LaRue County lost eight seniors to graduation off last year’s 5-6 football team that lost in the first round of the Class 3-A playoffs to Bardstown.
That means Coach Josh Jaggers has a lot of experience returning.
“Those eight seniors, though, were about 15-to-16 starting positions because they never came off the field,” he said. “Our numbers say the majority of our team is returning, but we’re gonna be really young. We’re gonna be counting on several sophomores and freshmen — more out of necessity — but there are some promising kids in those classes.”
The problem for Jaggers, though, is five of those eight came from the offensive line — Mark Goode, Tucker Shelton, Dalton Underwood, Ethan England and Chazzman Hill. Junior Jared Stillwell also started on the offensive line. Goode was used a lot last year as a blocking tight end.
“I think this is going to force everybody’s hand since we don’t know when we’re gonna get back at this,” Jaggers said of the pandemic, which has forced a prolonged dead period in the state for all sports. “I think this is going to force everybody to be more simple than what most of us already are. It’s going to cause everybody to go back to the basics. Everybody will have their core three, four runs and will have to be able to throw basic curls, hitches and slants. It’s going to be basic football and, truth be told, I’m not so sure that’s gonna be such a bad thing.”
Jaggers believes COVID-19 has forced coaches to view their respective games in a different manner.
“I just think sometimes you truly get away from the fundamental side of things and what is happening now will force us coaches to focus more on the fundamentals,” Jaggers said. “We’re gonna run the ball and, believe it or not, we’d like to open it up a little bit. We’re never going to be a full blown air raid, but we would like to be — and I hate using this word — more balanced next year. We have got to be more balanced.”
The Hawks ran the ball 86.5 percent of the time last season, accounting for 81.9 percent of their yards.
“To me, it’s all about ball control,” Jaggers said. “At the same time, last year we had so many 10-to-15 play drives. My dad told me that even though it’s not a stat, we probably led the state last year in first downs and that’s not a good thing. When you go on drives like that, you have to be perfect for so long.”
That also means those up front don’t get a break.
“We’ve got to spread things out a little more. We have to take advantage of one-on-one situations with some of our kids,” Jaggers said. “The E’town’s and Bardstown’s of the world, along with Belfry and Johnson Central, they can grind it out, but they also have big-play people. That’s from speed, dialing up plays and a combination of many things.
“We’re going to be very fundamental and we’re going to try to be balanced.”
Spring ball means different things to different programs.
“Spring ball for us has always been a lineman kind of camp,” Jaggers said. “Most of our skill kids are doing track or baseball.”
And losing five of their six offensive linemen meant the Hawks needed those days, for the very least, to begin to answer some questions up front.
“Now, it’s still a gray area,” Jaggers said. “We have an idea of kids who could step up and step in. And regardless of who they are, they are not going to have much varsity experience, or hardly an experience under the fire. We were going to use spring ball to sort things out and have a better picture. Now we’re going into this thing kind of dark, kind of blind.
“We don’t do a lot of schematic stuff in the spring as it is. There’s not a lot of install.
The Hawks return five of their top seven rushers from a year ago.
Jeremiah Belton led the way with 171 carries for 882 yards and nine touchdowns. Also back are Tyrell Coulter (59-338-4), Connor Baker (75-324-10), Thomas Boone (24-108-2) and Kellen Bowen (14-79-0).
LaRue County also returns top receiver Preston Self, who caught 13 passes for 366 yards and four scores. That was half of the team’s completions and 68.4 percent of the total yards.
“Connor can play a lot of different places and he found that out last year based on need,” Jaggers said. “He’s willing to do whatever for the team and so is all of our players.
“I’m looking forward to getting this thing going. We will have a bunch of young guys out there and it will be great to watch them develop. I’m excited and I know they are. I’m missing the weight room. There’s not a Zoom meeting in the world that can make that up.”
Jaggers said something else is irreplaceable.
“I’m all for chalk talks, but when we chalk talk we follow that up by going outside,” he said. “There’s no substitute, in my opinion, for hands-on involvement. There’s no substitute for being able to coach them and teach them from the technical side and you can only do that hands-on. That’s what we’re missing.”
The coach said having a short time to prepare is something he can handle.
“I got hired back at this job right during the middle of spring ball in 2017,” he said. “That didn’t help us go 10-2 that season — that was the fact we had a lot of dag-gone good talent coming back. We had a lot of old experience in 2017. We have a lot of good talent on this team, but we do have a lot of babies around our older guys.”
Jaggers said he also appreciates the time at home.
“I’ve gotten a lot of time with two little girls that I’ve never had before,” Jaggers said. “I’m doing a big garden and I’ve played golf more in the last month-and-a-half than the last five years combined.
“I think everybody’s just tired of this.”