PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Central Hardin looks to continue momentum (8/21)

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By Ryan O'Gara

Last season was the breakthrough the Central Hardin Bruins were looking for.

After going 11-12 in the two seasons prior, their 11-2 campaign was filled with program records and high-moments galore, but it also left them deeply unsatisfied.

That’s why despite returning the core of that team, it’s not too surprising the Bruins underwent a complete overhaul under new coach Tim Mattingly: a new offense, a new defense and perhaps most interestingly, a new philosophy when it comes to playing time.

It’s out with the spread offense ran by former coach Mark Perry and in with the Wing-T that has suddenly become popular among area schools. Mattingly is also bringing his vaunted 4-4 defense with him from Meade County which allowed only 10.6 points per game, first in Class 6-A.

But Mattingly’s most radical change is he is using his players on both sides of the ball, which Perry was hesistant to do. Mattingly has every player practicing at one position on offense and one on defense. Right now, three players — seniors Dakota Coogle, Zach Helton and Koree Krupinski — are starting on both sides of the ball, while numerous others will see action both ways.

“I think that’s how you’re supposed to play,” said Krupinski, who starts at safety and quarterback. “You play football to win games, and I don’t know why you’d put someone out there and have somebody better on the sidelines.”

Mattingly’s theory is the best 11 players should play defense, and then those players can rest on offense if they need to. That way of thinking spurred Meade County, which started six players both ways, past Central Hardin in the state quarterfinals and to the state final.

Krupinski hasn’t played safety since seventh grade and acknowledged he has to learn to hit again, but he’s excited about the added duties. Helton got the chance to play cornerback in the playoffs last season in addition to wide receiver, and he shined in the dramatic win over McCracken County. Coogle has shown major potential at left tackle while also playing defensive tackle.

The added firepower should help boost a defensive unit which was already solid in allowing 15.9 points per game last year. The Bruins seemed to bend all season, allowing 282.5 yards per game, but they finally broke in the two losses to rival Meade County, yielding a combined 77 points.

Mattingly, who had been Meade County’s defensive coordinator for 10 years, is out to change that. For a defense which returns two of its top three tacklers back in junior linebackers Seth Bryan and Dalton Parr, both tackles in senior Alex Hawkins and Coogle, senior cornerback Chase Hicks and converted junior linebacker Gavin Krupinski, having the leadership of Mattingly gives them more of an edge.

“We know if the pressure is on the defense, we’ll get it done,” Bryan said. “We like the pressure because it’s exciting and fun, and that’s what football is all about.”

The offense has been revamped as well.

Instead of going straight from the spread to the Wing-T in Koree Krupinski’s third season as the starter, Mattingly is incorporating aspects of both offenses. This hybrid offense, which Mattingly likened to what Gus Malzahn and Auburn have run with Nick Marshall at quarterback, will still rely on Wing-T principles, though Krupinski won’t always be under center.

That puts even more emphasis on star junior fullback Xavier Arnette, who powered his way to 830 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns last year. Helton and senior Stephen Lindsey, who combined for 1,262 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns last season, possess big-play ability as wings, while senior Chase Hicks is a capable backup to Arnette.

“It’s a lot more tough, smashmouth football,” Arnette said. “We have to be tougher than every team we play and have that mindset.”

The new scheme still fits in with Krupinski’s skill set as he ran for 642 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Just don’t expect him to approach the 1,904 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 214 passing attempts he had last year. And that’s just fine with the reigning Area Offensive Player of the Year.

“When you have a thoroughbred in the backfield like Xavier and two wings who can run like crazy,” Krupinski said, “I don’t expect to throw the ball that much.”

As is the case with most teams, the offense will only be as good as the offensive line. Senior guard Trent Baker is the only returning starter, and he’s switching from center. How quickly senior Josh Farris and juniors Nick Lockard and Garrett Goatley mesh with Coogle and Baker could determine whether the Bruins approach their 37.2 points per game average from last year.

“The offensive line has improved tremendously from the spring until now,” Mattingly said. “They have come light years, but there is still a long way to go. A lot of it isn’t a lack of ability — it’s just not using proper technique or missing assignments they have to pick up on.”

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since Perry left for Lexington Catholic. Two starters who could’ve returned didn’t, but Mattingly feels great about where the team is at.

He’ll have to with a schedule that includes 5-A state semifinalist John Hardin, 5-A state quartefinalist Bullitt East, 4-A state champion Collins and — the big one — 6-A state finalist Meade County.

So for the Bruins to surpass the program record for wins they set last year in making the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1997, they need to take it slow.

“Our expectations are high, but we understand we have to play week by week to achieve our goals,” Baker said. “Everybody in high school, they want to win a state championship. We’re going to keep it week by week and focus on Friday.”

Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or rogara@thenewsenterprise.com.