Bryan Station's football team authored a couple of feel-good stories last fall.
The Defenders ended a six-year, 21-game losing streak in the city, and they finished the season 6-5, their first winning record since 2000.
Bryan Station almost penned the thriller of the year, too, by throwing a serious scare into mighty Highlands in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The Bluebirds needed a last-gasp drive and a touchdown with 18 seconds left to beat the Defenders 28-22.
Never miss a local story.
Highlands went on to win the state championship.
Bryan Station's valiant effort is still a fresh memory as a new season approaches, and the Defenders are determined to show that their program has indeed regained its mojo.
"The Highlands game was the ultimate statement that we're not scared of going up against anybody," said senior linebacker Kris Bolton.
"We got a lot of respect from that game. We proved we can hang with anybody."
Junior quarterback Brady Boling agreed.
"Almost beating Highlands, we went out with a bang even though we didn't win," he said. "That's carried over to this year. We've got that heart now."
Oliver Lucas, in his fourth year of rebuilding Bryan Station, agreed that the near upset of Highlands "helped to validate" his program. He also pointed out that the Defenders' other losses (to Henry Clay, Johnson Central, Lafayette and Woodford County) were close games, too.
With Bryan Station returning most of its defense, offensive linemen and some key playmakers, Lucas expects this year's team to be even better as it is reclassified in 6A after two seasons in 5A.
The Defenders' "D" should be especially strong, led by linebackers Bolton, who topped the team in tackles last year, and Octavian Crutcher.
Najee Calderon moves to free safety, Jordan Taylor, Tim Hayden and Kevin Gochett return in the secondary.
Haanz Nutter is a proven force at defensive end. He'll be joined on the line by Kirk Chestnut, Leon Carsby and Dekovan Howard.
"Our defense definitely will be our strength," Lucas said.
Bryan Station's offense should be balanced, with Boling a much-improved passer, and Tevin McCaden inheriting the workload at running back from Patrick Cornett.
After a slow start last year, Boling gained confidence and wound up throwing for 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns.
His favorite target will be Chaz Mitchell, a lightning fast senior and cousin of world champion sprinter Tyson Gay. Mitchell had 22 catches for 340 yards last year. He's also a threat returning kicks.
McCaden is a strong and fast 190-pounder. He had only 36 carries last fall but averaged 8.1 yards and had six TDs. "Every time he touches the ball it's like gold," Lucas said.
The offensive line is huge, including big-time prospect Darrian Miller (6-foot-6, 275 pounds), Tae Green (6-0, 300) and Kalib Ball (6-5, 305), and tight end Jaron Mock.
"The only concern I have is that we need to play up to our potential," Lucas said, "and that we as coaches can't screw it up."
That's a far cry from when Lucas arrived in 2006, and Bryan Station looked nothing like the program that played in the 4A state finals in 1999. The numbers dwindled and Defenders fans had little to cheer.
This season could be a return to the good ol' days. Bryan Station has more than 100 players out for pre-season practice, and the depth of talent is obvious.
"This is my fourth year, so this is the class I kind of banked on and built on looking to get everything done," Lucas said.
"And they should get it done. We don't make any qualms about it. Our goal is like UK basketball. We want to hang championship banners. That's what we're after."