Lexington Catholic football feeds off its success, including a pair of state titles in the last six years and its status as a perennial title contender.
But this pre-season, Lexington Catholic can use a defeat to whet its appetite. That's how junior quarterback Kyle Bolin remembers the Knights' 45-35 loss to eventual state champion Boyle County in last year's playoffs.
"That game showed the potential we have to be a great team this year," Bolin said. "We showed a lot of unity and strength in that loss.
"We have so many returning starters, it's exciting to think about how good we can be this season."
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Lexington Catholic was exceedingly young last year, a handicap against a brutal schedule that included Class 4A district rival Boyle County (twice), and 6A powerhouses St. Xavier and Trinity.
The Knights are still young, but not inexperienced.
"The biggest difference is that coming in this year, they understand how they have to practice," Coach Bill Letton said. "They figured it out at the end of last season, and they've picked up where they left off."
Senior defensive standout Adam Wachs said "all the young guys have grown up. We've really come together. With returning starters about everywhere, we're pretty confident and ready to go."
Bolin, who threw for 2,300 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, will trigger the offense.
"He's improved quite a bit," Letton said. "His arm strength is better. He's getting rid of the ball quicker and with more zip on it."
His No. 1 target will be the guy wearing the No. 1 jersey, 6-foot-2 junior Adam Bush, who had 53 catches for 873 yards and 10 TDs last fall.
Letton is expecting big things from Bush. "His speed has improved, and he's running past people now."
The Nash triplets — juniors Alex, Casey and Nick — will also play receiver, as will sophomore David Bouvier.
The Knights have plenty of tight ends — Calvin Zimmerman, Anthony Kersey, Nathan Burke and Josh Mesmer.
Lexington Catholic is deep at running back, led by junior Amoh Kumengisa, who rushed for 600 yards and nine TDs last year.
Marcelis Logan (son of former UK star Mark Logan), Kairon Snowden, Malik Guidry and Noah Mitchell — all sophomores — will help carry the load. They're also capable as slot receivers.
The offensive line is led by 6-1, 250-pound senior Kurt Wilhelmus, whom Letton calls "without a doubt, the best center I've ever had. He's really special at that position."
Veterans Oscar Melendez, Trey Lankford and Ridge Jackson will beef up the O-line.
No matter how strong the Knights' offense is, the defense might hold the key to the team's fate. Letton said poor tackling was a major problem last season when Lexington Catholic surrendered 30 points a game.
"We've made tackling a point of emphasis this year," Letton said. "The fact that we know how to practice better should help."
Wachs, who led the team in tackles last year at free safety, says experience will serve the "D" well this season.
"With so many guys back, we should have a real solid defense," he said. "I can't wait. I love being put in as a leader along with (linebacker) Jordan (Artrip)."
Wilhelmus and Melendez will split time at nose guard.
Michael Vogelsang will be at defensive end. Trey Mattingly can go at linebacker or end. Will Childers and Corey Mesmer have experience up front, too.
Casey LeBrun and Josh Mesmer will be at linebacker. In the secondary, Mike Lynch returns along with Casey and Nick Nash. Zimmerman and Kersey will share the hybrid spot.
The Knights don't play either Trinity or St. X, but Letton says the schedule might be tougher top to bottom.
Bush doesn't care who the opponents are.
"We don't like to use a hard schedule as an excuse for losing," he said. "Last year, we had all the potential in the world but didn't play up to it.
"What we went through last year with the loss to Boyle County, none of us want to feel that again."