High School Football

Lexington Christian's football battle cry: Restore the tradition

Coach Ethan Atchley, in his first year at LCA, will count on running back Nick Whitman, left, and QB Dima Ballard, who were hurt early in the Eagles' 1-10 season.
Coach Ethan Atchley, in his first year at LCA, will count on running back Nick Whitman, left, and QB Dima Ballard, who were hurt early in the Eagles' 1-10 season.

You couldn't blame Lexington Christian Academy's Dima Ballard and Nick Whitman for wanting to erase all memory of last season.

LCA lost its last nine games and finished 1-10, the worst record in the program's 13-year history. Ballard and Whitman could only sit and watch most of the struggles.

Whitman broke his leg just three games into the schedule, and Ballard was sidelined for the year with a knee injury after four games.

The physical pain and the mental anguish are long forgotten now, though. A new season has arrived with a new coach and new attitude.

Ethan Atchley, 25, has succeeded Ray Graham as LCA's coach. He was the Eagles' defensive coordinator two years ago, and served as an assistant at Lafayette last season.

The LCA players love Atchley's youthful energy and exuberance.

"When he was here before he was one of my favorite coaches," Ballard said. "He's a great leader and he really knows how to motivate kids."

Whitman has the same take on the new coach. "He's so young, he can really relate to us. He's a good guy, but he's serious with us, too."

Atchley doesn't want to turn back the clock to when he was at LCA in 2012. He wants the Eagles to return to the glory days when they were a small-school power, and state champs in 2009.

"We want to restore the tradition," Atchley said. "These kids grew up watching Branden Burdette, Domonique Hayden, Lucas Witt, guys who built the tradition. These kids know what it was and they're eager to ultimately get the program back there."

LCA will shift gears offensively to get there.

Joey Thacker, a former head coach at Frankfort and assistant at Franklin County, is a guru when it comes to the wide-open passing attack made popular by Tony Franklin. Atchley brought Thacker aboard to get the Eagles airborne, and also make the game more fun so more kids will come out for football.

Ballard, who quarterbacked this kind of offense when he was a freshman, will be at the controls.

"Dima's skills are perfect for this style," Atchley said. "He's incredibly smart. His brain is moving a mile a minute. He can see the field and make calls at the line."

Ballard loves it because it gives him a lot of freedom. "Quick passes and quick decisions," he said.

Having Whitman at running back will make it even more effective.

"People will want to stop Nick, and that will enable us to get the ball to the edge and into playmakers' hands."

Those playmakers include Sam Arnold, Daniel White, John Davis, Logan Potter and Drayden Burton.

The offensive line will be strong with Clay Ach, Bradley Dickinson, Josh Weber, Chad Castillo and Will Southall.

Ach, a junior whom Atchley considers one of the top prospects in the state, will also play defense.

Whitman at linebacker will be "a force to be reckoned with," Atchley said.

White, Brad Wilkins and Dillon Wheatley will bring toughness to the "D," too.

The secondary rotation will include Arnold, Burton, Potter, Turner Brown, Clay Elliott, Johnny Navis and Blake Woodward.

While staying healthy is a key for LCA, so is staying focused on what it takes to reestablish a program.

"We're trying to change the culture here, and trying to get back where we used to be," Whitman said.

Atchley seconded that notion.

"I've reached out to the alumni to talk to the boys about the work ethic, determination and discipline you need week in and week out," he said. "Now it's up to everybody to do it."