High School Football

LCA doing it with defense this year

Lexington Christian football player Neil Whitman (2010)
Lexington Christian football player Neil Whitman (2010)

Lexington Christian Academy's football team has a simple defensive philosophy:

Swarm the ball.

"No matter if it goes away from you, toward you, or up the middle, everybody is expected to get there," LCA senior Neil Whitman said.

"Everything is about getting to the ball."

Coach Ray Graham constantly preaches pursuit, and his players have taken his message to heart. After reviewing game video throughout the season, Graham noted that "most of our guys end up in the picture when the camera goes off."

That's a telling snapshot of why the Eagles are one victory away from returning to Bowling Green to defend their Class A state title.

LCA visits unbeaten Hazard on Friday night, the fourth year in a row the teams have collided in the semifinals.

This matchup is different in that the Eagles will rely more on an aggressive defense than an explosive offense.

LCA rolled to the state title last season behind quarterback Lucas Witt, running back Domonique Hayden and receiver Branden Burdette, who had more big plays than Broadway.

That trio graduated, however, leaving the defense to carry the load this year.

And it has.

Led by seniors Whitman and Max Barjuca, LCA's defense has been the cornerstone of a 10-3 record, including a 23-12 victory over Fairview last week.

LCA dug itself out of a 12-0 hole to lead 14-12 at halftime, then allowed Fairview only 20 yards and no first downs the rest of the night.

Whitman and Barjuca epitomize the Eagles' fast and furious defense that Graham refers to as a group of "technicians" and "perfectionists."

"Neil is so quick and strong and athletic," Graham said of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound defensive end. "He's got a beautiful stance, uses his hands well and you can't reach him.

"He can defend the trap and also get back outside on the bootleg."

Graham compared Barjuca, a 6-3, 200-pound linebacker, to former NFL star Ted Hendricks.

"Max is a tall, rangy athlete like the 'Mad Stork.' He covers a lot of ground, can chase people down, knock down passes and intercept them."

Barjuca and Whitman, who are also doubling up as offensive tackles this year, know they'll have to be at the top of their game against Hazard.

"It seems like LCA and Hazard have dominated this side of the state (in Class A) the last few years," Barjuca said. "It always seems to come down to us or them.

"They've always played hard-nosed ball, and I like to think our defense has been moving in that direction."

Hazard's big-play potential will put pressure on the Eagles' defense on every snap.

"All that really does is make you get back to the fundamentals," Whitman said. "You've got to get off your blocks and tackle with your head up. If you do that, you can take those big plays away."

While Whitman and Barjuca were major contributors to LCA's state title last fall, both feel they have more ownership of this year's Eagles.

"Last year felt like it was the graduating class's team — Lucas's, Domonique's and Branden's team," Barjuca said.

"This year it feels like the workload, and the credit is a lot more spread out. It's more like everybody's team."

Whitman agreed.

"There's a fine line," he said. "We take a lot of pride in what we did last year, but at the same time we consider ourselves a completely different team.

"We're excited about trying to win another state title this year."