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PREP FOOTBALL: Bulldogs hope to extend streak in season opener (08/22)

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By Chuck Jones

The John Hardin Bulldogs have made a history of getting the season started off on the right foot, but this year could be a challenge to keep that streak intact.

The Bulldogs are trying to make it a baker’s dozen, winning their 12 previous season openers. Three times during that span, they’ve opened the year with a win over Friday night’s opponent — Louisville Seneca — including a 35-6 victory last season. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium.

“We haven’t started a season like this with so many unknowns in a long time,” John Hardin coach Chad Lewis said. “We’re replacing eight starters defense. We’re going to have to hang our hat on our offense. But we’re going to have some growing pain because of all the unknowns.”

John Hardin has major holes to fill, especially on the defensive side of the ball, where it must replace its entire line, two linebackers and two secondary members. The only returnees are senior linebacker Maleek Moody, senior cornerback C.J. Hill and junior strong safety Thomas Lloyd.

The Bulldogs could start three sophomores — cornerback Korie Cleveland and linebackers Nico Lloyd and Trevon Wright — and freshman Anthony Witherspoon against the Redhawks, who averaged 13.5 points per game last season.

In its scrimmage against Warren Central last week, John Hardin only gave up one touchdown. It was a pleasant surprise for Lewis, who serves as the defensive coordinator.

“Our chemistry was on point,” Moody said. “Our communication is getting to the level we want it to be at. As a defense, we need to help out each other a little more. We’re getting better. We need to keep getting better because we still room to improve.”

Meanwhile, John Hardin’s offense is off and running with an experienced line and a stable of running backs.

Senior Josh Miller has shifted from halfback to fullback after rushing for 720 yards and six touchdowns. Seniors Elijah Smith and Andric Lunsford will start at halfback with sophomore Robert Shorter and Cleveland getting carries. Smith finished with 670 yards and nine touchdowns, while Cleveland had 101 yards, Shorter 71 and Lunsford 19 in limited roles.

As good as John Hardin’s running backs are, it starts up front with the return of seniors Jared Givan, Ethan Cobb and Dakota Pritchard as well as senior tight end Justin Carter. Cobb returns to left guard and Pritchard to right tackle, while Givan has moved from center to left tackle.

“We have a senior dominated line and one of the best tight ends in the state, in my opinion,” Lewis said. “Those guys have a lot of experience and they’ve shown a lot of leadership. We’re going to rely on those guys, especially early in the season.”

Junior Shay Stone steps in at quarterback for the departed Patrick Anderson, a two-year starter who passed for 1,119 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Lewis has talked to Stone about not trying to do too much.

“We have a lot of seniors and a lot of leadership on offense,” Lewis said. “What we need from Shay is to be the pilot of the offense. He played well in the scrimmage. He’s going to get more confidence with each game. Young quarterbacks are going to make mistakes, but with what we have coming back, he shouldn’t have that pressure on him to make plays.”

John Hardin, which averaged 34.1 points and 374.8 yards per game, had its moments against Warren Central, but Smith said the team has to become more consistent.

“Offensively we look good,” Smith said. “We got the win, which is the most important thing, right? We really played well. The line did a great job. We ran the ball well and Shay did a good job. We’re coming together, but we’re not where we want to be.”

Lewis said starting the season off with a win is important considering the schedule ahead. The Bulldogs have road games at Central Hardin (11-2 last season), Meade County (12-3) and Fort Thomas Highlands (13-2) and then host Louisville Pleasure Ridge Park (4-7) before starting Class 5-A, District 3 play.

“We’re excited for this year,” Hill said. “We have a lot of young guys stepping up and challenging for starting jobs. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been different than other years, but it’s been a good change.”

Chuck Jones can be reached at 270-505-1759 or cjones@thenewsenterprise.com.