Henry Clay Coach Sam Simpson thinks it'd be ridiculous for any coach in Lexington to predict their team will go undefeated against city opponents.
But that's just what Simpson's Blue Devils did last season, going 4-0 and averaging 60 points against Fayette County competition.
"I've been around a long time, longer than anybody I guess that's here now," said Simpson, beginning his 23rd year at Henry Clay. "I've seen teams that seem hopeless going up against somebody and they come out inspired. ...
"Every time you line up against a cross-city foe you better strap it up and be ready to play."
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Speedy corner Davonte Robinson, a UK commitment who led the team with 56 tackles last season, said it'll be even harder to be back-to-back city champions because every team has stepped up its game.
Still, Simpson thinks his team, led by a strong and speedy senior class, has what it takes to make noise despite a challenging schedule. The Blue Devils open with a scrimmage against Trinity before kicking off the regular season against St. Xavier in Lexington Catholic's Bluegrass Bowl.
"We'll find out right away where we are," Simpson said.
United they stand
No word got as much play during any team picture day as "unity" did at Henry Clay's on July 31.
"They argue and fuss at each other like brothers do but I really think they're a close-knit group," Simpson said.
Lucas Soard, a senior who described himself as an undersized lineman who uses his speed and savvy to outplay opponents, said he doesn't know anyone on the team "that's at each other" or holds any type of grudge.
"Everybody's friends," Soard said. " ... We know each other's strengths and weaknesses and I think that really helps us stay together."
Fellow senior lineman Jordan Forsythe described the Blue Devils as a puzzle built from each player's individuality. Every person brings something unique to the table.
"We have a bunch of scramble pieces and when we play it all comes together," Forsythe said.
Forsythe said the group's bond has extended to off-turf activities including basketball and playing video games in the FIFA and Call of Duty series.
"The games where you have to rely on somebody," he said. "When all of us play we like to talk, we like to say 'who's got this, who's got that' and it translates into a football game."
Senior Joquise Buford, the state's leading rusher regardless of class last season, said he couldn't do "big things for my team" without his front line and receivers downfield blocking for him.
For senior running back Keyshawn Johnson-Sanders, the unification goes way beyond the team on the field.
"It's the school," he said. "It's everything. When I play for Henry Clay I'm not just playing for the person beside me. I'm playing for the person in the stands, I'm playing for the teacher in the school.
"I'm playing for the whole. I'm playing for the program."
Simpson thinks the Blue Devils' passing attack will be as good as it has been in awhile. That despite senior quarterbacks C.J. Tackett and Marcus Tyler not distinguishing themselves from each other in practice.
While Simpson has always considered himself more of a one-quarterback coach, he's spoken with folks at every level of the game and has come to one bottom line: "Both these young men have earned the respect of their teammates," Simpson said. " ... So I told them 'You all are going to decide.' If we go through the season and both of you are playing well, you'll both play."
Tyler said he brings quickness to make snap decisions whether to run or pass. Tackett said he's more of a pocket passer but will do anything asked of him by the offense.
"It helps a lot because both of us know what we're doing," said Tackett when asked what it's like having two senior QBs. "It also takes stress off our arms and minds," Tyler added.
Why will Henry Clay be successful?
Senior cornerback Davonte Robinson: "Because we're not worried about one person. ... Everybody's doubting us and we're looking forward to getting out there and showing them."