple mantra: “Be the first.”
When the high school football season begins in August, it will mark the first time a new Lexington school has taken the field since Paul Laurence Dunbar opened in 1990. And it will afford players a unique opportunity to be a part of history.
“That’s motivation for us, to ‘be the first,’” said junior wide receiver Micah Lowe. “Who’s gonna score that first touchdown? Who’s gonna get that first sack or that first interception?”
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Playing with your brothers for three years and then going someplace new is a hard decision, but everyone here has bonded so quickly I think because of the situation. We’ll be the first class at a new school and the first football team here, it’s amazing. What more can you ask for?
Lowe spent the past two seasons at Bryan Station and is one of several players who is starting over at Douglass after beginning their high school careers with different programs.
“Coming over here you were starting brand new, like a freshman.” Lowe said. “You had to earn everything back, nothing was given to you.”
Another former Defender, Maliq Trigg, will help provide Douglass with senior leadership. Head coach Brian Landis called Trigg “probably the most vocal kid on the team.”
Trigg said the transition to Douglass has been easier than he anticipated.
“Playing with your brothers for three years and then going someplace new is a hard decision, but everyone here has bonded so quickly I think because of the situation,” he said. “We’ll be the first class at a new school and the first football team here, it’s amazing. What more can you ask for?”
Local kids aren’t the only key additions to the Douglass roster. Incoming senior Dayton LeBlanc should provide a mean punch in the trenches.
LeBlanc, who’ll play offensive and defensive line, is the son of new University of Kentucky defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc. He spent the final two months of last school year at Henry Clay after transferring from Denton Ryan High School in Texas. LeBlanc decided to enroll at Douglass despite overtures from established programs like Lexington Catholic and Lexington Christian.
“I knew I wanted to come play for Coach Landis and be part of something special.” LeBlanc said. “I wanted to be part of the first class at a new school and help build something from the ground up.”
LeBlanc believes Douglass already has a distinct advantage up front.
“I think we’re gonna have the best O-line and D-line in the state,” he said. “Starting with coaching then going down to the players, the talent is there to be the best.”
FROM THE GROUND UP
Last November was the genesis of the Douglass football program. When Athletic Director Garry McPeek was given a list of all the Lexington students who’d be districted to the school after the lines were redrawn, he began the process of reaching out to potential players, sending out hundreds of emails.
“All of the kids had the option to stay at their previous school even if they were redrawn into our district, but we wanted to reach out and let them know what we had to offer,” McPeek said.
When Landis was hired in January after spending the previous season as head of defensive quality control and assistant linebackers coach at the University of Kentucky, he knew the next step was to get the kids into the weight room.
But Douglass didn’t yet have a training facility, so Landis and McPeek forged a partnership with the Whitaker Family YMCA in Hamburg that gave Douglass players a place to work out through the winter.
“I think the first day we had about 13 players show up to work out, and I’m thinking to myself ‘what have you done?’” said Landis with a laugh. “Then it grew to 30 and it just kept going from there. ... We started with 13 and now it’s 80, it’s been awesome.”
The deal will allow the YMCA to host a number of events, such as soccer games, on Douglass’s campus.
“It was a great way for us to help forge a relationship with the community, McPeek said.
Once the roster started swelling and summer came around it was time to get onto the practice field. But again, the lack of facilities stymied the team. Landis finally got permission to spend 13 days in June practicing at Crawford Middle School before the summer dead period.
“My quarterbacks coach got out there with his mower and cut the grass a couple of times a week and I loaded my truck up with equipment every day and we went over there and went at it,” Landis said. “None of the kids complained about the situation, they just went out there and went to work.”
Dayton LeBlanc said those June practices went a long way toward strengthening the team’s bond.
“That built mental toughness because of the situation and the ground we were on,” he said. “It was a very old-school environment and we all loved it.”
Landis said the biggest challenge for him and his staff has been retraining players who have spent years adapting to the demands of other coaching staffs.
“A lot of these guys have done it a certain way for a long time and are settled in their ways, so we’ve had to ruffle some feathers and break some bad habits,” he said. “We’re still fighting that, but every day it gets better and the kids are craving discipline and doing a great job being accountable.”
READY TO CHASE A RING
Douglass High doesn’t yet have a mascot. That decision will be made on the first day of classes when students will meet for an assembly at the school’s gym and vote via a mobile application, likely choosing between “Stallions” and “Thoroughbreds,” McPeek said.
Douglass will debut in Class 6A, District 7 along with Bryan Station, Henry Clay, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Scott County.
The team might lack a mascot right now, but it doesn’t lack confidence.
“My goal is for us to play hard, play fast and go get a ring,” Trigg said. “I know people will say there’s no way you can do that in your first year but I say, ‘Why not?’”
Lowe wouldn’t go so far as to predict Douglass would shock the state and win a title in year one, but he’s confident the team will be a threat immediately.
“We’re here to win right now,” he said. “I don’t play for participation trophies.”
Frederick Douglass vs. Danville
What: Bob Allen Pigskin Classic
When: Saturday, Aug. 19, 8:15 p.m.
Frederick Douglass High School’s inaugural football schedule (home games in all capital letters; all times 7:30 p.m. with exception of 8:15 p.m. season opener):
Aug. 19: x-At Danville
Aug. 25: TATES CREEK
Sept. 8: At Lafayette
Sept. 15: MADISON CENTRAL
Sept. 22: At Paul Dunbar
Sept. 29: BRYAN STATION
Oct. 6: At Scott Co.
Oct. 13: HANCOCK CO.
Oct. 20: HENRY CLAY
Oct. 27: CONNER
x-Bob Allen Pigskin Classic