There is no secret what LaRue County wants to do offensively.
“We’re still gonna line up and run the ball,” Coach Josh Jaggers said. “We’re gonna do what we do. We’re gonna pound the rock, or try to, but we’re also going to throw it around a little more.”
LaRue County is coming off an 8-6 season that ended in the Class 3-A state semifinals.
“That senior class (11) that we have to replace, everybody kind of knew who’s who,” Jaggers said. “Dailliss (Cox) and Anthony (Adkins) led that group. But those other guys improved and became, quite honestly, stars in their own rights in their positions — we have big holes to fill. But we think we’ve got some guys that, in time, will hopefully do what those guys were able to do.”
It will all start up front for the Hawks.
Senior Dalton Underwood moves to center to replace the graduated Chase Baker, a three-year starter at the position.
“When you play someone who is playing a 50 defense, they are playing it for a reason because the guy they have breathing down that center’s neck is a dude,” Jaggers said. “I want a dude there and Red (Underwood) is a big body, strong and powerful and his feet have gotten better.”
Seniors Tucker Shelton and Ethan England will be at guard with senior Chazz Hill and junior Jared Stillwell at tackle. Sophomore David Stillwell and freshman Conner Lambert will provide depth.
Senior Mark Goode will have two jerseys per game as he will play tight end and tackle.
“He’s gonna have two sets of shoulder pads every game,” Jaggers said. “He’s just so valuable. He’s so athletic. At tackle he’s a monster. There’s not too many 6-6, 260-pound guys with feet like him with power that he’s got. At tight end, he’ll help draw other defenders to get our other guys open. Depending on who we’re playing match-up wise, we’ll play him at tight end and/or tackle.
“Something I got from dad, a lot of times, based on who he was playing, he would put his best lineman as the guy that’s covered up. At tight end, Mark’s always gonna be covered up.”
Junior quarterback Connor Baker returns and Jaggers will rely on him to be far more than a game manager.
“Connor last year had Anthony and Jeremiah (Belton) and Russell (Young) back there and last year Connor just had to manage things,” Jaggers said. “We didn’t ask a lot out of a first-time starter as a sophomore. But, last year we don’t go on the run we went on without Connor Baker becoming a better quarterback throughout the season. He was able to do some things in the option game and was able to complete some passes that earlier in the year, quite honestly, he wasn’t doing.
“People had to start respecting the pass and he was also able to get some important yards for us down the stretch when everyone thought Anthony or Jerry was getting the ball.
“We’re gonna put the ball in his hands more this year on the option side of things.”
Baker was 6-for-6 for 140 yards and three touchdowns in the 48-29 opening-round playoff win over Union County, scored a touchdown the next week in the 44-41 victory at Caldwell County and scored a touchdown and converted a pair of two-point runs in the 40-32 win at Elizabethtown.
Baker was 21-for-63 a year ago for 384 yards, four scores and eight interceptions. He ran the ball 39 times for minus-5 yards.
He will throw the ball to Goode, senior Chance Bowen, sophomore Kellen Bowen and junior Preston Self.
LaRue County completed 31 passes last season for 598 yards and eight touchdowns. Goode caught six for 160 yards and three scores and Self five for 157 yards and two touchdowns.
“Those guys have bought in,” Jaggers said. “If you can learn to play with your hand in the dirt, that causes problems. They are complete team players.”
Belton will get the majority of carries. He finished with 1,301 yards (92.93 per game) on 168 carries (7.74 yards per) and 10 touchdowns. Also in the backfield will be junior Thomas Boone, junior Bardstown transfer Tyrell Coulter and senior Matthew Lewis. The Hawks also have some youth in the backfield, like freshman Landon Colvin, who will be called upon to provide some relief.
“We’ll be vastly different from a depth standpoint,” Jaggers said. “We’ve got good numbers in our younger classes, but those guys aren’t ready for Friday nights. In 2017 we had some depth because not many guys at all went both ways. Last year we had four or five who went both ways. This year it’s gonna be seven to nine guys. Our core group of guys we really feel strong in, but we’ve got to keep them healthy.
“You lose one guy, you really lose two because they’re starting on both sides.”
Lambert will be at nose guard with Goode, Shelton and Hill on the interior. Lewis and sophomore Kellen Bowen will be the outside linebackers with Boone on the inside, along with junior Tripp Chapman. Shelton and England have also worked at inside linebacker.
“Defensively, we may be based more out of the 50 this year than we have been in the past,” Jaggers said.
In the defensive backfield are Chance Bowen, Coulter, Self and Belton. Also seeing time back there will be seniors KeAndre Mack and Kemarius Mack, who moved back from Texas.
With the amount of players going both ways, Jaggers and the coaching staff must come up with a plan to get them some rest.
“We’ve got some guys in the sophomore and freshman class who will be able to do that,” Jaggers said. “Maybe not every down guys, but we have guys — especially in that freshman class — that if they have to spot Jerry at corner, or spot somebody at outside linebacker, they’ll be able to do that. And several of those guys will be playing on special teams. We’re trying to get them ready because they’re obviously our future, but at the same time, getting them ready now because Jerry and Thomas Boone and Matthew Lewis and Tyrell Coulter are the four guys we’re gonna be starting in our backfield, but they’re also going to be starting on defense.
“You can’t ask them to go all out on offense and then on defense without giving them some breaks throughout the game.”
Baker and Coulter will punt, with senior Silas Taylor and freshman Aaron Silva doing the placekicking. Self is the long snapper with Underwood also available.
The Hawks open the season Friday with a tough test at Glasgow.
“I think going through a season like last year and having the success we had at the end helps with teams like this in just believing in the process,” Jaggers said. “You’re gonna go out on some Friday nights and things are gonna be bad. It may happen more than once — twice, three or four times. Keep grinding and keep getting better and once you get in the playoffs, who knows what can happen.
“I really like this bunch of kids. You don’t have the success, thankfully, that we’ve had the past two years without having a selfless group of kids. These guys have been around to see that and realize it’s all ‘we.’ They’ve watched it and seen what it takes to be successful. They’ve really been an enjoyable bunch to coach. When I say they do not care who gets the credit, they don’t care. They just want to try to go out and be the best versions of themselves they can be.”