After going 3-8 and losing its final six games, that Tates Creek would hang up its pads last November and immediately go back to the drawing board wasn't too much of a surprise.
The Commodores fell by double digits in all of their losses and averaged 21.2 points while giving up 37.6 last season. They were winless against city and district opponents, their victories coming against teams that finished a combined 6-25.
"After last season we had to sit down and really figure out how we can put our best athletes on the field," Commodores Coach Antoine Sims said. "No questions. No ifs, ands or buts about it, we have to have our best on the field at all times."
Whether a total revamp of the offense from a run-oriented attack to a spread formation will cure the Commodores' ails beginning Aug. 21 against Scott County remains to be seen. But the optimism in the air during their media day could be sliced with a knife.
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"Of course we'll find out when we put the pads on and go up against an opponent," Sims said, "but right now the energy level and everything's great."
Sims, who played at Louisville after an all-state career at Tates Creek, said the biggest difference between the first and second year coaching his alma mater is sheer numbers and player attitudes.
"Last year I think we finished with maybe 60 kids," he said. "We have 100 kids right now. Of course that can always change. You gotta get kids to want to be out here and so far these kids want to be out here."
Junior wide receiver Langston Love noticed a marked difference in his team's attitude from year one under Sims. He attributed it in part to the new offense opening things up for the Creekers' fastest and most athletic guys.
"Last year because of the new coaching staff a lot of people went into the season with bad attitudes," Love said. "This year everybody's really excited for the season."
Senior Peyton Burke, slated to take over at quarterback a year ago before missing most of the season with a hamstring injury, said he is 100 percent and echoed the positive change in mentality.
"Everybody's ready to play," Burke, grandson of the late Roy Walton, said. "We're believing in each other and believing in the coaches."
One thing aiding the numbers uptick is an influx of transfers. Among the new faces hitting the gridiron for Tates Creek is Robbie Lofton, the second-leading receiver for Class 5A quarterfinalist Bowling Green last season. Lofton moved to Lexington last winter.
Lofton, a state champion triple jumper in 2014 at Bowling Green and runner-up last season for the Commodores, liked how accepting of change the football program was in regard to the offense and all its new players. For him, the biggest adjustment is the step up in competition level week in and week out.
"Bowling Green's the only city school out there," Lofton said. "There's a lot more big schools here in Lexington."
Sims said he and his staff have to put Lofton in positions where his champion-level athleticism can thrive.
"Imagine what he can be capable of doing on the football field at wide receiver," Sims said.
Other key transfers include Elijah and Xavier Johnson, brothers who saw time as sophomores at Henry Clay last season. Sims said he expects "bigger things from them here being juniors." Senior DeQuan Pirtle, who came from Jackson South Side in Tennessee, could be found money in the defensive secondary — if he can keep his cool.
"My coaches have told me I can be a much better player, but I gotta stay humble," Pirtle said. "I get caught up in the talking and arguing with the receivers sometimes. You know, Richard Sherman-type things."
Why will Tates Creek be successful?
Senior receiver Connor Gibson: "The team's closer this year and people are staying healthier. Coaches are closer with us and it feels more like a family."