North Hardin has a chip on its shoulders.
And this is after a 9-3 season.
“We’ve been waiting for this since Nov. 11, the Monday we came out after the loss against Male,” senior linebacker Darren Green said. “We’ve been preparing for this. We’re ready to strap up and we’re ready to go.”
The Monday after the 40-16 loss to eventual Class 6-A state champion Louisville Male, 40 players basically told Coach Brent Thompson to open the weight room.
“We walked in determined,” Green said. “We showed the younger players results on how everyone has been getting bigger and how much hard work helps you become, not only a better football player, but a better person. We felt it would be motivational for everyone to come in and get some extra work in and provide for next season.”
And that season begins with a 5:30 p.m. Saturday game with Louisville Waggener at Fairdale.
“Forty showed up and it was special,” said Thompson, beginning his eighth season. “Coach (Henri Baynham) Baker and I were in there pretty much every day. Obviously, we weren’t lifting every day, but we found something to do. We did core. We did plyometrics. We did resistance training. We did stretches.
“That was up to them. I told them I wasn’t checking role. But when 40 of them showed up — and it got bigger. We had 25 over here during Christmas break three times a week. That wasn’t set by Coach Thompson telling them. I just opened the doors and they came in and did the workout. That’s a testament to these seniors and these upperclassmen.”
The ultimate goal, of course, is celebrating at Kroger Field in December.
“We have set some goals. We have some young men returning off last year’s successful team and they’ve been in their (the weight room) since the season ended and have strived to work toward that goal,” Thompson said. “It’s been passed down, but if you take this group of seniors — let’s say we have a winning season this year — they will have three out of four that are winning seasons. This group has been around and they know what the foundation of the program is and they know where we desire to be.
“They are making sure they pass it down. One thing we always try to do is bringing the young guys up with them in various ways — whether it be workouts, what to expect after practice, what to expect during practice, what to expect in the classroom and what we expect in the community. They do a great job of trying to make sure everybody understands the basis of the program.
“It’s almost like they’re self-policing. We don’t have to do it as much as coaches. They know when things are happening in the locker room, or let’s say something’s happening on the field, they’re over there coaching the younger ones while we move onto the next young kid — ‘Hey man, you’re steps are not right here. Hey man, when we catch the ball we look it in this way. Hey, we don’t leave the field to get cleaned up. Coaches can’t carry anything in. We make sure we straighten the locker room up.’ They definitely take ownership in the program.
“There’s no doubt the pride in this program has come back a little bit with the last year. We hope to build off that and add more to it.”
The Trojans return a plethora of skill position players, led by junior running back Lavell Wright. He ran the ball 178 times for 1,316 yards (109.7 yards per game, 7.39 per carry) and scored 17 touchdowns.
“I expect another big season,” Thompson said of the Area Sophomore of the Year last season. “There were some games last year early on we split some time with him. We also want to make sure he’s healthy come the playoff run. I think they sky’s the limit. He does so well. He’s worked hard in the offseason. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He can definitely run between the tackles. He can run outside. I think we shall have a special season out of him.”
Freshman Kye Boyd will see some carries, as well as sophomore Alex White. Junior Elijah Banks had 60 carries last season.
North Hardin returns talented receivers in senior Josh Moore, juniors Marcus Harris, Camron Smith and Ramaj Adams and sophomores Queshaun Davis and Mark Calloway.
“I feel like with a year under their belt and playing 12 games, they might surprise some people there. I feel they can make a big impact for us,” Thompson said.
Moore caught 66 passes a year ago for 1,224 yards and 15 touchdowns, averaging 102 yards per game. He was followed by Harris (23-330-4), Adams (21-320-4), Wright (26-287-2) and Smith (11-188-0).
Junior Logan Coleman won the starting quarterback battle over sophomore Manie Wimberly.
“It was a battle all year,” Thompson said. “We kept telling them to continue to battle. One thing I say is that both of them embraced that battle. They both had what I feel like was an even shot at it. No knock on either one of them, but there’s some things that Logan did a little bit better.
“It’s not something that’s set. It could change week to week. It could change quarter to quarter. Both of them are definitely worthy of starting and worthy of playing. We feel like they both bring something good to the team.”
The offensive line will have seniors Dale Woods, Pulou Tua, Chris Ashley and Jackson Cook, and junior Nick Cook, sophomore Bailey Groft and freshman Trey Alexander. Dale, Tua and Nick Cook had multiple starts last season.
On the defensive front is seniors Octavious Oxendine, Isaiah Beasley, Jerrell Camp-bell, Vesi Lilo and Ashley, juniors Elijah Crow and Landyn Reed.
“Chris graciously moved over from the defensive side to step in on the offensive line,” Thompson said.
The Trojans do not have a player who will play both ways on a regular basis.
“It’s key,” Thompson said. “Early in the season, the heat’s out there and the possibility that if you play 50 plays on each side or 50 and 40, that’s just extra snaps you have a chance to get banged up. It definitely helps us out in getting more players on the field and being rested to go 100 percent on one side of the ball.
“It’s definitely a plus. It’s something that years ago we tried to start here and continued to get there and continued to get there. We shared a couple of players here and there, but never on a full-time basis. There’s situational players who will play both ways here and there, but nothing on a full-time basis.”
Beasley thinks the lack of two-way players will help the Trojans throughout the season.
“It’s good because a lot of us are well rested and we’re not gassed throughout the game,” he said. “In the offseason we do a lot of conditioning, a lot of extra stuff to make sure none of that happens. Having enough players and enough skill guys to go around — so we don’t have to go both ways — is really great.
“We can game plan more, see what’s working, what’s not with everybody there and not having to worry about letting somebody else know what’s going on.”
Senior Michael Lunz, Green and sophomore David Mendez will be the inside linebackers, with senior Ta’Rek King, juniors Devonte Jordan-Lemafa, Jordan Moore and Xavier Williams on the outside.
The secondary will have seniors Eian Patry and Isaiah Simpson, Banks, Adams, Smith and sophomore Micah Parmes.
Lunz finished with 101 tackles a season ago. He was followed by Oxendine (86), Green (85) and Campbell (71).
They combined for 53 tackles for loss.
Junior Jordan Lovett has moved over from receiver to free safety to replace Jerome McKinney, who led the team in tackles, at free safety.
“We feel like Jordan needs to be on the field. We feel like athletically he brings a different presence there,” Thompson said. “Last year Jerome was definitely somebody who would hit ya. Last year you watched Jordan play and you knew he had to be on the field. You look at us on the offensive side of the ball, we’ve got some playmakers over there and we wanted to make sure Jordan wasn’t splitting time. We wanted to make sure he was on the field.
“We talked about it and we felt like his move to the other side would help us. He jumped on board and moved over there very graciously. He’s been wonderful. It was a new thing to him in the spring, but every day he was out there working and every day he was asking questions. I expect a big year from him.”
Patry will be the long snapper, White the punter and sophomore Cayden Logsdon the placekicker.
“They’ve got to hold each other accountable out there,” Thompson said. “If somebody’s not pulling their weight with certain things, this group knows. They want certain goals. They have certain things set up. They’re not worried about who gets a tackle, as long as we stuff it and make sure we keep them out of the end zone.
“It starts with our group of seniors and this group of juniors who’ve been here and been around it and seen some success. It comes with their attitude. It also comes with our coaches. Our motto is, ‘Whatever it takes.’ We don’t care you calls the touchdown or who calls the defense, who makes a certain sub or who coached the player who did this. We just want to get a win.”