Opening Drive trailer: An inside look at the Douglass Broncos’ first year
The collection of talent assembled on the football field at Frederick Douglass is unmistakably, head-shakingly good.
Star ratings and power-five Division I college offers abound. But there’s one more thing the Broncos want on their resume: a state title.
It maybe felt like it could be within reach last year, incredible for a school then just two years old, but a poor start against Scott County proved a hard lesson as Douglass fell in the playoffs.
“This is our third year, so I’m hoping we handle adversity a little bit better,” Douglass Coach Brian Landis said after a tough practice in the scorching heat this month. “We came into that last game last year — and we preached it to them all year — you’ve got to come ready to play every night. You can’t relax ever.”
Players on both sides of the ball for Douglass, especially in the trenches, have received big-time college offers. Offensive lineman Walker Parks has already committed to Clemson. Fellow lineman Jager Burton has seen his recruiting stock rise dramatically.
“It’s pretty crazy to think last year I had no offers,” Burton, a junior, said. “UK offered me the week after we lost in the playoffs, so this is kind of the first season playing with kind of a target on me, people kind of wondering what I have or whatever. And I’m ready for it. I’m ready for anyone who thinks they can beat me, or whatever, or this team.”
The path to state glory has changed with the Broncos’ move down to Class 5A, but the competition remains fierce with Highlands, Covington Catholic and Scott County potentially in the way.
“If you look at any state championship team, the one thing they all have in common is that they can run the football and they can stop the run,” Landis said. “And it all starts up front. With those kids, the ones that we have, and it’s not just Walker and Jag, our other kids are darned good football players and they’ve come a long, long way in their development.”
Douglass’ offense should take on a different look with senior transfer Josh McClurg taking over under center. Paintsville’s leading scorer last year offers more of a dual-threat than the pocket passer the Broncos had with Cam Jones. Cincinnati commit Devin Neal lines up in the offensive and defensive backfields.
Now, Douglass’ quest for the team goal begins again, because while individual accolades and having all that potential is great on paper …
“None of that matters. Are you going to come out here and work hard, execute and make your teammates better?” Landis said. “If you do that, then you’ve got a chance. You’ve got to have talent, but talent is wasted if it doesn’t work hard and it doesn’t do the things necessary it takes to win.”
Kentucky commit Beau Allen leads Lexington Catholic into Class 4A, but he’ll have some largely untested teammates after the Knights graduated nine all-city players.
“We’re going to do what we do,” Coach Nigel Smith said. “When you have a quarterback like Beau Allen there are a lot of things that you can do. He makes guys better.”
Allen has juniors Jackson Corbett and Dylan Bracken among his targets and senior running back Ryan Nichols to share the rushing load. They combined for more than 1,100 yards on the ground in 2018.
“I’m really excited about the guys we have on the team, the guys we have in the locker room, the coaching staff …” the senior said before rattling off every player he could think of that will contribute this season. “I could go on and on, we’ve got a lot of guys.”
Lexington Christian has a spring in its step.
“We’re really excited,” said senior quarterback Jayden Barnhardt. “We return every skill guy on offense. Our defense is absolutely loaded. We’ve rebuilt our o-line completely, but it’s looking really good so far, so we’re looking for a big season on both sides of the ball.”
But the start won’t be easy with tilts against Moore, Belfry, Madison Central, Lexington Catholic and Williamsburg before it hits a District 4 slate that has two teams also ranked in the Class 2A top 10 in Somerset and Danville.
“Well, they say iron sharpens iron, is what somebody told me a long time ago,” first-year head coach Doug Charles said. “If we want to be the best, we’ve got to play. We want to get our kids on big stages. We like the juice of big games.”
Barnhardt and senior wide-out Dearious Smith ranked as one of the most prolific passing combinations in the state. Thomas White, Xavier Brown and Barnhardt combined for more than 1,500 yards rushing and 21 TDs. And senior lineman Drew Long led Class 2A with 11 sacks while also piling up 107 tackles.
Time to rise?
Tates Creek looks for more ups than downs after a roller-coaster 2018, and having talent and experience at the three skill positions won’t hurt.
Senior wide receiver Miles Thomas has worked his way into the recruiting charts after an 802-yard, 11-TD season and has one of the state’s top returning passers, Luke Duby, slinging it again. Creek also brings back leading rusher Marcus Bosley.
“We haven’t been past the second round since 2001. That’s our main goal, right now,” said Creek Coach Jonathan Smith. “And then after that, let the chips lay where they lay, but if we get past that second round, we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Commodores are in a realigned district with city foes Henry Clay, Lafayette and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Senior cornerback/wide-out Elliott Bryant welcomes the challenge of facing them in both the regular season and the playoffs in the new format.
“I feel like we’ve seen them already and we know what they’re about,” he said.
A healthy senior quarterback DJ Van Horn and the Blue Devils team look to improve on their 2018 record of 6-6.
“Our whole look on offense is going to be just a little different,” Henry Clay Coach Sam Simpson said. “We’ve got length this year, something that I haven’t always had. ... All four of my receivers are over 6 foot and my running back is over 6 foot. DJ’s the shortest one in the huddle and that’s not a bad thing.”
Jakobi Godfrey, a 6-3, 195-pound senior wide-out, Ashton Foos, a 6-4, 210-pound senior tight end and Preston Stacy, a 6-1, 190-pound sophomore running back are among those options.
Van Horn returns after suffering a broken ankle in the eighth game last season. He had settled into a good rhythm leading the Blue Devils to three straight wins before the injury, including a stunning rout of Scott County.
Bryan Station has a new batch of district opponents after realignment to go with its new turf field. Oldham County, Madison Central and Clark County are in; Frederick Douglass, Henry Clay, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Scott County are out.
Among those taking on the new faces across the ball will be sophomore running back Amodeus Taylor.
“He’s a football player. He’s probably one of the best pure football players in the city,” Coach Frank Parks said.
The Defenders keep their regular-season slate of city opponents in addition to their new foes, but senior strong safety Bryson Fields doesn’t mind.
“We bleed just like they bleed,” he said. “We’ve got some underclassmen, but it’s all in the heart. We’re going to go out there and ball every single play.”
Lafayette and Dunbar each come off difficult seasons, but their coaches are optimistic things will turn around.
“I’m very excited about the group. They work their butts off,” Lafayette’s Eric Shaw said. “They really want to be successful and that’s half the battle.”
Also making things easier will be senior linebacker Jaylen Lawson, the Generals’ leading tackler.
At Dunbar, second-year coach Wes Johnson feels good about his team after everyone has had a year to adjust to each other.
“You just have a feeling of what your guys can accomplish on the field,” he said. “You get a year to put that work ethic in and that sort of thing and just see the fruits of what you’ve been working on.”
The Bulldogs have standout wide receiver Jamarcus Robinson and a stronger focus said senior linebacker Jual Jones.
“Jemarcus. I think he’s one of the best receivers in the city without a doubt,” Jones said. “When he gets the ball, there’s not very many people who can tackle him.”
Varsity at Sayre
The Spartans ramp up toward a full varsity schedule with seven games this year.
“We’re slowly building,” head coach Chad Pennington, the former NFL quarterback, said. “The kids are working really hard. You can see a big-time difference between year one and year two.”
Sayre will be implementing a weight training program and has already begun beefing up its complex with stadium lights and bleachers. Sayre will be a Class A school in 2020.